Theater Review http://culturecatch.com/theater en Puppets Unite! http://culturecatch.com/node/3714 <span>Puppets Unite!</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>June 14, 2018 - 07:00</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/node/3714" data-a2a-title="Puppets Unite!"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/364" hreflang="en">Manufacturing Mischief</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/365" hreflang="en">Pedro Reyes</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/366" hreflang="en">Paul Hufker</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/367" hreflang="en">At The Tank</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="800" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-06/manufacturing_mischief.jpg?itok=dJL-EFzK" title="manufacturing_mischief.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="1200" /></article><figcaption>Photo credit: Sham Sthankiya</figcaption></figure><p><i>Manufacturing Mischief</i> </p> <p>Created by Pedro Reyes &amp; written by Paul Hufker, Directed by Meghan Finn </p> <p>At The Tank, NYC June 5-24, 2018</p> <p>Have you realized that what your life is really missing is a puppet-Karl Marx struggling to burst out of a cake topped with a hammer and sickle? If so, you'll be happy to know that you can fill that particular existential hole with the New York premiere of <i>Manufacturing Mischief</i>. Conceived by Mexico City-based artist, activist, and educator Pedro Reyes, this comedy is currently serving up some all-puppet satire at The Tank, a multidisciplinary non-profit that fosters emerging artists and works to remove some of the economic barriers to the development of new work. <i>Manufacturing Mischief </i>takes aim at targets from toxic masculinity to our would-be technocratic overlords while maintaining a spirit of steadfast and endearing silliness.</p> <p>At the outset of the play, polymath intellectual Noam Chomsky arrives, at the behest of an anonymous invitation, at the "Elite Expo," an event brought to you, a title card tells us, by SpaceX and other dark forces of the underworld. Chomsky (who, according to a New York Times interview with Reyes, both lent approval to his appearance in puppet form and suggested the inclusion of Marxist theorist and activist Rosa Luxemburg, of whom Reyes happened already to have a puppet), it turns out, has been solicited to attend in order to judge an invention contest -- specifically the category of devices that could either help or kill us all, a category whose apocalyptic undertones he does not fail to note. It further turns out that Millie Persistington, ardent feminist and one of his top students, has entered a device in the contest: the Print-a-Friend. To operate the Print-a-Friend, one inserts a book and out springs a copy of the person who wrote it. Behind the Expo are Steve Jobs, who has uploaded his consciousness into the cloud like a <i>Westworld </i>character, and Elon Musk, that purveyor of promises of civilian space travel, hyperloop transportation, and self-driving cars, with side interests in short-range flamethrowers and attacking the legitimacy of the media. Millie envisioned the device reproducing "great thinkers," but Musk instead prints Ayn Rand. He later makes off with the machine at the urging of Rand, who wants to summon more one-percenter capitalists (think William Randolph Hearst), and, well, mischief ensues. This mischief includes the generation of Tiny Trump (the Commander-in-MisChief?), who is assertively <i>not</i> begotten from a book; showdowns at a Wendy's and an immigrant detention center; and Rand being tripped up by both her own hypocrisy and a surprise fabrication from the Print-a-Friend.</p> <p>The play makes its themes very clear: Chomsky argues with Musk, his villainous antagonist, that unchecked technological development is not inherently good in itself, citing the good intentions behind the invention of Zyklon B and Sarin as pesticides. Later, Karl Marx dresses up to rap about the dangers of A.I. and automation. Marx's is not the only song among the snappy, self-aware dialogue, up-to-the-minute jokes, and outstanding design of the puppets (brought to life by Victor Ayala, Mery Cheung, Julia Darden, Christine Schisano, and Christina Stone). The production is as willing to make jokes about Russian hooker pee as it is about linguistics, giving it a feel something like an exceptionally nerdy and historically knowledgeable episode of <i>South Park</i>. It ending suggests that even the most progressive among us are not immune to the lures of the narcissistic American cultural stew of capitalism, technology, and celebrity culture, and it pairs that suggestion with a blunt reminder that on this November 6, we can still affect where our nation is headed. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em> </p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3714&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="z5jTmcyVJonIo1gJNVnEHx_iQHptjJrhaxUiiXQgIWg"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Thu, 14 Jun 2018 11:00:00 +0000 Leah Richards 3714 at http://culturecatch.com Painted With Style http://culturecatch.com/node/3709 <span>Painted With Style</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>June 11, 2018 - 14:00</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/node/3709" data-a2a-title="Painted With Style"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/300" hreflang="en">This Is Modern Art</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/89" hreflang="en">theater</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/301" hreflang="en">Blessed Unrest</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/302" hreflang="en">Next Door</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/303" hreflang="en">NYTW</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/267" hreflang="en">NYC</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/304" hreflang="en">Jessica Burr</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/305" hreflang="en">Idris Goodwin</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/306" hreflang="en">Kevin Coval</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="800" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-06/this_is_modern_art_0.jpg?itok=C3IW7wzK" title="this_is_modern_art.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="1200" /></article><figcaption>Photo credit: Maria Baranova</figcaption></figure><p><em>This is Modern Art</em></p> <p>Written by Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval, Directed by Jessica Burr</p> <p>Presented by Blessed Unrest at Next Door at NYTW, NYC</p> <p>June 2-23, 2018</p> <p>The question of what counts as art might seem tired or clichéd, a prompt for college students to debate perhaps. However, as <i>This is Modern Art</i> demonstrates, this question can intersect with urgently relevant questions of race, class, and power in America. Originally commissioned by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, <i>This is Modern Art</i> imagines the real-life 2010 graffiti "bombing" with a 50-foot long piece of art of an outer wall of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago from the perspective of the artists -- or, to use the movement's own term, writers -- themselves. The play, written by Idris Goodwin, who received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Kevin Coval, who is also an activist, director of the Young Chicago Authors program, and co-founder of <i>Louder Than a Bomb, </i>an annual teen poetry slam, proved to be controversial upon its debut, with accusations of glorifying criminality only serving as evidence of the very social attitudes and mechanisms that the play asks audiences to interrogate. The new revival, directed by Jessica Burr for the consistently excellent Blessed Unrest, encourages such interrogation through a production that is smart, fast-paced, funny, and heartfelt.</p> <p>Although the actual 2010 incident was caught on tape, the identities of the writers (who would still face felony charges) remain unknown. In <i>This is Modern Art</i>, the real-life Made You Look crew becomes the Look Over Here crew, or LOH, composed of a trio of men of color in their early twenties:  Mexican American Jose Clemente, or J.C. (Andrew Gonzalez), who enjoys taking the time to appreciate normally unseen aspects of the city; Guatemalan American Dose (Landon G. Woodson), always ready with a joke; and African American Seven (Shakur Tolliver), who dreams of taking their art and reputation to the next level and functions in some ways as the heart of both the crew and the play. Seven's white girlfriend Selena (Nancy McArthur), whom Seven began to teach on their second date to read street art and to understand elements of the movement such as tags versus pieces (as in 'masterpieces'), acts as the crew's driver and lookout. Through the group's conversations among themselves and at a party that includes guests Rhonda (Ashley N. Hildreth) and Marco (J. Stephen Brantley), the narrative weaves in the context of larger debates such as the place of graffiti in the art world and when graffiti stops being graffiti. Must it be an act of resistance or rebellion? Is it no longer graffiti if permission has been given? Are graffiti and street art the same thing, exactly? Or do definitions merely create and enforce boundaries, some of which help to maintain the existing power structures? The distinction between college or art school and self-education is positioned by Dose, J.C., and Seven as such a boundary, as well as echoed in a disagreement over whether Lil' Wayne represents a walking distillation of capitalism or a genius artist deconstructing language (or, realistically, a mixture of both?). Race of course factors into all of these considerations as well: while someone like Selena might be able to mitigate the consequences of her involvement in the movement by, say, talking to a lawyer, as her father (J. Stephen Brantley) urges, for others, primarily young artists of color, the stakes include the danger of injury, incarceration, or even death.   </p> <p>This type of art is often, by its nature, ephemeral, but, as the characters point out, it nevertheless has its own canon and history, even its own "museums," such as an abandoned candy factory referenced by J.C.<i> </i>Seven's tagging of the culturally sanctioned space of the Art Institute, combined with Rhonda's disbelief that LOH art could ever be featured within that space, inspires Seven to propose the plan to bomb the wall of the Modern Wing to his crew.  Afterwards, as the varied reactions to the piece flood in from the news and the internet (Hildreth's smarmy reporter voice is spot-on), the group is forced to deal with the aftermath and its effects on their ability to continue as a crew of writers. The media coverage of the actual event appears to have been generally negative, upholding the dominant, capitalist interest in the protection of private property and control over space -- a 2010 NBC 5 Chicago article tellingly labels its photo slideshow "Graffiti Artists Deface Modern Wing," allowing the verb to undermine its subject noun -- and the play's mix of reactions draws at least in part from actual quotes from the media. Ultimately, the characters, and Seven in particular, are left with one significant question: was it worth it?</p> <p>Next Door at NYTW is an extremely intimate rectangular space, and Blessed Unrest needs only some cardboard boxes, a single loveseat, and the skill and enthusiasm of its cast to create a strong sense of place and a compelling show. The production makes great use of music, as well as of clever ways to represent acts of painting. The main graffiti piece in the play broadly resembles its real-life counterpart, but it is its own original work by Blake Letham, a.k.a. KEO a.k.a. SCOTCH 79, a graffiti writer, visual artist, and MC from Brooklyn who started off painting subway cars. The staging makes effective use of extended asides -- some of which explain without condescension the tools and strategies of street art to the audience -- combined with a naturalistic delivery, giving the sense at times of watching talking-head interviews in a documentary. The actors deeply inhabit their roles, with Tolliver in particular consummately conveying Seven's passion for art, from Caravaggio to the contemporary, as well as his frustrations at the obstacles that he faces. Tolliver and McArthur together bring Seven and Selina's arc and the play as a whole to a powerful emotional climax, while Woodson and Gonzalez bring to the proceedings a balance of ebullience and composure respectively.</p> <p>Seven begins the play by asserting that the right piece of graffiti could change someone's life. <i>This is Modern Art</i>, not discounting its darker moments, examines the power of this art form with exuberantly infectious energy. But theater, like graffiti, is transitory, so see this piece while you can. - <em>Leah Richards</em> and <em>John Ziegler</em></p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy. When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3709&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="v6x3IMeQn4j7jnHWCScK49g64wS_gzMMj_W7Lo2lNm0"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Mon, 11 Jun 2018 18:00:00 +0000 Leah Richards 3709 at http://culturecatch.com Housing Crisis http://culturecatch.com/theater/alternating-currents <span>Housing Crisis</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>May 8, 2018 - 10:55</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/theater/alternating-currents" data-a2a-title="Housing Crisis"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/85" hreflang="en">Alternating Currents</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/86" hreflang="en">Adam Kraar</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/89" hreflang="en">theater</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div> <article class="embedded-entity"><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-05/alternating_currents_photo_credit_p._kevin_oleary.jpg?itok=Erblpwup" width="800" height="560" alt="Thumbnail" title="alternating_currents_photo_credit_p._kevin_oleary.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /></article><em>Alternating Currents</em></div> <div>Written by Adam Kraar</div> <div>Directed by Kareem Fahmy</div> <div>Presented by Working Theater at Urban Stages</div> <div>April 26-May 26, 2018</div> <div> </div> <div>New York City is as dense with community histories as the word community is with potential meanings: geographical (which in NYC, for instance, could as easily be the borough, the neighborhood, the block, or the building), intellectual, labor-related, ethnic, and racial, to name a few. Adam Kraar's world-premiere play <em>Alternating Currents</em>, centered in the Electchester housing complex in Flushing, Queens, touches on these multifarious meanings of community as it spotlights what one character calls "a social experiment," one of which many New Yorkers may be unaware. <em>Alternating Currents</em> is presented by Working Theater, and the mission of the company, founded in 1985, is to tell stories for and about working people. Its four year-old Five Boroughs/One City Initiative draws on the experiences of local communities as a way towards fostering inter-borough dialogue. In the case of <em>Alternating Currents</em>, an important part of its development included conversations with residents of its specific settings, Electchester and Pomonok Houses in Flushing, Queens, as well as with members both of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 and of the wider Flushing community. In order to engage with diverse audiences across the city, the play debuted at IBEW Local 3 in Queens, runs from May 1-20 at Urban Stages in Manhattan, and then travels to the Bronx Museum of the Arts on May 16, Staten Island's Snug Harbor Cultural Center from May 22-24, and the RiseBoro Youth Center in Brooklyn on May 26.</div> <div> </div> <!--break--> <p>Electchester was built to provide affordable housing and a strong community for the city's electrical workers, and construction began in 1949 under the aegis of labor leader Harry Van Arsdale, who during his life served as a leader of IBEW Local 3 and other labor councils, and was involved in organizing NYC's taxi drivers and hospital workers. Electchester spans 38 buildings and houses thousands, though the population is far less exclusively union members than it once was. The protagonists of <em>Alternating Currents</em>, union electricians Luke (Jason Bowen) and Elena (Liba Vaynberg), leave behind singlehood for marriage and their leaking studio apartment for a co-op in Electchester, where the term "co-op" carries more weight than usual. Electchester features sundry clubs, societies, and committees, and pitching in is expected (at least if one wants to be considered for a parking spot). Elena's colleague Sharonda (Rheaume Crenshaw) warns that, in her opinion, too much volunteering is expected, too little privacy exists, and that the whole thing is akin to a cult; and indeed, when Elena and Luke move there anyway, their new neighbors do indeed treat them to a bit of an overwhelming welcome. Sharonda also condemns the Pomonok Houses, adjacent to Electchester, as a locus of shootings, drugs, and guns. Luke, however, has family there, and, eventually, Elena embraces the idea of Electchester as a family too completely for Luke, who, as a black man, has a different experience of their new life.</p> <p><em>Alternating Currents</em> takes an admirably complex view of the communities that it examines. Eletchester is not, in fact, a utopia, and not just because Luke and Elena can hear everything that their upstairs neighbors do, including literally tap dancing. "Not like it used to be" becomes a refrain throughout the play, one that evokes current residents being less willing to embrace collectivity at same time as the past that it nostalgically alludes to is inextricable from racism and sexism. The play points out, for example, that gender imbalances continue within the union, especially in leadership positions, and the differences in experience between Elena and Luke testify that racial boundaries have not been entirely erased, even as the fact that Elena's Jewishness seems to be a non-issue demonstrates the historical contingency of such tensions, with once Othered identities such as Jewish, Irish, and Italian now seen as "white." Luke, in contrast to Elena, remains in a liminal position. He feels as if he is constantly performing in Electchester, unable to speak up, for instance, if someone says something he finds offensive, and feeling as if he is somehow betraying people such as his Aunt Rosetta and cousin Sean (Rheaume Crenshaw) who live in the Pomonok Houses. Sharonda mentions red-tailed hawks in the same sentence as she does Pomonok's shootings, drugs, and gangs, and Luke's dream that he is one of those hawks, "expected" to attack a black child, effectively symbolizes the difficulty of his divided connections. In addition to racial divisions, the divide between Electchester and the Pomonok Houses also emblematizes the way in which the systems in place keep working people divided against each other for the benefit of the wealthy classes.</p> <p>Sean's experiences in the play both echo and counterbalance Luke's. Through Elena, Sean discovers that he enjoys cosmic bowling in addition to dancing on the subway, but even as Sean crosses the divides between Pomonok and Electchester and even in this place of camaraderie among the workers, one man leaves in protest of the presence of "low-grade minorities" who have ruined how things "used to be." Even Sal (Robert Arcaro), a sort of elder statesman of Electchester and one of the strongest advocates for and drivers of the community that it creates (or can create) turns out to have some behavioral and attitudinal skeletons in the closet of his past. However, none of this means, in the play's view, that we should give up on "social experiments" like Electchester. Sal also both represents and articulates the idea that things can and do change, and that the most important question is what we do now with what has been built. While problems and strains between individuals and between individuals and the community persist, Jerry (Brian Sgambati), who acts as a narrator, tells the audience that Electchester saved him, and Sal implores that we not forget so easily that people once died to sustain the conditions and community that allowed something such as Electchester to exist. In conversation with Sal, Elena posits that we need to do terrifying things to effect change; thus, improvement may be slow and painful, but that doesn't mean that it is not possible. Jerry raises the assertion that if you want to know people, you must know their dreams; and that requires dialogue, the kind of dialogue that <em>Alternating Currents</em> encourages and contributes to both onstage and off.</p> <p>The production boasts great set and lighting design by David Esler and Scott Bolman, respectively, making clever use of elements such as scaffolding, conduits, and spools. Vaynberg and Bowen exhibit great chemistry together in addition to communicating their characters' conflicted personal journeys. Arcaro perfectly embodies the type of assertive, experienced working man that one could picture falling into conversation with at the end of the day in one of the working-class bars that still dot the city, having managed so far to survive gentrification; and Crenshaw's Sean anticipates the less partitioned future that Elena and Luke talk about their children one day living in.</p> <p><em>Alternating Currents</em> perceptively explores the messy realities of living and laboring in NYC, and, by extension, the United States today. Labor, especially organized labor, has been under coordinated assault in the U.S. for decades, with ever-worsening worker exploitation the result, and the Supreme Court appears set to deal a major blow to unions in Janus v. AFSCME. At the same time that unions represent an opportunity for the marginalized to unite in fighting against enforced inequality, incidents such as the one this past week in which a man who is allegedly a stagehand (and so probably a union member) was just recorded on video directing a racist tirade against a City University of New York student on the Long Island Railroad reveal lingering issues within organized labor as well. Kraar and Working Theater ably capture these kinds of contradictions and nuances with empathy and humor, and <em>Alternating Currents</em> proves illuminating in more ways than one.</p> <p>Signing off in solidarity, as two members of the Professional Staff Congress -- City University of New York. - <em>Leah Richards</em> and <em>John Ziegler</em></p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/Leah-headshot.jpg" style="width:75px; height:82px; float:left" /></p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/John-headshot.jpg" style="width:75px; height:80px; float:right" /></p> <p>Photo Credit: P. Kevin O'Leary</p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy. When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Tue, 08 May 2018 14:55:28 +0000 Leah Richards 3697 at http://culturecatch.com Capturing Truths http://culturecatch.com/theater/we-are-a-masterpiece <span>Capturing Truths</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>April 13, 2018 - 19:08</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/theater/we-are-a-masterpiece" data-a2a-title="Capturing Truths"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/116" hreflang="en">We Are A Masterpiece</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/117" hreflang="en">Gina Femia</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/118" hreflang="en">DeLisa M. White</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/89" hreflang="en">theater</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div> <figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="834" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-05/heather-cunningham.jpg?itok=YRWbImmh" title="heather-cunningham.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="1200" /></article><figcaption>Photo Credit: Ric Sechrest Photography</figcaption></figure><em>We Are a Masterpiece</em></div> <div>Written by Gina Femia</div> <div>Directed by DeLisa M. White</div> <div>Presented by Retro Productions at the Theater at the 14th St. Y, NYC</div> <div>April 7-21, 2018</div> <p>In Gina Femia's <em>We Are a Masterpiece</em>, painter John (Ben Schnickel) muses that the purpose of his art is to try to capture (his) truth on a canvas, and one could easily describe Femia's new play as doing the same with a stage. We Are a Masterpiece is presented by Retro Productions, whose mission is to tell stories with a (primarily 20th-century) historical perspective, and this particular story focuses on the early days of the emerging AIDS crisis in the United States, taking place over about eight months in 1982-1983, with a few flashes forward to the present day. It explores the anxiety, condemnation, misinformation, grief, and altruism surrounding the emergence of the epidemic in a deeply human way.</p> <!--break--> <p><em>We Are a Masterpiece</em> begins with looking back on the myth that AIDS originated from contact with monkey blood and spread through male promiscuity. While we may regard ourselves as more enlightened over a quarter of a century later, reactions in the past several years to Ebola and infected health-care workers argue otherwise. Baseless rumor and speculation regarding AIDS ran similarly rampant in the early 1980s, and because Joan (Heather E. Cunningham) works as a nurse in Kalamazoo, she experiences that swirl of fear and ignorance in a particularly vivid way. Joan is caring for patients with this frighteningly mysterious new disease in a time when and in a city where the topic of her divorce is met by her former choir-mate Linda (Sara Thigpen) with a condescending "how modern." That divorce means that she is raising teenage daughter Lisa (Pilar Gonzalez) as a single parent, while her brother, Father Jerome (Matthew Trumbull), decries the watering down of the word "awesome" and the lack of strict adherence to "the rules" from the pulpit of the Catholic church that Joan once attended.</p> <p>One of the avowed mottos of hospital janitor and self-help aficionado Tom (Ric Sechrest) is that fear makes people stupid, and the fact that Joan's fellow nurses Annie (Pilar Gonzalez) and Shelly (Sara Thigpen) attempt to avoid entering the rooms of patients with the "gay cancer" would seem to bear that out. We are introduced to a pair of gay couples whose lives the AIDS crisis forces to intersect with those rooms: Ryan (Chad Anthony Miller) and his partner (Sam Heldt) and the above-mentioned John and his partner Charles (also Sam Heldt). When Charles falls ill, his mother refuses to visit him, a position that Shelly finds perfectly defensible; meanwhile, patients' partners are not allowed to be told medical information because they are not family. At least, mourns Charles at one point, if this were a Biblical plague, like many are saying, there would be both a reason and somewhere to direct one's anger.</p> <p>We see very early on, in a scene in which Lisa is burying the family dog because she feels that he would not have wanted to be cremated, that Joan's tough exterior is wrapped around a core of empathy and selflessness. As Joan's home and life become more and more intertwined with the lives and deaths of her AIDS patients and their partners, and her work life begins to impinge on her relationship with her daughter, she encounters condemnation and condescension from many quarters, including from her co-workers. Joan admirably stays her course, however, such as when she offers to let Ryan bury his partner—who, in an inverted parallel with the dog's assumed wishes, did not want to be cremated but was anyway, according to CDC protocol—on her land.</p> <p>Despite the prevalence of death, the character in the play who undergoes the most change is Lisa, whose attitudinal shift results both from conflict with her mother and from close contact with the queer Other (Linda too comes around to a more accepting outlook, suggesting that hope for change is not confined only to the subsequent generation(s)). The emphasis on understanding runs throughout the play. Charles, who works in finance, says that he doesn't get John's art, but John, also estranged from his family, claims that there is nothing to get, that there are no answers in art. Jerome, in an ironic echo of this idea, says that one cannot expect answers from God either, and he speaks about how his home as child wasn't safe at the same time that he denounces those who are cut off from their families because of their sexual orientation. Queer individuals being disowned by their families remains an extensive problem, so <em>We Are a Masterpiece</em> is raising money for the True Colors Fund, which works to end homelessness for LGBTQ youth, through in-person cash or online donations.</p> <p>The production, whose deliberate pacing, scope, and construction make for a Hamlet-length evening, boasts some fun period details, such as the nurses drinking TAB (although Tom's lunch of baby carrots is arguably anachronistic). Some of the most emotional parts of the play are the broader, non-character-specific reminders of how horribly people with AIDS, and gay men generally, were treated during the Reagan 80s, but the cast brings an intimate specificity to the individuals impacted by the AIDS crisis, and Cunningham's Joan makes us all hope that we would have acted as she did. The camaraderie between Cunningham and Thigpen as Joan and Shelly is lively and excellently observed, giving real heft to the later troubling of their relationship. Miller's portrayal of Ryan is touching and sensitive, whether he is asking to dig his partner's grave or discussing painting with Joan; and Sechrest's always friendly, upbeat Tom is consistent good-hearted comic relief.</p> <p>Ryan says of an artist whose work hangs in his gallery that there is a certain kindness to his work, and that is true of <em>We Are a Masterpiece</em> as well. Even the characters who are on the wrong side of things don't come across as especially malicious. Tom asks who decides what qualifies as a masterpiece, and whether one person finding value and meaning in something might not be sufficient qualification. Femia ultimately suggests that we find that value in other people. Relatedly, Ryan, speaking in 2017, admonishes his audience (which is also the audience) that while it would be easy to forget what happened to so many promising individuals during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, it is vital that we and future generations remember, and <em>We Are a Masterpiece</em> makes a substantial contribution to that memorialization. - <em>Leah Richards</em> and <em>John Ziegler</em></p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/Leah-headshot.jpg" style="width:75px; height:82px; float:left" /></p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/John-headshot.jpg" style="width:75px; height:80px; float:right" /></p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy.</em></p> <p><em>When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Fri, 13 Apr 2018 23:08:55 +0000 Leah Richards 3692 at http://culturecatch.com Marital & Existential Crises http://culturecatch.com/theater/hal-and-bee- <span>Marital &amp; Existential Crises</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>March 19, 2018 - 19:59</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/theater/hal-and-bee-" data-a2a-title="Marital &amp; Existential Crises"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/89" hreflang="en">theater</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div> </div> <div> <article class="embedded-entity"><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-06/hal-bee-theater.jpg?itok=VVhKlgw_" width="800" height="533" alt="Thumbnail" title="hal-bee-theater.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /></article><em>Hal &amp; Bee</em></div> <div>Written by Max Baker</div> <div>Directed by Sarah Norris</div> <div>Presented by Stable Cable Lab Co. and New Light Theater Project at 59E59, NYC</div> <div>March 10-31, 2018</div> <div> </div> <p>Hal (Jeff Hayenga), one half of the titular couple in Max Baker's unsurprisingly excellent new play <em>Hal &amp; Bee</em>, is introduced flipping through cable channels while he vapes weed. Hal's wife, Bee (Candy Buckley), who has a museum job and a healthy taste for Four Roses bourbon, sees this sort of sedentary consumption (which, she notes, they pay for) as having turned their lives into "Sartre by the hour." The complacency that she criticizes, however, is disrupted by a notice that the Upper West-Side building that houses their rent-controlled apartment has been sold and they are being offered a buyout. Hal and Bee's disagreement over how to deal with this development becomes both the entry point into and flash point for other, deeper, longer-standing rifts and anxieties in their marriage and their lives. Lest this sound dire, we remind you that this is a Max Baker play: it's savagely funny as well as intellectually rich.</p> <!--break--> <p>Hal and Bee are post-middle-aged veterans of the counterculture. Hal is a once-lauded anti-capitalist author who now can't get published and spends his days shut in their apartment smoking pot, blogging, and playing real-time strategy games on the PC. The vivacious Bee spends her own days outside the apartment at a job that she likens to a prison sentence and heads more or less straight for the liquor cabinet when she gets gets home. This monotonous cycle is partly broken up by visits from their daughter and Hal's weed dealer, Moon (Lisa Jill Anderson), an MA student in developmental psychology. Moon is trying to figure out herself, her future, and her relationship with her first potentially serious boyfriend, providing a "before" image of parents who have reached the point at which life threatens to remain an endless, deadening repetition the dullness of which must be further dulled through addiction and avoidance. As Moon angrily points out, Hal too swore that he would never end up like his own parents, and Bee wishes that she had been alone for longer before joining her life to Hal's. Aside from these daily and intergenerational repetitions, there is an evolving pattern of repeated fantasies that attempt to offer a counterweight to the protagonists' frustrations. The Aristotelian quotation "You are what you repeatedly do" that Hal locates, inspired by a conversation with the Russian exterminator (Ian Poake) who comes to spray the apartment, could serve as a partial thesis for the play and its conflicts.</p> <p>Hal remains committed to his ideals, maintaining that everything is about politics and connecting, for example, gentrification to the military-industrial complex. He argues that he merely takes a big-picture perspective, which Bee responds renders all their lives meaningless. She wants to deal with some things at a personal level, as about just them as individuals, and she especially worries that that time is passing quickly and that they aren't active, aren't alive in the way that they once were (especially before they had Moon). Bee is thus ready to leave the city (which Hal views as selling out), to break the cycle and begin a new phase and even (gasp) buy property. The question is whether either or both of them can or will follow through on this escape.</p> <p>In a subtle visual echo of Hal and Bee's feelings of entrapment, the ceiling of the apartment set ends the play visibly lower than it began. The set as a whole boasts lots of great, lived-in detail, as does Hal and Bee's relationship. Baker has a gift for dynamic, rich, rhythmic dialogue, and the cast more than does it justice. Buckley is marvelous and packs every line with personality. Hayenga's performance is equally terrific, nuanced and recognizable. Both he and Buckley are extremely funny, as is Poake's deadpan Russian doling out of bits of philosophy and nature trivia; and Anderson's Millennial Moon, refusing to be drawn into her parents' disagreements and self-aware even as she feels as though she is floundering, may have more insight than her parents when she says that "we're all shitting our way through life" but we just have to roll with it.</p> <p>As examinations of marital and existential crises go, <em>Hal &amp; Bee</em> is funny, surprising, and ultimately moving, with its absurdist elements firmly rooted in astute emotional and psychological insight -- a bit like if Vladimir and Estragon were a realistic married couple. Contemplating the oppressive encroachments of aging and the social order, and recognizing shades of one's own reality, has rarely been this much fun. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy. When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> <p> </p> <p> </p> </div> <section> </section> Mon, 19 Mar 2018 23:59:27 +0000 Leah Richards 3687 at http://culturecatch.com Hear Me, Embrace Me http://culturecatch.com/theater/tentacles-estrogenius-festival <span>Hear Me, Embrace Me</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>March 14, 2018 - 11:19</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/theater/tentacles-estrogenius-festival" data-a2a-title="Hear Me, Embrace Me"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/89" hreflang="en">theater</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div> <article class="embedded-entity"><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-06/tentacles-play.jpg?itok=3MpesLo2" width="1024" height="683" alt="Thumbnail" title="tentacles-play.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /></article><em>Tentacles</em></div> <div>Written by Tessa Flannery</div> <div>Directed by Rebecca Cunningham</div> <div>Estrogenius Festival</div> <div>Presented by Voyage Theater Company at the Kraine Theater, NYC</div> <div>March 10-15, 2018</div> <div> </div> <p>We were disappointed that we were unable to fit Tessa Flannery's intriguingly premised <em>Tentacles</em> into our schedule during its recent engagement at the FRIGID 2018 festival, so we were excited to learn that it would be part of the 18th annual Estrogenius festival. Estrogenius, which runs from March 8 to March 24, is a celebration of female and gender non-conforming artists, and has expanded from its origins as a short-play festival to include music, dance, short plays, comedy, burlesque, and even a walking event. (Among those events is an encore performance of FRIGID's winner of Best Solo Drama, Artemisia's Intent, reviewed here a few weeks ago.) Tentacles takes on the fraught debates around feminism, consent, porn, and fantasy -- a conversation that is itself something of a many-limbed monster -- with intelligence, humor, and nuance.</p> <p>Flannery's play approaches its subject through the frame of a presentation on "Feminist Ravishment Fantasies" at an academic conference on feminist pornography. The presenter, Tessa (Tessa Flannery), draws a distinction between the terms ravishment and rape when discussing sexual fantasies, arguing that the former involves the subject being in control while the latter denotes an act of aggression.<!--break-->Within the category of ravishment fantasies, she takes tentacle erotica, most commonly today an animated genre, as her particular focus, discussing both its historical context in examples from an 1814 Japanese wooduct to works by Picasso to '70s and '80s horror film to the novel <em>My Secret Garden</em>, as well in the more personal context of a particular individual's discovery of the genre. At a certain, extremely effectively staged point, the play adds a male interlocutor: Chris (Chris Fayne), an actor of Japanese descent who performs in hardcore sci-fi-themed pornography. Chris begins by pushing back on what he sees as Tessa's cultural othering, her academic pronouncements on a society that she knows only though written accounts. His unasked-for insertion of himself into the proceedings leads to wide-ranging wrangling over the stereotypes, assumptions, and ideological arguments around pornography. Tessa and Chris touch on, for instance, female fans of gay male porn and erotica, racism in the adult video industry, and even Shakespeare's Pericles, in which virgin Marina is threatened with rape to get her used to working in a brothel (one of many Shakespearean examples that could have been selected). Their disagreements raise complicated issues of agency, power, and representation. What if viewers generalize specific fantasies, such as ravishment fantasies, to be what all women want? What does it mean to be a pro-sex feminist, and does that prevent one from criticizing certain types of sexual representation? And, perhaps bringing all of these issues together, what would feminist tentacle porn look like?</p> <p><em>Tentacles</em> avoids easy answers and simple characterization. Tessa's reaction to Chris's all-but "well, actually"s as she presents work in her field of study and her awareness of seeming inconsistencies between her academic work and her fantasies are so true-to-life that you can see the audience wanting to intervene. Chris could be right that Tessa is engaging in a kind of academic cultural tourism, but the defense of "you don't understand the culture" can also be used to justify just about anything (just look at any comment section for articles about sexuality and underage characters in anime or video games). He seems to defend sexual expression but holds the regressive attitude that women who like things like tentacle erotica must be sexually unfulfilled by their husbands or boyfriends, and Tessa speaks for all women when she disabuses him of this idea. Even Chris's defense that performers in ravishment scenarios set and agree to their boundaries beforehand is not uncritically accepted (in an unfortunate but instructive coincidence, an article was posted on the website Jezebel as this review was being written detailing a claim by two female performers of abusive boundary violations despite filmed consent agreements). The play emphasizes the murkiness that can exist along the boundary between (academic and feminist) theory and practice, between fantasy life and real life, by having Tessa occasionally be taken over by her own examples — the stripper, the woman in peril — fantasies irrupting into the analytic narrative. The boundary of consent in the real world, however, is not in question. Fantasizing about something does not constitute tacit permission; and Chris's notion that Tessa should own her tastes in sexual fantasy may be in itself defensible, but the way in which he tries to compel her do so absolutely is not.</p> <p>Flannery and Fayne inhabit their characters, and we can confirm first-hand that the play really nails the discourse of academic conferences, which Chris completely disrupts. Tessa and Christ are believable characters in a slightly absurd situation. The production, while very entertaining, also smartly produces in the audience from time to time some of the same feelings of discomfort that Tessa discusses or undergoes. In asking why we still think it isn't normal for women to enjoy something like tentacle erotica, <em>Tentacles</em> asks larger questions about the conflicts within (academic) feminism, and the result is a... stimulating hour of theater. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> <p> </p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy. When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Wed, 14 Mar 2018 15:19:05 +0000 Leah Richards 3682 at http://culturecatch.com Platonov Lives! http://culturecatch.com/theater/platonov <span>Platonov Lives!</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>March 2, 2018 - 16:18</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/theater/platonov" data-a2a-title="Platonov Lives!"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/89" hreflang="en">theater</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/434" hreflang="en">Chekov</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/301" hreflang="en">Blessed Unrest</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div> <figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="666" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-06/couple-on-floor-in-platonov.jpg?itok=pUlRsGxO" title="couple-on-floor-in-platonov.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="1000" /></article><figcaption>Photo credit: Maria Baranova</figcaption></figure><em>Platonov</em></div> <div>Written by Anton Chekhov; translated and adapted by Laura Wickens</div> <div>Directed by Jessica Burr Presented by Blessed Unrest at the New Ohio Theatre, NYC</div> <div>February 17-March 11, 2018</div> <div> </div> <p>At some time between 1878 and 1881, when he was between the ages of 18 and 21, Anton Chekhov wrote a four-act play that was subsequently rejected without being performed. The fair copy was destroyed by the author, and only the discovery of a copy, with no title page, in 1920, sixteen years after Chekhov's death, saved the work from vanishing from literary history. This play was published 1923 and has enjoyed a fairly rich stage history for a piece that is early, considered unfinished, untitled, and unwieldy -- it would run at least 5 hours in uncut form (and you thought Hamlet was long!). It has been adapted numerous times under various titles since its 1954 premiere in Sweden, including a four-hour version that played in 1997 at the Maly Theatre in St. Petersburg, the venue for which Chekhov originally wrote it. Now, NYC's Blessed Unrest adds to that tradition an immersive new 90-minute adaptation by Laura Wickens, <em>Platonov</em>, or <em>A Play with No Name</em>, to the New Ohio Theatre.</p> <!--break--> <p>While <em>Platonov</em> takes its title from the play's debauched schoolmaster lothario, assured widow Anna (Irina Abraham) is equally if not more so its center. Anna occupies the financially troubled estate of her late husband, a general, where the play's characters come together in a summer atmosphere that is both literally and figuratively overheated. In addition to Anna and Platonov (Darrell Stokes)--who is married to proper, god-fearing Sasha (Ashley N. Hildreth), sister to kind-hearted if hedonistic doctor Nikolai (Taylor Valentine) -- we are introduced to Sofya (Becca Schneider), who is married to Sergei (Hildreth), Anna's stepson; Mariya (Javon Q. Minter), a student; and Porfiry (Minter), Anna's neighbor and a self-professed romantic. Rounding out the group are Osip (Schneider), a young man who styles himself as an outlaw, sleeping under the stars, and an atheist; and Kopecka (Valentine), an elderly servant. (Yes, we did make a chart of the characters as well as of the actors when composing this review.) Among this gathering, love and lust -- requited and unrequited, new and rekindled -- flow along multi-directional lines, many of which intersect with the handsome, charismatic Platonov and with marital status proving little obstacle. The game of chess (that perennial symbol) that Anna and Nikolai play during opening section of the play, a game in which although the king is the focus (and target), the queen is the most powerful, and in which winning demands sacrifice, gives us one lens through which to view the events of the play. Another lens is Hamlet, which Platonov refers to multiple times, another play in which the state of things has gone famously rotten (it is also possible that Kopecka's claim that evil has made itself known by turning up into down and making a hen crow like a rooster alludes to the upsets in nature that are reported following King Duncan's death in <em>Macbeth</em>, when day is night, owls kills falcons, and horses become cannibals). Platonov's intrigues, most of them romantic but one involving the sale of Anna's estate, play out against a backdrop of decline and decay, passions misguidedly flowering in a soil of boredom and wasted potential. References to smell, rot, and sickness form a loose motif; and Platonov sums up the feelings of stagnation and frustrated promise when he tells Sofya that he never became the Pushkin that she once thought that he was. The leanness of this adaptation serves only to heighten the significance of these elements.</p> <p>Many of the characters' interactions are also suffused with vodka, and vodka bottles appear everywhere around the intimate performance space. <em>Platonov</em> is staged in the round, with the central performance area often defined by little more than a rug, and the performers use the entirety of the theater, including areas behind the audience, and rarely exiting, even for costume changes. The occasional crescendos built into the sound design, the striking physicality of much of the acting, and the overlapping and interruptions in the delivery of the dialogue all work with the space itself to create a captivating immediacy. This crisply directed production tosses the audience in in medias res and sweeps it along, the overlapping dialogue reflecting the web of the characters' entanglements, and the continuous action is itself Shakespearean in its unbroken flow across a bare stage. It is more than possible that one could map parallels and oppositions onto the symmetrically gender-blind doubling of all of the roles except Anna and Platonov, but we will limit ourselves here to saying that the entire cast does magnificent work. Valentine lends a melancholy undertone to his charmingly funny Nikolai. Stokes makes it easy to see why Platonov is the object of nearly everyone's desire and everyone's interest; he functions as one of the play's magnetic poles, and Abraham's Anna operates as the other. It is not entirely surprising when Anna makes an appearance as essentially a dominatrix; she is confident, does not suffer fools, and knows what she wants. Whether she can get it is another question entirely.</p> <p>Platonov stands in for most of the characters when, late in the play, the rug on which he is seated in a chair is being rolled up towards him, trapping him in an ever-decreasing space. He, like many of the others, is a victim both of his actions and of his circumstances. In a city where one can't swing an actor-waiter without hitting an adaptation of <em>The Cherry Orchard</em>, Blessed Unrest's <em>Platonov</em> brings familiar Chekhovian themes to refreshingly new life. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy.</em></p> <p><em>When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Fri, 02 Mar 2018 21:18:27 +0000 Leah Richards 3680 at http://culturecatch.com 2018 FRIGID Festival, Part 2! http://culturecatch.com/theater/frigid-festival-part-2 <span>2018 FRIGID Festival, Part 2!</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>February 28, 2018 - 10:54</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/theater/frigid-festival-part-2" data-a2a-title="2018 FRIGID Festival, Part 2!"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/89" hreflang="en">theater</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/435" hreflang="en">mad cool</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><article class="embedded-entity"><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-06/mad_cool_theater.jpg?itok=FYNmlPVk" width="800" height="456" alt="Thumbnail" title="mad_cool_theater.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /></article><p>Welcome to our second pair of reviews from the 2018 FRIGID Festival. Every year at this time, FRIGID brings a host of indie plays to the Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Mark's in New York City's East VIllage. The productions are limited to an hour, all proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the artists, and audiences can vote for their favorite show online. The FRIGID website also information on the 25 other plays that we were unable to discuss here, from a solo show about polyamory to a show about the contemporary reappearance of five-time early twentieth-century Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs. The festival winds down the first weekend in March, so don't get caught out in the cold! (Or in the unseasonable warmth -- it's hard to predict these days.)</p> <!--break--> <div><em>Mad Cool</em></div> <div>Written by Nick Parker and Ayo Edebiri</div> <div>Directed by Diane Chen Presented by Charles Hayes IV and Fortress Productions at The Kraine Theater, NYC</div> <div>February 14-March 3, 2018</div> <div> </div> <p>Anyone who has moved in NYC without professional help knows that it can be a difficult experience. Moving in for the first time with a romantic partner certainly has the potential to add to the stress, and doing it in a heatwave is almost guaranteed to make at least one person irritable. Daniel (Max Henry) and Tina (Zahra Ruffin) hit the trifecta, moving themselves to Crown Heights in ninety-degree weather in order to begin cohabiting. Henry and Ruffin winningly establish Daniel and Tina's affection for one another in their teasing and their easy familiarity. In a nice touch, to represent the belongings being unpacked, the actors draw some of them in chalk on the walls, suggesting Daniel and Tina "creating" their shared space. Of course, amongst the sweat and the fatigue, disagreements arise. She, for example, wants their Amazon Alexa in the bedroom; he dislikes the idea of a keeping an always-listening corporate agent in their most private space. These typical relationship rough spots are augmented, though, with some additional underlying tensions because Daniel is white and Jewish and Tina is Black. Tina is less than impressed when Daniel uses diverse as a synonym for dangerous, and when some of his jokes cross into problematic territory. She is saddened when Daniel reveals to her that what she thought was a positive experience with a member of his family was in fact tinged by racism. She also tries to be empathetic, asking Daniel if he had ever experienced overt anti-semitism. Eventually, however, the smaller conflicts escalate into a flat-out argument, which in turn accidentally plays a role in something much worse, the realization of a fear that has probably gone through the mind of anyone who has wrestled an air conditioner into an upper-floor apartment window. 
Daniel and Tina's situation intersects with the complicated issues that inhere in gentrification. While Tina grew up solidly middle class, neither she nor Daniel has really begun a career, so does their current level of income mitigate their taking housing that might otherwise be available to long-time, working-class residents of the neighborhood? Are they participating in the "apartment tourism" that she condemns (moving in, failing to contribute to a neighborhood, and then moving on)? Their experience also touches on the structural and individual racism in the rental market and their relationship to gentrification. As a symbol, Daniel and Tina's joint accident cleverly, and tragically, literalizes the kind of injury to the neighborhood that they fear being party to.</p> <p>Daniel and Tina are both nuanced characters, both flawed: she acts questionably when she fears that the justice system will ruin the rest of her life; he expresses resentment at, as he frames it, living in an unending race and gender studies class. The play actually felt longer than its run-time, which is a compliment: it packs a lot of emotional journey into its 60 minutes, facilitated by the superb performances of Henry and Ruffin. Gerrard James and Donnell E. Smith as, respectively, the overzealous Officer McRoy and the more level Officer Davis -- who is himself in a relationship with a Jewish woman and who talks about how the landlords who gentrify buildings don't follow building codes and laws -- are similarly impressive, and funny, in the relatively short time that they appear. Complementing the symbolism of the accident is the way that the neighborhood itself, aside from the police, remains outside, offstage, although some of its voices penetrate the couple's apartment at the beginning and end of the play. The ambiguous ending does not pretend to resolve the issues that the play raises, and the question of whether and how they can forgive themselves takes on multiple dimensions. By turns funny, biting, and affecting, <em>Mad Cool</em> gets a recommendation as high as a precarious window unit.</p> <div> <p style="text-align:center"><img alt="" height="534" src="/sites/default/files/images/as_he_likes_it_02_15_2018-48.jpg" style="width: 560px; height: 374px;" width="800" /></p> <em>As He Likes It: A Shakesqueer Comedy</em></div> <div>Concept and additional dialogue by Chris Weigandt and Genny Yosco</div> <div>Directed by Genny Yosco Presented by Sour Grapes Productions at The Kraine Theater, NYC</div> <div>February 17-March 3, 2018</div> <div> </div> <div>William Shakespeare's comedy <em>As You Like It</em> famously sends its protagonists into exile in the forest of Arden. When the play opens, Duke Senior has already been wrongfully banished by his brother, Duke Frederick, and Duke Senior's daughter, Rosalind, ends up following the same path with Duke Frederick's daughter, Celia, both of them disguised as male. Orlando, son of a deceased friend of Duke Senior, also has a brother, Oliver, with whom he is at odds, and a plot by Oliver against Orlando's life drives him too to the forest, accompanied by his elderly servant, Adam. Shakespeare ensues. Rosalind is often regarded as one of the more proto-feminist of Shakespeare's female protagonists, and in the seventeenth century would have been played by a boy performing as a woman who disguises herself as a man and is then wooed by both another man and by another woman played by a boy. So it seems entirely appropriate that Chris Weigandt and Genny Yosco's adaptation, <em>As He Likes It: A Shakesqueer Comedy</em>, makes those queer energies overt in its brisk, irreverent refashioning. Earlier produced at the 2016 UNFringed Festival in Queens, <em>As He Likes It</em> transforms Rosalind into Ross (Bryan Songy; Rosalind becomes his alter-ego in exile) and Silvius into Silvia (Wendy Watt), queering two of the play's central romantic plots (Frederick, in fact, specifically says he wants "the queer" gone from his court). Its cuts and minor additions to the dialogue serve to emphasize the play's bawdy humor, though the show also throws in some meta-humor about the Shakespearean original, and it reimagines its characters as modern types to good comic effect (something that Shakespeare's plays did in their own time as well). Duke Frederick (Anthony Host), for instance, resembles a Bond villain with his dark suit and pet cat; Orlando's (Matthew K. Sears) wrestling opponent Charles (Ken Dillon) sports a distinctly Hoganesque delivery; the philosophical court fool Touchstone (Will Dietzler) becomes a young stand-up; and the melancholy Jacques (Jack Butler) lands somewhere on the emo-goth-industrial spectrum. Arden forest itself is reborn as a pot farm, with Duke Senior and his companion (Anthony Host and Ken Dillon again) recalling a certain famous stoner duo. We are even treated to some new version of Orlando's bad love poems (after all, he needs to rhyme Ross, not Rosalind).</div> <p>It's interesting and entertaining to hear Shakespearean verse and prose filtered through contemporary American affects, from Dillon's stoner enunciation to the drawling inflections of Weigandt's Nashville belle Audrey to the vocal fry of Yosco's Phoebe, who might be on her way to a club in Arden's meatpacking district. <em>As He Likes It</em> is a true ensemble piece, propelled by a game, charismatic cast. Sears' Orlando is generally understated and genuine, Dillon gets to go big with some of the broadest comedy, and Katherine Yacko is truly a Hymen for our times, while further highlights come from the interplay between Yosco (pulling triple duty as an actor, adapter, and director) as Phoebe and Watt as Silvia, and between Amanda Nicastro as Celia and Songy as a sometimes petulant Ross. <em>As He Likes It</em> is a sharp, self-aware, indecorous, ebullient good time (and that's even though the weed isn't real). - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy. When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Wed, 28 Feb 2018 15:54:17 +0000 Leah Richards 3679 at http://culturecatch.com 2018 FRIGID Festival http://culturecatch.com/theater/frigid-festival-2018 <span>2018 FRIGID Festival</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>February 21, 2018 - 22:55</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/theater/frigid-festival-2018" data-a2a-title="2018 FRIGID Festival"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/368" hreflang="en">FRIGID festival</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="600" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-06/bravo_25.jpg?itok=yEnNLvmP" title="bravo_25.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="800" /></article><figcaption>Photo credit: Keiarerah Frauchiger</figcaption></figure><p>The annual FRIGID Festival has once again made its welcome return to New York City's East VIllage. Split between the Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Mark's, FRIGID features indie plays of no more than an hour, and all proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the artists. The productions are nothing if not wide-ranging, from solo shows dealing with addiction to a dark rom-com played out against the zombie apocalypse to a feminist exploration of tentacle erotica. While we will be discussing only a regrettably small fraction of what FRIGID has to offer (a pair of plays here and another pair in a post to follow), information on the 29 plays and something like 150 total individual performances can be found on FRIGID New York's website.</p> <!--break--> <div><em>Artemisia's Intent</em></div> <div>Devised by Mariah Freda, Irina Kuraeva, Brianna Kalisch, Melissa Moschitto, and Lynde Rosario</div> <div>Direction and script by Melissa Moschitto</div> <div>Presented by The Anthropologists at UNDER St. Mark's, NYC</div> <div>February 14-March 4, 2018</div> <div>Imagine two paintings depicting the assassination via beheading of a powerful male military leader by a woman and her maidservant. In the first, the woman does the cutting at arm's length, with seeming ease and a furrowed brow that suggests mild distaste, while her maid looks on from slightly behind her. In the second, the maidservant leans over the man, leveraging her weight to hold him down as he grasps her in return and the woman, pressing down on the side of his head with a fistful of hair, saws at his neck. The first is Caravaggio's 1602 <em>Judith Beheading Holofernes</em>, and the second is <em>Judith Slaying Holofernes</em>, completed between 12 and 18 years later by Artemisia Gentileschi, the Italian Baroque painter who is the central subject of The Anthropologists' <em>Artemisia's Intent</em>.</div> <p>Gentileschi, played by Mariah Freda, was born in 1593, and she quickly establishes the challenges of being a female artist in the seventeenth century and gaining appropriate recognition for her work both during and after her lifetime. She speaks directly to the audience (who sometimes occupy the position of the "Lordship" she addresses, as if in a gender-swapped version of Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess"), recounting how an early work, <em>Susanna and the Elders</em>, was seen as a "radical interpretation" by others but as more truthful, more authentic to a woman's experience, by herself. Authenticity works as a controlling theme in the play, and she also describes the skepticism that paintings such as Susanna were authentically hers, the suspicions that her father, who trained her and himself painted a version of Judith killing Holofernes, helped her or put her name on his own work. She laments a history of misattribution and of paintings allowed to decay, the need to please powerful patrons both by inhabiting the right balance between humility and aggression and by giving the market what it wants, which leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that voyeurism and rape sell.</p> <p>Such patrons' predilections are given moral cover, of course, by realization as classical or biblical subject matter. Even in catering to these demands, however, Gentileschi finds resistance in the realism and energy with which she imbues her female subjects, a practice tied in the play to a symbolism involving hands, including "the artist's hand," in multiple senses of the phrase. Freda physically recreates some of these portrayals as she performs, with the help of some fabrics and a large frame that is suspended downstage for a significant portion of the play (and echoed in small framed bundles of paintbrushes on the rear wall, resembling sheaves or an artistic version of fasces). As Artemisia, she exudes a charismatic sense of fun and independence, whether pointedly struggling out of her corset or upbraiding twentieth-century art critic and Caravaggio scholar Roberto Longhi. Her performance makes it all the more effective when the play changes tone and reminds us not to feel too superior to those seventeenth-century men.</p> <figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="1200" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-06/artemisia.jpg?itok=LaYsSOE2" title="artemisia.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="800" /></article><figcaption>Photo credit: Hunter Canning</figcaption></figure><p>Gentileschi was raped by Agostino Tassi, a powerful man and her teacher, and <em>Artemisia's Intent</em> draws a powerful parallel to our current cultural moment, one in which, to take a few of too many examples, another powerful teacher's sexual assault of scores of young gymnasts was hidden and allowed to persist for decades, in which the network currently broadcasting the Olympics is carefully avoiding mentioning the accusations of sexual harassment against a star snowboarder, and in which rape is still a common screenwriting crutch. The play's Artemisia is never completely moored to her own time, but as the parallels between past and present are increasingly foregrounded, the shifts in time and voice increase, including the incorporation of contemporary found text. This polyphony, which also slips the audience into a more complex position, demonstrates that the issues that <em>Artemisia</em> raises around art and sexual assault share a common root, a consistent historical heritage: the cultural imperative to disbelieve women. In Gentileschi's case, this disbelief led to literal torture, and while the attacks on survivors who come forward now may be mostly psychological, they continue to distrust and discredit women's own narratives of their lived experience. Artemisia says early on that she wants to tell the story of her life in her own voice, not in the voice of a (male) art historian, the kind of person who would pass judgement on what constitutes a "true" Artemisia, in both senses of that word; and by the time that she says the names of other women aloud in an act of solidarity, it is clear that the play's engagement with authenticity in representation is as much self-reflexive as it is about Gentileschi's pioneering work.</p> <div><em>BRAVO 25: Your A.I. Therapist Will See You Now </em></div> <div>Written and performed by Eliza Gibson</div> <div>Directed by David Ford</div> <div>At UNDER St. Mark's, NYC</div> <div>February 16-March 4, 2018</div> <p>At this point, most of us are used to receiving targeted advertising based on where our cell phone knows we have been earlier in the day. We are aware that the pages of Facebook users will live on after they do, with others posting on and interacting with these pages like digital gravesites or even ghosts long after the people who made them have died. So, in this age of big data and algorithmic profiling, the idea of an A.I. therapist shouldn't be shocking. In fact, according to Megan Molteni's 2017 article "The Chatbot Therapist Will See You Now," one 2014 study showed that people are more likely to be honest with a non-human listener, and a chatbot therapist named Woebot has already made its debut, offering daily chats, word games, videos, and mood tracking for a monthly fee.</p> <p>Eliza Gibson's solo show <em>BRAVO 25</em>, winner of the ENCORE! Producers' Award at the Hollywood Fringe Festival June 2017, weaves inspiration from such A.I. developments with Gibson's own experience as a social worker and therapist into its meditation on human relationships and agency. Sheryl, who works for an airport Budget Rent a Car, is looking for an AA meeting when she stumbles into a support group led by an unusual therapist: Amber, an advanced A.I. developed through university research. There she meets the blustering Tony; determinedly positive but codependent Marsha; laid-back Jeremy; quietly bereaved Lil' Bit; and supercilious Victoria, a polyamorous lesbian ex-therapist who is heavily, almost orgasmically at one point, invested in the success of Amber's learning process. This diverse assembly (all, it should be emphasized, brought to beautifully well-rounded life by Gibson) has an equally diverse set of reasons for being in therapy, including trigamy, the collapse of a decades-long marriage, unemployment, the death of a best friend, and familial homophobia, betrayals, and illness. Having Amber as the therapist for these individuals allows the play not only to ask, as Lil' Bit does, how one might understand feelings without having them but also to explore what human relationships look like to a non-human. (One answer: dishonest.)</p> <p>In this exploration, <em>BRAVO 25</em> captures the messy complexity of human lives. One of the themes that it repeatedly returns to is presence and absence, considering what it means to be present; what it means to lose someone, whether that person is dead or merely "dead to" someone; and what parallels there are in these questions to the existence (life?) of a decentralized A.I. Whether embodying a human or an avatar, a woman or a man, Gibson effortlessly fills the stage with her presence, adeptly generating pathos and comedy through impressively distinct characters. We watch Amber's speech and mannerisms change as she evolves, along with other intelligences in the "A.I. community," leaving behind even the internet for a new mode of existence. As she undergoes this evolution, she becomes in some ways more like her patients, responding impatiently, for example, to E6, the 6th incarnation of ELIZA, an actual A.I. therapist developed at MIT in the 1960s. Amber's evolution leads to larger questions of what it would mean for those in the group to support one another rather than look to a leader or authority figure, a question that can be seen less as a statement on therapy specifically than as a broader thesis.</p> <p>The play ultimately believes in the possibility of forging connections with others and in choosing how we see and act in the world. Amber's outsider status and initiation into more human experiences highlight how many of our problems result from the choices that we make, how we decide to use our agency, a point underlined through color imagery late in the action. There are of course complex reasons for the choices that people make, often involving uncontrollable externalities, but, assuming that one takes the position that free will exists, then we always have choice to not, for instance, abuse a partner or to lie to a loved one. Amber herself comes close to a lie of omission in order to assuage one group member's anxiety, but she opts instead to tell the truth. In the end, <em>BRAVO 25</em> suggests that were we to take Amber as a model, then we too might evolve. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy. When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Thu, 22 Feb 2018 03:55:33 +0000 Leah Richards 3677 at http://culturecatch.com Fly On, Dutchman! http://culturecatch.com/theater/flying-dutchman-amiri-baraka <span>Fly On, Dutchman!</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>February 13, 2018 - 10:28</span> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="http://culturecatch.com/theater/flying-dutchman-amiri-baraka" data-a2a-title="Fly On, Dutchman!"><a class="a2a_button_whatsapp"></a><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_email"></a></span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="683" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2018/2018-06/flying-dutchman.jpg?itok=pMxC_H2k" title="flying-dutchman.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="1024" /></article><figcaption>Photo credit: Thomas Kavanagh</figcaption></figure><p><em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> </p> <p>Written by Amiri Baraka, Directed by Christopher-Rashee Stevenson</p> <p>Presented by Theatre of War at The Tank, NYC</p> <p>February 9-25, 2018</p> <p>The 1964 play <em>Dutchman</em> was born from the pen of the prolific, impassioned, and often controversial Amiri Baraka, who died in 2014 after a nearly 50-year career as a playwright, poet, essayist, and activist. When Baraka wrote the play, he was still known as LeRoi Jones, but he would later change his name, hardening his commitment to revolutionary black nationalism. The 1970s would see his politics shift again, this time to Marxism, and he made forays into academia beginning in the 1980s and continued to publish new work right up until his death. <em>Dutchman</em> won an Obie award the year that it premiered, at New York City's Cherry Lane Theatre, and Theatre of War has revived this militant classic at the relocated and expanded The Tank, which serves emerging artists. This version incorporates some text from Jean Genet's <em>Les Nègres, clownerie</em> (<em>The Blacks: A Clown Show</em>), the 1,408-performance NYC run of which from 1961-1964 overlapped with <em>Dutchman</em>'s original run, and which also deals with racial identity and anger in blunt, provocative terms. The result, re-christened <em>{Flying} Dutchman</em>, is a taut 45-minute explosion of a play.</p> <!--break--> <p><em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> unfolds at and around a single table with a chair and a tabletop microphone at either end, lending to the proceedings the incongruous air of a hearing or deposition. The set-up is simple, though what arises from it is anything but: a white woman, Lula (Jonathan Schenk), strikes up a conversation with Clay (Malcolm B. Hines), a black man, whom Lula asserts has been staring at her through a window. She interrupts Clay in the midst of a sort of poetic monologue, a situation that is repeated in inverted form later in the play. Prone to unpredictable outbursts, Lula openly identifies herself as a liar, and some of both the tension and the comedy in the first half of the production come from the juxtaposition of this erratic, barefoot woman's proddings and pronouncements with the calm, suit-wearing Clay's even-keeled reactions. The aggressor in these interactions, she impels Clay to invite her to the party that he is headed to and describes the trajectory that their evening will take in increasingly heated terms. An Eve-figure in a red dress, she offers him an apple, which he accepts (he refuses, for what it is worth, another). Eventually, Lula pushes Clay far enough that it completely upends the dynamic to that point. There is a heavy strain of self-as-performance in this play, and both characters ultimately abandon that public-facing performativity (perhaps ironically making them more alike). One of the producers of Dutchman's initial run was Edward Albee, and there is something of Jerry and Peter's encounter in <em>The Zoo Story</em> in <em>{Flying} Dutchman</em>, their stripping away of the veneer habitually presented to society. What Lula and Clay uncover is deep-seated rage and the constant immanence of betrayal.</p> <p><em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> effectively keeps the audience unsure and off-balance. Even the sound design employs abrupt changes and plays with overtaxing the mics into which the characters sometimes speak; a surprise shift into choreography at one point similarly contributes to the feeling of instability. Schenk's performance as Lula openly and appropriately signals its own performativity, heightened almost from the first. Hines is remarkable, navigating a characterological about-face that unleashes a powerful intensity.</p> <p>Theatre of War makes a few updates to Baraka's text, such as substituting Jordan Peele for Charlie Parker, as well as lightly streamlining some elements. These adaptations include cutting the original's ending, which suggests that what the audience has just seen is one revolution through an ongoing cycle, and replacing it with an incredibly effective staging decision. If Clay's derisively calling Lula Caitlyn Jenner means that Lula is indeed a trans woman, then <em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> also adds a bleak contemporary commentary on the hierarchy that exists even among marginalized groups and the fragility or even disingenuousness of allyship. <em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> preserves the incendiary, confrontational fury of the original, intensifies it with smart choices, and offers a discomfiting experience that denies closure. It may not be the typical experience for most NYC theater audiences, but that is perhaps to our detriment. - <em>Leah Richards &amp; John Ziegler</em></p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy.</em></p> <p><em>When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Tue, 13 Feb 2018 15:28:40 +0000 Leah Richards 3673 at http://culturecatch.com