Theater Review

Capturing Truths

We Are a Masterpiece
Written by Gina Femia
Directed by DeLisa M. White
Presented by Retro Productions at the Theater at the 14th St. Y, NYC
April 7-21, 2018

In Gina Femia's We Are a Masterpiece, 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. Read more »

Hal & Bee

Hal & Bee
Written by Max Baker
Directed by Sarah Norris
Presented by Stable Cable Lab Co. and New Light Theater Project at 59E59, NYC
March 10-31, 2018

Hal (Jeff Hayenga), one half of the titular couple in Max Baker's unsurprisingly excellent new play Hal & Bee, 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. Read more »

Hear Me, Embrace Me

Tentacles
Written by Tessa Flannery
Directed by Rebecca Cunningham
Estrogenius Festival
Presented by Voyage Theater Company at the Kraine Theater, NYC
March 10-15, 2018

We were disappointed that we were unable to fit Tessa Flannery's intriguingly premised Tentacles 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.

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. Read more »

Platonov Lives!

Platonov
Written by Anton Chekhov; translated and adapted by Laura Wickens Directed by Jessica Burr Presented by Blessed Unrest at the New Ohio Theatre, NYC
February 17-March 11, 2018

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, Platonov, or A Play with No Name, to the New Ohio Theatre. Read more »

2018 FRIGID Festival, Part 2!

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.) Read more »

2018 FRIGID Festival

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: http://www.horsetrade.info/frigid-festival-df84. Read more »

Fly On, Dutchman!

{Flying} Dutchman
Written by Amiri Baraka
Directed by Christopher-Rashee Stevenson
Presented by Theatre of War at The Tank, NYC
February 9-25, 2018

The 1964 play Dutchman 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. Dutchman 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 Les Nègres, clownerie (The Blacks: A Clown Show), the 1,408-performance NYC run of which from 1961-1964 overlapped with Dutchman's original run, and which also deals with racial identity and anger in blunt, provocative terms. The result, re-christened {Flying} Dutchman, is a taut 45-minute explosion of a play. Read more »

Stoking The Fire!

The Fire This Time: Season 9: 10-Minute Play Festival
Directed by Candis C. Jones
Presented by FRIGID New York and Horse Trade Theater at the Kraine Theater, NYC
January 15-28, 2018

The consistently excellent The Fire This Time Festival, which features new plays from artists of African descent, is in its ninth season. Among its schedule of readings and performances, the 10-Minute Play Festival is a consistent highlight, and this year's is no exception. Showcasing the work of six playwrights and directed by Candis C. Jones, the festival, performed by a skillful cast to an enthusiastic packed house on the night that we attended, engages a range of topics and tones that nonetheless echo and resonate with one another, creating a whole that is intriguing, affecting, and entertaining right through the curtain call. Read more »

Coital Exchanges

Pillowtalk
Written and directed by Kyoung H. Park P
resented by Kyoung's Pacific Beat at The Tank, NYC
January 11-27, 2018

"Radical" may not the first descriptor that most people would instinctively assign to the word "love," but it is precisely that pairing, in its multiplicity of meanings, that lies at the heart of Pillowtalk, by Chilean-born Korean playwright Kyoung H. Park, whose company Kyoung's Pacific Beat dedicates itself to promoting a culture of peace and serving as a conduit for marginalized voices. Pillowtalk, making its world premiere at the recently relocated and expanded The Tank as part of the Exponential festival, which showcases NY-based artists, delves deeply, fearlessly, and often hilariously into the marital life of crusading Asian-American journalist Buck (JP Moraga) and his African-American ex-athlete husband, Sam (Basit Shittu). Park, who also directs, provides the audience with a dramatic look at the specific relationship between two incisively drawn individuals while reminding us that the personal is even more political for some couples. Read more »

Bless The Weather

The Snow Queen
Written by Matt Opatrny
Directed by Jessica Burr
Presented by Blessed Unrest at New Ohio Theatre, NYC
December 31, 2017-January 14, 2018

It seems fitting that The Snow Queen opened against the backdrop of New York's most frigid New Year's Eve in decades. Luckily, it deserves a very warm reception. Developed with the aid of a residency at the New Victory Theater and the advice of a class of fourth-graders, The Snow Queen entertainingly adapts Hans Christian Andersen's 19th-century tale, to which it adheres fairly closely in its major events while refocusing a few of its key elements, including the symbolic subtext of its central characters' journeys. The final product is a delightful balance of comedy, adventure, and just a tinge of melancholy. Read more »

Getting AMPed!

AMP
Written and performed by Jody Christopherson
Directed by Isaac James Byrne
Presented by Goode Productions at HERE, NYC
December 5-19, 2017

Imagine, if you will, a frog’s legs, ending abruptly not in a frog but merely in its spine, carefully cleaned of the flesh that once held it. Next, multiply this image, and picture a chain of these macabre trinkets strung out in an elevated location. Finally, conjure in your mind’s eye a lightning strike that sets those legs twitching and jerking of their own accord. This is the one of the first images with which Jody Christopherson’s new play, AMP, confronts the audience, plunging us into a nineteenth-century stew of galvanism, resurrection men, and tragedy-tinged literary legends. Read more »

Pericles: Born in a Tempest

Pericles: Born in a Tempest
Conceived and directed by Jordan Reeves
Presented by Hunger and Thirst Theatre with the Guerrilla Shakespeare Project at the West End Theatre, NYC
November 2-18, 2017

If you have ever dreamed of watching Batman fight in the midst of a Shakespeare production, now is your chance to make that fantasy a reality. How fantasy in the form of storytelling (Batman included) intertwines with our lived realities partly drives Jordan Reeves' imaginative adaptation of Shakespeare's Pericles. Reeves' Pericles: Born in a Tempest both streamlines the sprawling original and weaves in a modern framing narrative in which the Shakespearean text becomes a book, The True Tales of Pericles, given to a woman by her recently deceased father. Of course, Shakespeare, arguably with a collaborator, was himself adapting a well-known medieval romance, the tale of Apollonius of Tyre, primarily the version set down by John Gower in his fourteenth-century Confessio Amantis; and this tale in turn likely derives from a classical Greek source. From this perspective, Reeves' version of Pericles acts as the latest example of how the same story can persist and change over centuries to meet the needs of its readers and audiences.  Read more »

From Mecca With Love

The Mecca Tales
Written by Rohina Malik
Directed by Kareem Famhy
Presented by Voyage Theater Company and Crossroads Theatre Company at The Sheen Center, NYC  
October 20-November 4, 2017

The Hajj, the pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca, is the largest yearly gathering of people in the world, attracting two to three million pilgrims. A pillar of Islam, the Hajj provides the setting and structure for Rohina Malik's The Mecca Tales, which premiered in Chicago in 2015 and is now making its debut in New York. Its tales are those of five women whose progress along the road to Mecca also marks their difficult progress towards self-determination.  Read more »

Free, Form, Five

Free, Form, Five
Curated by D. Dominick Lombardi
Olga Wimmer PCC, NYC
Oct. 7 - Nov. 18, 2017

Elga Wimmer PCC presents "Free, Form, Five," a group exhibition curated by D. Dominick Lombardi, which explores abstract and semi-abstract themes with human and natural references that extend into metaphoric terrain. The exhibition includes photographer Sandra Gottlieb, Sharon Kagan, Bobbie Moline-Kramer, Rebecca Calderón Pittman and Susan Sommer. The artists use with vigor and assurance platforms that incorporate complex processes and aggregate techniques. Pittman's works probe the oblique role of chance in consciousness; the psychological influences of attraction and aversion interest Moline-Kramer. Kagan explores the microcosmic roots of matter while Gottlieb brings the firmament into focus. Susan Sommer records the rhythms of desire in daily existence. While Moline-Kramer, Pittman and Kagan enhance their practices with distinctive procedures, Gottlieb uses specialized equipment, and Sommer mixes her motifs to achieve a sense of depth and relevance that is becoming the exception rather than the rule in contemporary art. Read more »

The Werewolf of Washington Heights!

The Werewolf of Washington Heights
Written by Christie Perfetti Williams
Directed by Charmaine Broad
Presented by Carnival Girls Productions at The Kraine Theater, NYC
October 11-22, 2017

Many readers these days probably know the feeling of anxiety about what appallingly reactionary new story will leap out at them every time that they set eyes or ears on a news source. To take just the latest in an interminable series of examples, as this review is being written, the head of the U.S. government is threatening to end aid to Puerto Rico, whose American citizens are denied governmental representation, a mere three weeks after an incredibly devastating natural disaster. As it happens, the production of Christie Perfetti Williams' new play, The Werewolf of Washington Heights, will donate one dollar of every online ticket sale to The Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico. It also focuses on the political effects (keeping in mind that the political is always also the personal and vice-versa) of fear and anxiety, especially as and where they intersect with gender. Beyond its narrative concerns, Werewolf extends the political consideration of gender to the material conditions of its own production: it is presented by Carnival Girls, a sponsored project of the non-profit arts service organization Fractured Atlas that dedicates itself to "creating and producing art by and about women," and it boasts an all-female cast and crew, including director Charmaine Broad, who also helmed Cougars, winner of the Estrogenius Festival's award for best show. Read more »

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