Theater Review

Ready Player One!

Let's Play Play
Written by Ben Ferber
Directed by Todd Brian Backus
PowerOut, The Brick Theater, Brooklyn, NY
July 7-18, 2015

According to at least one survey, YouTube stars have greater name recognition than Hollywood A-listers with the under-18 set, who see them as more genuine and relatable: a more literal version of "Stars -- They’re Just Like Us!" Part of the seventh annual Game Play Festival at the Brick, which runs through July 25, Ben Ferber’s Let’s Play Play dives incisively into the corner of this web-based world that focuses on video gaming. It derives its title from a category of what are most commonly online videos in which players layer their own commentary over their video game play. The most well-known current example is 25-year-old Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, who is name-checked in the play's program and guest starred on the two-part 2014 season finale of South Park; otherwise known as PewDiePie, his YouTube channel boasts tens of millions of subscribers and billions of views.

A Theatrical Spectacle In Music

Thus Spoke the Spectacle
by Eric Goodman
Kraine Theater, NYC
March 29-August 30, 2015

Thus Spoke the Spectacle identifies itself as a "theatrical rock performance" and draws on writers such as Noam Chomsky, Marshall McLuhan, and, as the title suggests, Guy Debord and Friedrich Nietzsche. This multimedia performance brings those influences together with video and still imagery that is accompanied by creator Eric Goodman on guitar and vocals and Leo Friere on drums. Divided into ten songs, Goodman’s hourlong piece sets out to critique what Debord, in the title of one of his best-known works, calls the society of the spectacle, the elevation of the superficial that is presented by mass media and passively consumed by the audience.

Help, I'm Stuck In Jurassic Park!

Hold on to Your Butts
Directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker
Recent Cutbacks at the PIT (People’s Improv Theater), NYC
June 15 - July 27, 2015

Over the just the past three weekends, Jurassic World, fueled by CGI and nostalgia, has rocketed somewhat unexpectedly to over half a billion dollars in domestic box office (only the fifth film ever to do so) and double that worldwide. The timing seems auspicious, then, for the current run of Hold on to Your Butts, Recent Cutbacks’ comedic homage to the ur-text in the Jurassic series. Over the course of an hour, Nick Abeel and Kyle Schaefer frenetically re-enact Jurassic Park on a bare stage, impersonating the entire cast -- human and non-human alike -- and accompanied by a live soundtrack and foley effects from Kelsey Didion, stationed stage right.

My Verona's Men

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Written by William Shakespeare Directed by Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld
Fiasco Theater Theatre for a New Audience, Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn
April 24 - June 7, 2015

When Shakespeare is mentioned, one of the first plays to come to mind probably isn’t The Two Gentlemen of Verona, an early, comedic work that ends with one of those sudden character reversals common to early modern drama. If it is indeed Shakespeare’s first play, it is interesting to note that he bookended his theatrical career with another play focused on male friendship tested by conflict over a woman, The Two Noble Kinsmen, written in collaboration with John Fletcher. In Gentlemen, that conflict occurs when Proteus (Noah Brody) travels abroad and abandons his oft-sworn love for Julia (Jessie Austrian) in favor of an infatuation with Sylvia (Emily Young), the beloved of Proteus’s bosom friend, Valentine (Zachary Fine). Unfortunately for Valentine, Sylvia’s father (Andy Grotelueschen) prefers that she wed the wealthier Thurio (Paul L. Coffey), and betrayal, exile, and a rape threat follow before the couples return to what we are left to assume are their proper configurations.

I <3 NYORG

The Flatiron Hex
Created by James Godwin Directed and co-written by Tom Burnett
Dixon Place 161A Chrystie Street, NY, NY 10002
May 15-30, 2015

The best way to describe James Godwin's wildly inventive The Flatiron Hex is that it is like watching a big-budget summer sci-fi action-comedy performed by one man, with puppets and a couple of projectors. Making its world premier at Dixon Place, a space that grew out of salons held in Artistic Director Ellie Covan's living room and is primarily dedicated to helping artists create and develop new work, The Flatiron Hex brings to mind Neil Gaiman's American Gods and the works of William Gibson and Cory Doctorow, as well as films such as Night Watch and Hellboy, through a lens of 1940s and 50s hardboiled noir. Godwin, who made his own debut at Dixon Place in 1988, creates a future New York City, now known as NYORG, that exists as a self-contained realm walled off from other "tribes" such as New Jersey and operates on a mix of cyberpunk technology and shamanic magic.

She's a Whore With A Heart of Gold

'Tis Pity She's a Whore
Written by John Ford
Directed by Jesse Berger
Red Bull Theater, The Duke, NYC
April 14-May 16, 2015

Red Bull Theater reliably mounts excellent productions, and its ’Tis Pity She's a Whore is no exception. John Ford's early 1630s revenge tragedy could be most simply summed up, as some of Red Bull promotional materials do, as Romeo and Juliet with incest. It includes an earthy nurse, a well-meaning but ultimately ineffective friar, and, of course, some extremely forbidden love.

Moonlight After Midnight

Moonlight After Midnight
Written by Martin Dockery
Dramaturgy by Vanessa Quesnelle
April 10, 17, 24 and 30, 2015

A wooden chair, really the only prop onstage in Martin Dockery’s Moonlight After Midnight, is also the only thing in this mind-bending play that actually remains what it seems from the first. A woman (Vanessa Quesnelle) walks into the hotel room of a man (Martin Dockery). After a tense exchange that suggests that they know and love each other, the lights are turned up, and the woman claims that she has been sent by the "service" that she works for. The man denies that he made the call. She says the caller wanted her to roleplay his wife. He says not to mention his wife. He does, however, acquiesce to her demand that he pay her for her time in any case, paving the way for an encounter during which we never learn either of their names, but which qualifies as a journey of discovery nonetheless, one in which their roleplaying continually reboots.

Live from the Surface of the Moon

Live from the Surface of the Moon
Written and directed by Max Baker
Stable Cable Lab Co. at The Wild Project
195 E 3rd St., New York, NY 10009
April 2-11, 2015

Coinciding with the return of AMC’s Mad Men is the current run of actor, director, and playwright Max Baker’s new play, Live from the Surface of the Moon, another look at American culture as it runs out the clock on the 1960s. Baker trains his gaze not on the halls of Madison Avenue but on one Cleveland family’s wood-paneled living room on the nights of the moon landing and New Year’s Eve, 1969. As the play begins, Don (Ian Patrick Poake) and his pregnant wife, Carol (Kate Garfield), have invited their married friends Wendell (Brian Edelman) and June (Breanna Foister) to watch the astronauts step onto the moon; also part of the viewing party are Carol’s father, Joe (Kevin Gilmartin), who lives with them because of his senility, and Holly (Lisa Anderson), a slightly awkward young woman whom Carol hopes to turn from acquaintance to babysitter.

Extreme Happiness Is Right Here!

The World of Extreme Happiness
Directed by Eric Ting Written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
Manhattan Theatre Club - NYC Center Stage
February 3-March 29, 2015

A boy is a child. A girl is a thing. These words greet the birth of Sunny Li in The World of Extreme Happiness, the new play from award-winning Playwright-in-Residence at the Manhattan Theatre Club, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig. Sunny’s arrival into the world in 1992 rural China puts her place in her father’s heart somewhere below the female racing pigeon about whom he rhapsodizes and dreams. Accordingly, it is not even clear at first that he is talking about a pigeon and not a woman, while the newborn girl is quickly, albeit temporarily, consigned to a slop bucket to die. When we next meet Sunny (Jennifer Lim), she is 18 and part of the janitorial staff in an urban factory with a PR problem due to employee suicides. In response, Artemis Chang, vice-president of Price-Smart, the Walmart-esque corporation supplied by the factory, suggests a documentary touting the struggles and successes of their employees, to be introduced publicly by an appropriately appealing female peasant employee. While Sunny’s coworker Ming-Ming leads her into the world of self-help guru Mr. Destiny, the documentary leads her into competition with Ming-Ming, all of which ultimately forces her to make a fraught decision about whether or not she will speak truth to power.