Pia Wilson's new play, Turning the Glass Around, interweaves the naturalistic and the theatrical, the rational and the seemingly irrational, and the everyday and the supernatural in order to interrogate other, contemporary American hybridities.
That Poor Dream was written and developed collectively by the members of the Assembly Theater Project, which describes its goals as creating performances that both "address the complexities of our ever-changing world" and ground artists and audience alike in “a profound sense of community.” The play transposes Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations onto the social topography of current-day New York City, recontextualizing the social and economic rise and fall of the original, Dickensian Pip in a world of penthouse apartments and $1,000 omelets, a move that highlights that while the world may be "ever-changing," the class systems of Victorian England and the twenty-first century United States remain closer and more rigidly exploitative than we like to tell ourselves. Indeed, the Metro-North train that serves as the play’s setting (and most of the set) could be seen as a metaphor for, among other ways of looking at the course of a life, the determinism of a society in which, Pip's heretofore secret benefactor Magwitch tells us, one can be only either a shepherd or a sheep.
Séamus Scanlon's The McGowan Trilogy: A Serial in Three Acts embodies the best things about New York City's annual 1st Irish theater festival. The play’s run at The Cell, which bills itself as a twenty-first century salon incubating new works of art, offers a chance to witness the work of a rising talent in Irish drama in an intimate venue. McGowan's assemblage of three one-act plays creates a satisfying arc centered on the title character, Victor M. McGowan, an I.R.A. soldier and killer played by Paul Nugent, who originated the role in 2012. In the published version of the play, Nugent describes his character as maybe having "a genuine soul under all that devilish sneering bravado," and he succeeds in bringing those emotional nuances out over the course of the evening.
The Dysfunctional Theatre Company's mission statement explains that the group considers the underperformed plays and twisted classics, which they present to be dysfunctional to show that "dysfunction isn’t a product of 21st or even 20th century life [but] a product of the human condition." A Clamour of Cabaret, hosted by bottle-wielding and genially bickering hosts F. Scott Fitzgerald (Rob Brown) and Edna St. Vincent Millay (Jennifer Gill), demonstrates the dysfunction within the narratives and other characteristic bits that leap to the nostalgic mind at the mention of "vaudeville" and "cabaret" performances, but it does so delightfully.
As characters struggle for control over the production -- the late arrival of Fitzgerald and Millay leads La Diva Chiara Tarabotti (Nicole Lee Aiossa, a dominant comic presence whenever she is on stage) to think that she will be hosting, the lighting and sound director (Justin Plowman) steps onto the stage to fill in as straight man for a rapidly collapsing take on "Who’s on First?" -- the show runs the gamut through song, dance, and light comedy, but each episode subverts the expectations built around the genre.
If you like your Elizabethan revenge tragedy filtered through a mixture of Avenue Q and a Robot Chicken episode, then you can probably stop reading right here and go buy tickets to Puppet Titus Andronicus. This raucous reimagining of William Shakespeare's already over-the-top blood-soaked drama renders Muppet-on-Muppet mutilation and familial cannibalism more fun (and funny) than it probably has any right to be. The cast takes the Bard's early commercial hit, a play that begins with a religious sacrifice, runs through several deaths and a rape, and ends with a series of rapid-fire onstage murders that ostensibly tie up all of the loose ends--and which later, for reasons not understood by this reviewer, fell into critical disfavor for a couple of hundred years--and cloaks it in felt and silly string, combining the original text, scripted jokes, and improvisation.
If one says the words "Preston Sturges' 1929 comedy," one already has a good sense of how Strictly Dishonorable will work out: Southern transplant Isabelle’s decision to have a few drinks at a New York City speakeasy with her New Jersey fiancé spirals into a series of life-altering realizations and choices, and true love prevails. The characters are written as types -- the gesticulating Italian waiter, the drunk but paternal judge, the genially corrupt Irish cop, the smooth-talking Lothario with an apartment designed for seduction, the provincial bourgeois (would-be) husband -- but you know what you’re getting, and the actors here do an excellent job making the characters more than types, creating of them well-rounded people about whom the audience genuinely cares. This performance is well-executed, fast-moving, and funny, and several affecting and nuanced performances bring out shades of meaning latent in the lines. For Strictly Dishonorable (or perhaps any screwball romantic comedy from the period) to work, the audience has to believe that Isabelle and Gus have fallen in something like love after a night of Old Fashioneds and champagne, and Keilly McQuail and Michael Labbadia create a chemistry that accomplishes this.
Dandy Darkly’s Pussy Panic: More Tales of Sex and Death
Written and Performed by Dandy Darkly
Directed by Ian Bjorklund
Hot! Festival 2014: The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture
Dixon Place, NYC
July 11, 2014
Describing this deeply hypnotic, often horrifying, sometimes sentimental -- and in the end -- wildly entertaining performance piece is indeed a toughie. This task brings to mind what an academic might have been faced with if assigned to write a critique of T.S. Eliot, himself, doing a live recitation of The Wasteland. What could a scholar have written as a review of such a reading? Perhaps she/he might say “I was totally engaged and mesmerized by the presentation,” or “the listeners sat transfixed in pin-drop silence while Mr. Eliot discharged his words.” Later, our academic’s copiously annotated and footnoted analysis will appear in a university press journal, leaving those who see it only as dry “assigned reading” wondering what the big deal was. Dandy Darkly’s Pussy Panic is a totally engaging and mesmerizing show. The audience was in silence, pitched forward to catch every word. But if I were to quote the script out of the context of the whole work, you’d probably wonder why I was impressed too.
A random, pheromone-induced hook-up at a gas station. A date arranged through a website cataloguing personal dislikes. An elderly couple debating whether cigarettes and sex can be fairly equated. Get Me a Guy , the new comic play by writer and concert pianist Israela Margalit, ranges through 80 minutes of vignettes exploring the nuances and neuroses of romantic relationships, not conceptually unlike the recent, longer, and more rapid-fire Love and Information. The discrete moments here form a loose progression from the parties and bars of youth, through jealous or baby-starved spouses and reunions of old lovers, to connections lost and (re)made in old age. The cast of seven actors, three women and four men led by Wei Yi Lin, Elizabeth Galalis, Brennan Lowey, and Paul Romano, are adept at the quick shifts required in a play that does not intend to develop their characters, variously performing and subverting stereotypes ranging from the women seeking “good husbands” to the men who think that they’re good husband material if only a woman could meet their requirements.
161A Christie Street, NYC
July 5 through August 2, 2014
Presented with the enormous variety that the creative arts in New York City offer me, I find myself, from time to time, concluding that self-expression is rather highly overrated. Then I encounter something that reverses that whimsical declaration. One such event was a recent press preview of several segments from Hot! Festival 2014: The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture. If the five thrilling, outrageous, poignant, and all-in-all utterly engaging presentations I experienced that afternoon is any indication of what this nearly one month festival includes, it behooves you to attend as many of the varied performances as you are able!
Carnival Kids, by Lucas Kavner, offers a compelling snapshot of five people whose lives intersect via one New York City apartment. Mark (Jake Choi) is a law student whose father, Dale (Randall Newsome), formerly a keyboardist in a touring rock band, moves from Texas to stay with his son while he ostensibly looks for work; Dale’s entanglements with Mark’s roommate, Eckland (Max Jenkins), and a young woman, Kalina (Danelle Eliav), soon disturb the sediment of the family history. Mark’s past makes a second reappearance when he reconnects with Marisa (Laura Ramadei), who had a crush on him in high school. How Mark attempts to navigate these relationships drives this funny and affecting new play.