Theater Review

Speak, Don't Speak

Don't You F**king Say a Word
Written by Andy Bragen
Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Presented by Andy Bragen Theatre Projects 
at 59E59 Theaters, NYC
November 4-December 4, 2016

Tennis, like any individual sport, isolates two people in a contest of focus and will, a push and pull of competition against one another but also against themselves.  Andy Bragen's new comedy, Don't You F**king Say a Word, takes tennis as its structural conceit and thematic vehicle to great effect. Playing out on a white-lined, light blue set that evokes a tennis court folded up to create walls, Bragen's hilarious play creates a snapshot of two years in the friendship of a pair of New York City couples.  After Kate (Jennifer Lim) and Leslie (Jeanine Serralles), who knew each other in college, have a chance encounter on the streets of New York, it does not take long before their respective boyfriends, Russ (Michael Braun) and Brian (Bhavesh Patel) are indulging their shared tennis obsession and machismo on the court with one another. Don't You F**king Say a Word begins at the end of the two years it covers, and the two women are our guides, addressing us directly, slipping in and out of the scenes with the men, which take place mostly in flashback. Kate and Leslie start by saying that they hope to make some discoveries about what makes men tick, about their "secret spaces," but they end up revealing at least as much about their own "deep wells that drive" them forward as women and their similarities to the male behaviors that they wish to dissect.    Read more »

Shelter Me

Roughly Speaking
Written by Shara Ashley Zeiger
Directed by Celine Rosenthal
Presented by The Platform Group at TADA! Youth Theater, NYC
October 29-November 20, 2016

A recent article on Gothamist discussing strident local opposition to converting a hotel into a homeless shelter -- opposition based, according to one quoted resident, on the idea that shelters destroy communities with drugs, violence, and prostitution -- pointed out that New York City reached a record high in September of this year of 60,000 adults and children sleeping in shelters (a number, that article notes, that doesn't count certain kinds of specialized shelters). In the program for the new play Roughly Speaking, the playwright and founder of The Platform Group, Shara Ashley Geiger, admits that she herself regarded the homeless with a mixture of uneasiness and fear after first moving to the City. Volunteering at the Xavier Mission Welcome Table and hearing the stories of the other volunteers and the guests fostered a change in perspective, which in turn helped eventually to produce Roughly Speaking, a work born out of more than 200 interviews with homeless individuals.   Read more »

The Other Mozart

The Other Mozart
Written by Sylvia Milo
Directed by Isaac Byrne
Presented by Little Matchstick Factory at The Players Theatre, NYC
September 23-November 13, 2016 and January 6-9, 2017
 

Are You Looney Tonight?

The Loon
Featuring Robert M. Johanson
Directed and co-choreographed by Dan Safer
Presented by Witness RelocationAt Abrons Arts Center, NYC
October 13-29, 2016

Mixed in with the calm piano music that plays prior to the start of The Loon, a new play that advertises itself as based in part on a 1980 Audubon Society record,* are periodic voice-over GPS directions guiding the listener out of New York City and northwards. This seems like an appropriate prelude, because The Loon packs quite a journey into its running time, from the midnight lakes of Maine, to the outer reaches of the solar system, to the inner workings of the human heart.  Directed by Dan Safer, who co-created and co-choreographed the piece with the other members of Witness Relocation (Alexa Andreas, Kelly Bartnik, Sunny Hitt, Annie Hoeg, Eva Jaunzemis, Robert M. Johanson, Vanessa Koppel, and Trevor Salter), the play features Robert M. Johanson as the audience's guide on this journey, a well-dressed host for the evening who is, with a few exceptions, the sole speaking performer. Contrasting with his suit and earpiece, dancers in deconstructed, punk-inspired costumes perform behind, with, and around him. Read more »

Stop Trolling History!

NOW IS THE TIME. NOW IS THE BEST TIME. NOW IS THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE.
Written by Michael Levinton, Laura von Holt, and Little Lord
Directed by Michael Levinton
Presented by Little Lord At Abrons Arts Center, NYC
October 19-November 5, 2016

NOW IS THE TIME. NOW IS THE BEST TIME. NOW IS THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE., the world premiere play by Brooklyn's Little Lord theater company, takes its extensive title from "The Best Time of Your Life," written in 1974 as a new theme song for Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress attraction. The Disney portion of this allusion is, on the whole, less important to Now is the Time, which boasts a running time of 300 years, than is the contradiction inherent in the image of a historical progress that is also a circle, endlessly accumulating and endlessly vanishing. The accumulation is made concrete by the set, presided over at the beginning by soda jerks with pickles and slaw, the surfaces and cubbyholes of which are stuffed and stacked with papers, boxes, and other rubbish. Rubbish is history, and history is, or becomes, rubbish. Read more »

Laughing at Mental Illness

Maria Bamford
Moore Theatre, Seattle, WA
September 16, 2016

The last decade and a half has seen an interesting shift in popular stand up comedy styles. While all styles of stand up offer at least some representatives every decade, even the unfortunate genres of prop and insult comedy, there are particularly popular styles and tones that can define a generation. All through the nineteen seventies almost up to the end of the last millennium, many of our legendary comics like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, & Bill Hicks were filled with righteous indignation, poignantly attacking society's ills in an aggressive, outward manner from their own personal perspectives. Many of today's popular comics continue to speak out against those same human and societal flaws, but the manner of attack has shifted: instead of pointing the finger of blame outward, they partially point it at themselves.

They have been labeled Alternative Comedians but are so popular and prominent on today's stages and films that it's hard not to see them as potentially establishing a new normal. Read more »

Hedda Hedda Hey!

Hedda (Gabler)
Adapted by Matt Minnicino
Directed by Joseph Michael Parks
Presented by Wandering Bark Theatre Company
At IRT Theater, NYC
September 23-October 8, 2016

Henrik Ibsen's dramatic critique of bourgeois domesticity, Hedda Gabler, which premiered in 1891, remains probably his most often revived work. Hedda is still going strong 125 years later, now reincarnated in a fleet, fluid refresh written by Matt Minnicino and directed by Joseph Mitchell Parks, who played Lucius in 2015's inventive and memorable Titus Andronicus for the New York Shakespeare Exchange. In a play in which the name that someone is called signals ownership (or independence) and degrees of intimacy, Minnicino has rendered the protagonist's unmarried, titular name a parenthetical: Hedda (Gabler). When the play begins, Hedda (Valerie Redd) is more properly known (propriety being another of the play's thematic touchstones) as Hedda Tesman, having married ernest historian George Tesman (Kyle Schaefer), a "paragon of acceptability." George's rival, professional and otherwise, is Eilert Lovborg (Quinn Franzen), who is the Romantic genius to George's meticulous collator, including in his inclination towards alchoholism (a word no one in the play ever speaks). Hedda also has a rival, in Thea Elvsted (Susanna Stahlmann), the former, in this production, icily blonde and the latter a brunette with, in Hedda's words, wounded doe eyes who has helped Eilert conquer his demons and publish an acclaimed history of the world. During this process, Eilert and Thea have become "companions" under her husband's roof, much in defiance of social mores. While Thea actually has the courage and conviction to forge her own path in despite of propriety and patriarchy, Hedda, with a bit of a Madame Bovary complex, longs for the sublime, describing her desire to, just once, pull the strings of another person's fate. To this end, Hedda tries to meddle in Eilert's new work and new self, and ends up caught in a trap that is partly social and partly of her own making. Read more »

The Black Crook

The Black Crook
Conceived and Directed by Joshua William Gelb
Abrons Arts Center, NYC
September 17-October 7, 2016

The Black Crook, subtitled An Original, Magical and Spectacular Musical Drama, begins with playwright Charles M. Barras (Steven Rattazzi) stutteringly pitching the play The Black Crook to William Wheatley (Merlin Whitehawk), producing manager of Niblo's Garden, a theater that stood, in several incarnations, on Broadway near Prince Street from 1823-1895. This current production of The Black Crook adapts Barras's 1866 original and weaves throughout the adaptation a frame narrative that tracks the origins and success of what was a hugely influential piece of theater. Wheatley and his business partners combined Barras's melodrama with performances by a Parisian ballet troupe and other spectacular interludes, and the result, because of its single unifying plot, is often credited as the first book musical in American theatrical history (the program notes that the song "I Said to My Love," written by Giuseppe Operti for an 1870 revival, includes the male protagonist's name in an early effort to integrate song and plot). While some dispute the designation of first musical for The Black Crook, no one disputes the fact that it was a tremendous, unprecedented hit, running for 474 performances and in numerous revivals. Read more »

Innovative, Acrobatic Twist on The Little Prince Takes Flight in NYC

(Ezra LeBank, Cynthia Price & Taylor Casas )

Flight
20th New York International Fringe Festival Encore Series
Barrow Street Theatre, NYC
September 24-30, 2016

A quest. A love story. A search for meaning and connection. In the sweetly uplifting Flight, three performers from the California-based company Curbside pay homage to Antoine De Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. In this sequel of sorts to the classic but still timely fable, the Prince is a girl -- why not? -- cleverly evoked through a sleight of hand, and human bodies transcend the limitations of the physical universe, becoming zebras, cacti, airplanes, and the embodiment of past memory and future potential. Read more »

I Won't Forget Blossom

Blossom
Written and directed by Spencer Lott
At Dixon Place, NYC
September 9-September 24, 2016

No one wants to hear the phrase "end-of-life decisions."  Moments after being introduced to us via a daring act of heroism, James Blossom (voiced by Rowan Magee), is being advised by a doctor to make his as soon as possible. James, the eponymous Blossom of puppet artist, director, and filmmaker Spencer Lott's new play, developed with support from the Jim Henson Foundation, has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and we follow James and his daughter Kathryn, a.k.a. Katy, a.k.a. Katy Bee (Jamie Agnello), as they do their best to navigate the practical, psychological, and emotional fallout of James's disease.

The advance of his Alzheimer's precipitates James's move into assisted living facility, against his wishes, of course.  There, he meets fellow residents Maisey and Ronald.  The symbolism around loss of control generated by all three of these elderly characters being embodied by puppets (while the puppeteers play the other various roles) may be intentional or accidental, but it is hard not to see.  Just as Maisey was once a senator and Ronald a CEO, James, we discover, had a storied career as a painter in the film industry, a past to which he reconnects with the help of Kelly (Chelsea Fryer), a young volunteer who runs art classes at the nursing home. Read more »

Cloud Cuckooland

Cloud Cuckooland
Lyrical text by Matthew Freeman Created and directed by Djahari Clark
Presented by Desert Sin At House of Yes, NYC
September 8 - September 17, 2016

Cloud Cuckooland is subtitled "a story about death," and it begins with its protagonist, the Girl (Cassandra Rosebeetle), at death's threshold, looking like a patient etherized upon a table as we hear her heartbeat and a voiceover that talks about the "blank space" underlying biology. The Jackdaw (Zahra Hashemian) picks up this thematic thread as she sings about dying being worse than being dead and compares ephemeral humanity to the eternal bird world. The Jackdaw and her companions, the Crow (Renata Bergen) and the Raven (Amanda Mottur), offer the Girl entrance to their avian empyrean, a chance for her to replace humanity's ungainly locomotion with feathered soaring. They present her with a contract (its terms an opportunity for some light comedy), something that any reader of fairy tales knows should be viewed with suspicion, especially when proffered by magical animals; the Girl must be dead and must embrace madness and reject her heart, and then she will ascend to the queenship of Cloud Cuckooland as the Phoenix. As in any good fairy tale, she makes the bargain, and we survey with her the birds' realm of madness and imagination. But is there only blank space under its surface beauty and apparent freedom, as implied by its denizens' avid hoarding of shiny objects set to the strains of a reimagining of Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie," and particularly when set against the depth of life associated with her heart, which continues to haunt her and by which she continues to be tempted? Read more »

Slanty Eyed Mama Brings Scathing Wit and Stealth Poignance to New York Fringe Festival

Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show
20th New York International Fringe Festival 
DROM, NYC
August 21 & 22, 2016

"Welcome to the dress rehearsal/tech rehearsal/first performance of Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show!" says Kate Rigg of her bracingly funny performance platter of song, stand-up and tragicomic sketches. What follows is raw in the best senses of the word. Even the rough patches -- waiting for "the white people" to wrestle with skittish technology; a wardrobe malfunction that provokes a sweet, awkward encounter with an angelic staffer at the show’s East Village venue, then gets hilariously incorporated into a skit -- show off Rigg's quicksilver wit and willingness to take her captivated audiences anywhere. Read more »

Laughing At Death

In the Event of My Death
Written by Lindsay Joy
Directed by Padraic Lillis
Presented by Stable Cable Lab Co. at IRT Theater, NYC
August 6-August 21, 2016

In the opening minutes of Lindsay Joy's In the Event of My Death, directed in its current world premiere by Padraic Lillis, Peter (John Racioppo) and his friend Amber (Lisa Jill Anderson) clean the trash from the living room of his house, which once belonged to his parents, in preparation for a post-funeral gathering to commemorate Freddy, another friend, who has committed suicide. Unfortunately for them, the past, and its hold on the present, will not be so easy to tidy away; in fact, from then on, events will get far messier. In Peter's suburban Pennsylvania residence, as a small group of Freddy's friends and relatives struggle with death in the Facebook age, death at its most unexpected, and death as a deliberate choice, as well as the knowledge that "it gets better" didn't happen for Freddy, their coming together leads them into a much wider emotional archaeology, seemingly a current strong suit of Stable Cable Lab Co. Read more »

Prison Time!

Deathwatch
By Jean Genet (trans. by Bernard Frechtman)
Presented by the HOT BLOODed Theatre Co.
St. Mary Magdalen Church, NYC
July 26-August 6, 2016

Seminal existentialist writer and activist Jean Genet's 1949 play Deathwatch (his first) is intimate in its scale, consisting almost entirely of three men in one room, so it is appropriate that HOT BLOODed Theatre Co. has located their current production in a very intimate space on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The result of an actor-centered process that forgoes a director, this production, their first in NYC, is a lithe, lean hour of theater that bodes well for future productions and successfully implicates the audience in its own voyeurism. Read more »

Blood & Tears

Sweat and Tears
Created by Jess Goldschmidt and James Rutherford
Presented by M-34 At JACK, NYC
July 22-July 31, 2016

Sweat and Tears is a new piece of physical theater that draws in part of the past experience of creators Jess Goldschmidt and James Rutherford in karate and dance, respectively.  These physical pursuits, which can also be viewed as ways of disciplining bodies, inform the play’s presentation of what Rutherford calls in a Theater in the Now interview "extreme acts of gendered labor."  The production grew out of what were originally two separate pieces, one by Rutherford that centered around men fighting and one by Goldschmidt constructed around women crying, both of which, Rutherford says, "pulled from a broad swath of performance styles and cultural practices connected to public displays of physical suffering."  In bringing these elements together, the non-narrative Sweat and Tears weaves at intervals into its physical displays both original text and text excerpted from poet Matthew Pinnock, Cormac McCarthy’s hyper-violent novel Blood Meridian, and Tibetan Buddhist writer Tsangnyön Heruka’s biographical Life of Milarepa, asking audiences to interrogate how we perform gendered emotional labor.  Read more »

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