Theater Review

Hamilton!

Hamilton
Richard Rogers Theatre, NYC

Few shows have arrived on Broadway with the hype that accompanies Hamilton, the new musical inspired by author Ron Chernow's biography of one of America’s instrumental founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who immigrated from the West Indies as a teenager; the contribution of immigrants to the young country is a key theme in the musical, and one which obviously is still making headlines today. The musical begins in the 1770s, after Hamilton’s arrival in America, and the first act mostly revolves around Hamilton's role as a top aide to Washington in the Revolutionary War, while Act Two covers the early days of the American Republic, including the Washington administration, in which Hamilton was the first Treasure Secretary, and Hamilton’s death in 1804 as the result of his infamous duel with Aaron Burr. Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

What They're Serving Out in Seattle…

Don Nordo del Midwest
Cafe Nordo, Seattle

Dinner theatre is an experience that one might naturally associate with a mediocre meal accompanied by a tired production of some standard-bearer musical. Cafe Nordo challenges this preconception, doing the unthinkable by infusing creativity and sincerity into this otherwise basely novel tradition. Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

Baby, It's Cold Outside - Frigid New York Festival 2015

Erik: A Play About a Puppet
Directed by Jerrod Bogard and Written by John Patrick Bray 
Rising Sun Performance Company 
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003
 
Bi, Hung, Fit...and Married: An Erotic Journey
Directed by Seán Cummings Written and Performed by Mark Bentley Cohen
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003
 
300 to 1
Written by Matt Panesh and Directed by Gareth Armstrong Monkey Poet
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003

This is the second of two dispatches from the theater festival whose name continues to reflect conditions in our fair city: Frigid New York. Frigid is in its ninth year, and all of its revenue goes directly to the artists involved. This year, there are 30 shows running for a combined total of 150 performances in two theaters. We have previously discussed Frigid's Dog Show, The Can Opener, and the excellent Richard the Third and Goal; here, we talk about Bi, Hung, Fit...and Married, which maps an “erotic journey” to escape heteronormativity; Erik, a comic reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera; and 300 to 1, a fantastic one-man show that brings Sparta and Flanders to Manchester.

Frigid New York Festival 2015

Dog Show
Directed by Karim Muasher
Created by the Ensemble Animal Engine
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003
 
The Can Opener: A Brief Horror Musical
Directed by Kenneth Oefelein
Written by M. Zachary Johnson 
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003
 
Richard the Third and Goal, or RG3
Written and Directed by Neal J. Freeman
Bloody Shakespeare at Under St. Mark’s 94 St. Mark’s Place, New York, NY 10009

This is the first of two dispatches from the theater festival whose name is currently more than apt: Frigid New York. Frigid is in its ninth year, and all of its revenue goes directly to the artists involved. This year, there are thirty shows running for a combined total of 150 performances in two theaters. Here, we will discuss three of those thirty, ranging from light comedy through horror-tinged musical to an excellent reimagining of Shakespeare by way of professional sports. Read more »

New York Shakespeare Exchange's Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus
Adapted and Directed by Ross Williams
Written by William Shakespeare
New York Shakespeare Exchange
at HERE
145 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10013
January 22-February 8, 2015

The New York Shakespeare Exchange has its finger in more than one pie, and not all of them are, as in Titus Andronicus, filled with human flesh. In addition to its current production of Shakespeare’s gory early crowd-pleaser, the group created The Sonnet Project, which develops a short film shot in a “cultural/historic” NYC location for each sonnet. The results can be viewed online or through a dedicated mobile app (available for IOS or Android). It also runs periodic pub crawls called ShakesBEER, which we can personally recommend as a fun way to experience a few new drinking establishments in the City accompanied by themed scenes or mash-ups from the Bard’s dramatic canon. Read more »

The Fire That Burns

The Fire This Time 10-Minute Play Festival
Kraine Theater 85 E. 4th St., NYC
January 23-30, 2015

Very short plays are at their most effective when they enter into and add to an existing conversation, and the plays that comprise the Sixth Annual The Fire This Time Festival recognize this. The festival exists as “a platform for talented early-career playwrights of African and African American descent to … move beyond common ideas of what’s possible in ‘black theater’” to demonstrate that “[t]he African American experience is not represented solely by one voice or one style,” and the seven voices that stage these short pieces--this year each inspired by the photographs of Alex Harsley of the 4th Street Photo Gallery, just down the street from the theater and itself worth a visit -- give expression to the diversity of the American experience of people of color in a way that is both particular and inextricable from current (and often longstanding) social flashpoints. Read more »

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