Theater Review

Indecent!

Indecent
Cort Theatre, NYC

Indecent is a strange play. It's like getting a gorgeously wrapped package and finding something insubstantial and vaguely disturbing inside the box.

The packaging of Indecent includes fantastic direction from Rebecca Taichman, engaging writing from Paula Vogel and a near-perfect ensemble of performers. But once you get past the seduction of the production, you have to wonder why so much talent was lavished on what is no more than a historical theatrical footnote.

And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little

Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Zindel's gynocentric drama in fact unfolds place over the course of a Friday evening in 1968, within the apartment of the Reardon sisters in Zindel's native Staten Island. Chemistry teacher Anna Reardon (Amanda Jones) has taken the death of the sisters' mother particularly hard and, when the play begins, is medicated and has missed several days of work, where she has committed a legally and ethically serious indiscretion. Assistant Principal Catherine Reardon (Heather E. Cunningham), who lives with Anna, is attempting to deal with her sister's fixation on death, including an insistent embrace of vegetarianism, with the aid of copious amounts of both sarcasm and alcohol. Catherine has invited the third and only married Reardon sister, Board of Education Superintendent Ceil (Sara Thigpen), to dinner, inviting also all of the sisters' old grudges and new tensions into an evening further complicated when Fleur (Rebecca Holt), a guidance counselor, and her businessman husband Bob (Christopher Borg) drop by on their way to a night out.

Who To Believe...?

The Conspiracists
Written and directed by Max Baker
Presented by Stable Cable Lab Co. at IRT Theater, NYC
April 22-May 7, 2017

Max Baker's new play, The Conspiracists, happens to be making its debut alongside widespread media coverage of the custody trial of toxic conspiracy monger Alex Jones, during which a lawyer for Jones argued that his on-air persona is merely performance art (a claim later disputed by his on-air persona). Many took this defense as a clear admission that he knowingly spreads lies for profit, but at least one writer has claimed that performing a character does not necessarily mean that the performer does not believe what the character delivers. That observation could apply equally well to the array of avowed believers who assemble as a support group in Baker's latest effort. In fact, one character, Hilda (Lisa Jill Anderson), posits, to the displeasure of the others, that belief in conspiracy theories is a self-protective measure masking feelings of powerlessness. That she may be objectively correct is not meant to demean these characters or to diminish the complexity of their lived experience, a point that is underscored by the fact that Hilda herself behaves not a sage dispenser of wisdom so much as a cheerfully, obliviously condescending outsider to the group, as absorbed in her own faintly silly interests as the conspiracists are in theirs.

Haming Up the Proceedings

How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet
Written by John Kurzynowski and Jon Riddleberger
Conceived and directed by John Kurzynowski
Presented by Theater Reconstruction Ensemble at HERE, NYC
March 30-April 14, 2017

The average person probably has at least a passing familiarity with William Shakespeare's Hamlet. But how is it different to know the Western canon's arguably most famous tragedy from the inside, so to speak? And can that shift in perspective, even if observed rather than experienced directly, allow the audience to see the play afresh, with different eyes? In John Kurzynowski and Jon Riddleberger's metatheatrical comedy How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet, created and performed by Theater Reconstruction Ensemble (TRE), a quartet of people (Nathaniel Basch-Gould, Sam Corbin, Joshua William Gelb, and Emily Marro) find themselves unexpectedly performing Hamlet (a problem, one would imagine, that most of us are glad not to encounter). TRE is a collective that seeks to "reconstruct both classical and canonical forms of theatricality through the playful development of works over time," and How to Hamlet uses a play centered on revenge, madness, and an existential crisis as the basis for unpredictable fun. To borrow from Troilus and Cressida, "this is, and is not," Hamlet.

The Old Soft Shoe Shuffle

FRED
Written by Christopher Ford and Dakota Rose
Directed by Dakota Rose
Presented by On the Rocks Theatre Company at Dixon Place, NYC
March 17-April 1, 2017

Dixon Place is a reliable venue for offbeat theater. If you're looking for, say, an earnest examination of twentysomethings trying to make it in the city, then it's probably best to look elsewhere. If, however, you're in the mood for sci-fi puppets or dance-filled reimaginings of Carroll's Wonderland, then Dixon Place has you covered. The latest of these unconventional offerings is FRED, a buoyant new comedy by Christopher Ford and Dakota Rose, creators of the recent The White Stag Quadrilogy.

Treading On Borrowed Time

Kyle
Written by Hollis James, Directed by Emily Owens
Presented by Hot Tramp Productions at UNDER St. Marks, NYC
March 11-25, 2017

Kyle is the first play from Hot Tramp Productions, which promises "darkly comic" shows as part of its mission to create "pre-apocalyptic theatre for a post-Bowie world." Written by Queens native Hollis James, Kyle mines comedy from the depths of addiction and marks an impressive debut both for James as a playwright and for his and director Emily Owens' newly-founded production company.

A Man Needs A Maid

Les Bonnes/The Maids
Written by Jean Genet
Directed by Oliver Henzler
Presented by La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club
In association with L'Atelier Théâtre Productions at First Floor Theatre, NYC

Writer and activist Jean Genet's early play Les Bonnes (The Maids) was inspired in part by the real-life 1933 murder by two sisters, employed as maids, of their employer and her daughter. In his play, Genet transforms his sensationalistic inspiration into a stylized psychodrama that comments on forms of servitude and dependency, and the result has remained popular since its debut in 1947. Les Bonnes is the first professional production by L'Atelier Théâtre Productions, which "aims at presenting bold and inspiring European plays to a New York audience in the original language" and at creating a community of theater artists in New York who will blend American and European traditions. This production is performed in the original French, with English subtitles (by Lucy O'Brien, Mariam Mustafa, and Ellen Thome, undergraduates studying French at Fordham University) available on video screens at either end of the room, above and behind the audience, which is seated on the two short sides of the rectangular theater.

It's Even Frostier In Here - FRIGID, Part 2

We're back for the second week of the 19-day FRIGID NY Festival, which is in the midst of an artistic occupation of the Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Marks, to discuss two more of its 30 plays. In total, we are reviewing a mere four, or 13%, of this year's FRIGID shows, but information and tickets for all of the offerings can be found at www.FRIGIDnewyork.info. As every year, all proceeds from tickets sales go directly to the artists.

Frosty & FRIGID

It's that time of year again: the FRIGID NY Festival is taking over the Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Marks for 19 days, with 30 plays ranging from personal narratives to parodies to science comedy to the avant-garde. We will be discussing a mere four of the productions in our two dispatches from the festival, but information and tickets for all of this year's shows can be found at www.FRIGIDnewyork.info. As every year, all proceeds from tickets sales go directly to the artists.

Ring Twice For Miranda

Ring Twice for Miranda
Stage II at New York City Center
Through April 16, 2017

During Ring Twice for Miranda, while witnessing the frequent long and drawn-out arguments scenes that pepper this play’s landscape, I was reminded of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. What kept your attention during that film’s interminable arguments among Warhol’s characters was hope of some kind of satisfying resolution. Playwright Alan Hruska is by trade a litigation lawyer, so he knows how to argue. Unfortunately his characters do not share his real life expertise. I kept saying to myself “come on, get on with it!” My impatience had me physically squirming much as I did when, eons ago, I first viewed Chelsea Girls! In addition, specters of the post-apocalyptic Spike Milligan/Richard Lester film collaboration The Bed Sitting Room floated about me. Absent from Miranda’s world was the clear social satire and whimsy which sustained Mr. Milligan’s long career.