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.
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.
Written by Will Coleman
Directed by Brock Harris Hill
Presented by Rising Sun Performance Company
Planet Connections, NYC
June 19-July 9, 2016
While avoiding mingling with guests during a crowded party in Will Coleman’s Helvetica, presented in its world premiere by the Rising Sun Performance Company (who were responsible for the excellent recent production of Sprucehaven B), protagonist Helvetica Burke quotes T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock: "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." Helvetica herself is a writer, of children’s books, and her invocation of Eliot’s famously self-doubting narrator highlights her own cynical side, the side that sees existence as inherently meaningless and stories as a way to help alleviate this condition. She also, however, has a tenaciously persistent sense of childlike wonder and possibility, even if that side sometimes goes unacknowledged for stretches of time. Helvetica, benefitting the New York Public Library as part of the socially- and ecologically-conscious Planet Connections Festivity, explores the interplay between these two sides and how they interact with the stories that we choose to tell ourselves and others.
The Planet Connections Festivity is "New York's premiere socially-conscious arts festival," dedicated to inspiring community outreach and social change and to operating eco-friendly productions. One of the full-length plays in the 2016 Festivity is playwright and researcher at Columbia University Medical Center Yaakov Bressler’s comedy The Golden Smile, which follows seven patients in a mental care facility in the 1950s as they attempt to create their own play.
Contemporary theater is not exactly bursting at the seams with works in the science fiction genre. With a new production of Mac Rogers’ 2009 Universal Robots, Rogers and Jordana Williams, the writer and director respectively of last year's acclaimed extraterrestrial invasion play cycle The Honeycomb Trilogy, reunite to continue bucking that trend. Universal Robots uses multigeneric Czech writer Karel Čapek's influential 1920 play R.U.R., commonly translated as Rossum's Universal Robots, "as a point of departure for an original speculative drama," borrowing some situations and concepts while crafting an alternate history that differs from our own in some smaller ways (real-life Čapek's brother and writing partner Josef becomes Josephine) and some much larger ones that we won’t spoil the fun of finding out here. Though Čapek's life and corpus provide the intertextual focus, audiences will also be put in mind of the works of writers including Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov, as well as of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, shades of which permeate not only the often Futurist aesthetic of the set but also the play's consideration of the means of production.
Written by Sevan K. Greene
Directed by Kareem Fahmy
Presented by Rising Circle Theater Collective, The Sheen Center, NYC
May 7-21, 2016
This Time is the continent- and decade-spanning yet intimate new play by Sevan K. Greene, presented in its world premiere by Rising Circle Theater Collective, a group that focuses on original work by artists of color. Greene based his play on Not So Long Ago, the memoir of Amal Meguid, director Kareem Fahmy’s grandmother, to whose memory This Time is dedicated. This Time actually follows two threads of time, one in 1990s Toronto, the play’s present, and one that begins in 1960s Cairo and moves towards that present. In the latter thread, a young Amal (Rendah Heywood) meets Nick (Seth Moore), a Canadian on business in Cairo, at a party. Both are trilingual; Amal is blunt, honest, and married; Nick, avowedly romantic, pushy, and sleeping with his secretary.
If you’ve ever watched the opening of the long-running PBS anthology series Mystery!, then you’ve seen the art of Edward Gorey. If you haven’t, well, he is not the most mainstream of artists, though perhaps the mainstream has edged closer to his sensibility in our post-Tim Burton, post-Hot Topic world. Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey, a new play by Travis Russ, does not walk the audience through Gorey’s greatest hits in common biographical narrative fashion (so if you are unfamiliar with his work, do yourself a favor and look into it on your own). In fact, in this play, Gorey refers to his most famous work, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, with clear weariness. Instead, Gorey quickly asserts that time is "fragile, fleeting, and fluid," and takes that idea as its structuring principle. Andrew Dawson, Aidan Sank, and Phil Gillen share the stage as younger, mature, and older versions of the artist, a compression of Gorey’s life that derives poignancy from its multiple perspectives and voices, such as when the youngest Gorey cheerfully says that the move to the Cape Cod house that he and his cats would occupy until his death is only temporary. Gorey was something of a collector, to put it mildly, and the contents of his house, catalogued by volunteers after his death, provide the other structuring principle in the play, with items often triggering memories or enactments of various points in his life.
Drew Hodges is at a loss for words. Asked if he’s surprised at the life he’s leading -- did he imagine he’d grow up to fly around the world orchestrating scenes with great actors and artists for his own wildly influential agency -- he pauses three entire seconds. “I wish I had an answer for you,” he says. “It's like, Come for the veal, stay for the floor show.”
You might not know Drew Hodges’ name, but if you’ve enjoyed some form of popular culture in the past decade, you’re living in a world he helped create. "When I started, the idea of theater was still very much that ‘fabulous invalid’ thing," he says, “sort of dying, old, kind of nostalgic. I was lucky enough to work on a lot of stuff that started to chip away at that."
Twenty years ago, art-directing for his small design firm’s music, film and cable clients, Hodges was offered his first theater project, a little show called Rent. The man for whom performance meant taking the train from Hyde Park, NY, as a high schooler to see Yes at Madison Square Garden harnessed the excitement he felt watching innovative theater and expanded his rock & roll take to advertising, moving the firm carved out of his Flower District apartment closer to Broadway, where it would grow into the entertainment powerhouse SpotCo.
Written by Rafael Spregelburd and translated by Jean Graham-Jones
Directed by Samuel Buggeln
Presented by The Cherry Arts
JACK, Brooklyn, NYC
April 14-30, 2016
Making a performance look easy is very difficult, but the fantastic new production of Argentine playwright Rafael Spregelburd’s intricately-constructed SPAM makes it look effortless. SPAM, making its English-language première in a translation by the City University of New York’s Jean Graham-Jones, probes some of those boundaries and spaces between appearance and reality, especially where language is concerned. Mario Monti (Vin Knight) is a linguistics professor with an ethically questionable relationship to the work of one of his thesis students and a case of amnesia from a head wound. As the play unfolds, both he and we come to understand more about how he ended up living in a hotel room in Malta, trying to hawk Chinese-manufactured talking dolls on the beach for cash and befriending a Swiss diver filming an underwater documentary.
In the olden days ("Tell us great-grandfather") there was vaudeville, where young performers could cut their teeth, playing on the various circuits all around the country. So where do emerging singers and comedians get their time before an audience in this strangest of all eras? Of course there's the web, but tweeting responses or comments below a YouTube video do not in my opinion constitute a flesh and blood audience--those hearty folk who make an effort to move their bodies into a performance space, and let a singer or comedian know in no uncertain terms if they've "got it."