Theater


Here's to The Third New York
"A state of the art, one-act musical"
Run is Over
Tada! Theatre

Cast: Michael Ashford, Daniella Galli, Elissa Goldstein, Jamal Green, Ryan Greer & James Robinson

With live funk music performed by: Stephanie Wells, Christopher Heinz and Nathan You

Reviewed by Diedre Kilgore

I attended Tada! Theatre's opening weekend of Here's to The Third New York with my friend Hana. Tada! Theatre provides a fantastic venue for an Off-Broadway show. When we entered the lobby, we were welcomed by a bohemian world of candlelight, and then were ushered into a spacious yet cozy warehouse-type space, with a large, well-constructed stage.

The production's program had an introductory quote taken from E.B. White, which seemed to aptly explain the title of the show we were about to see. "There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted…….Second, there is the New York of the commuter…….Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last-the city of final destination, the city that is a goal." Well now. That certainly got our attention. This show celebrates a dying breed of New York artists, which simply do not have the outlets they used to. Be it lack of funding, complacency, bureaucracy, you can pretty much name your culprit. However you slice it, its tough being a New York City artist.

Here's to The Third New York realistically illustrates this lifestyle quite well, and brings up and pushes out what it's truly like to be a part of the third New York. The opening scene shows a poet on a soap box, with an accompanying tap number screaming of an impending revolution as a necessary action needed for artists to combat the growing commercialism of the city. I would have loved to see a revolution unfold, but it seems the solution was less the point of the show than to simply portray an ever-dying subculture of New York. Having said that, the show does a fantastic job at entertaining and the cast has explosive moments of well-honed talent. Standout performances come from Elissa Goldstein, her acting and signing were both soulful and heart wrenching. Michael Ashford and James Robinson were both excellent dancers that just seemed to glide across the stage. The music was fun and upbeat, and the tap numbers, which were utilized as a kinetic backdrop to anarchistic poetry, were well composed both at the opening and closing of the show. The audience is taken through an entertaining and realistic ride through a day in the life of struggling artists trying to get by in New York City.

Once the show was over, Hana and I left the theatre and went down the street to the Blue Smoke, and with two double shots of Jack Daniels in hand, we made a toast.

Here's to an inspirational story of survival, in the struggle to keep alive the creative spirit.

Here's to the Third New York!


Diedre Kilgore and Hana Kapp

Tada! Theatre |15 West 28th Street, 2nd Floor


Eugene O'Neill's
Beyond The Horizon
Run is over


"Beyond the Horizon Beckons"


Reviewed by Dinika Amaral

What is destiny? Is it that what happens to us or is it what we create for ourselves? "Beyond The Horizon" is about humankind's struggle with destiny. This play was written by one of Americas' most renowned playwrights, Eugene O'Neill. Mr. O'Neill won a well deserved Pulitzer Prize for "Beyond" in 1920.

Directed by Cailin Hefferman, "Beyond the Horizon" is about two brothers on a farm, Rob Mayo (Peter O'Connor) and Andy Mayo (Justin Krauss). Rob has always been a sickly child. During his sick spells his mother, Kate Mayo (Margaret Flanagan) would instruct him to sit by the window and be quiet. He would stare beyond the horizon and wonder what adventures awaited him yonder. The play commences with Rob on the brink of a voyage around the world aboard his uncle Captain Dick Scott's (Peter Morr) ship. Rob and Andy both have romantic feelings for their neighbor's daughter, Ruth Atkins Mayo (Jennifer Larkin). While saying goodbye to her, Rob confesses his love for her. Much to his surprise, she returns his affection and begs him to stay and marry her. Her mother Mrs. Atkins (Dolores McDougal) is an invalid and Ruth cannot leave her alone. Rob agrees to stay and marry Ruth.

Stricken by Ruth's choice, Andy decides to leave in his brother's place. James Mayo (Ron Sanborn) has trouble believing his son wishes to leave the beloved farm. "You lie when you say you want to go 'way - and see thin's!" James becomes very angry, and despite his wife's efforts to stop him, he disowns Andy and tells him to never to come back to the farm. Andy leaves.

Flash forward three years and James has passed away. Rob and Ruth are not happy. The marriage was a mistake. Rob is a failure as a farmer and Ruth now loathes him. Stuck in a loveless marriage, Rob dotes on his daughter Mary Mayo (Emma Warman). In a heated argument, Ruth tells Rob that she still has feelings for Andy. She tries to get the visiting Andy, to stay on the farm. He tells Ruth that his former passion for her was never more than a "kid's idea that he was letting rule him." Ruth is humiliated and Rob feels sorry for her. Andy leaves for Buenos Aires.

For the next five years Rob and Ruth do not live as man and wife. Kate and Mary pass away and Rob becomes ill. Andy returns with a specialist Dr. Fawcett (John Fitzmaurice). Alas, it is too late. The final scene brings Rob, Andy and Ruth back to the same place the play commenced. Everything has come full circle. In a very touching death scene, Rob admits that he made the wrong decision when he decided not to follow his dreams beyond the horizon. And Andy admits to being a failure for having left the thing that was most dear to him - the farm.

The character of Ruth is the most interesting of the lot. She starts-off as this bonny farm girl, dedicated to her disabled mother, becomes a nagging wife and ends up an apathetic shell of a woman. By her own admission she is incapable of feeling, having felt too much suffering over time. However, the biggest evil she committed was to deliberately leave her husband under the impression that she loved his brother, when in truth she felt nada. The beauty of O'Neill's play lies in her resignation and in our incapability to hate her. All she compels is our sorrow.


There were many times during this play when the melodrama manifested itself in yelling making it impossible to understand the dialogue. For instance, in act one scene two when the fight breaks between John and Andy Mayo, emotion and anger run high, too high. It was not believable and many of the words are incoherent. Ron Sanborn and Margaret Flanagan have the best accents in the play. Flanagan does an excellent portrayal of a doting mother who mollycoddles her son and cannot hold her husband in check. Justin Krauss beautifully portrays his character's love for his brother. This bond is shown throughout the play, even when Rob steals his love from him.

Peter O'Connor was an excellent Rob Mayo. His monologues were delivered with passion and in correct measure. When he interacted with Ruth, he managed to convey both his poetic hope and his devotion to her, even after he learned that she was "mean and small." In one particularly touching moment, when he still hoped he could fight death, he makes plans for their future. O'Connor is a fine father figure to Emma Warman. His love and affection for her brightens the play, showing us that she is the only good thing that ever happened to him. O'Conner's beautifully capped off a great performance in the end, when he gave his last speech, before moving on into the next world.

The set for the first half of the scene was good, but dwindles away as the play moves on. O'Neill provided very explicit guidelines for the set in his playscript. The tablecloth in the second scene was not hemmed. While this might be a small factor, it demonstrates some lack of attention to detail in the set design. People with limited means and few things take very good care of their belongings. The appearance indoors failed to convey this from the onset. Therefore, as things progressed, the squalor that time had wrought was only apparent in the dulled lighting, not in the set. During insightful monologues, we heard poignant music that helped with the mood of the production, hats off to composer Henry Aronson.

The marvel of this play lies in the writing. Despite the limitations of the production, for those interested in seeing amazingly written plays take life, this show is a must. We are left with a sense of foreboding. God forbid we make the mistake of loving the wrong things. Life is best lived by those that learn not just to love, but to love the right things most. Eugene O'Neill won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936. No mean achievement, "Beyond the Horizon" gives testimony to a great writer because despite everything, the power of the main trio holds you spellbound. I could not help being moved.



 

Adriano Shaplin's
Pugilist Specialist
Tues - Fri @t 8:15 PM
Sat @ 2:15PM & 8:15 PM
Sundays @ 3:15PM & 7:15 PM.
Opening Sept 17th
Closing Oct 10th
59E59 St Theatre

Reviewed by Dinika Amaral

Pugilist Specialist is produced by the Riot Group, which is known for its appetite for original plays. The play won many awards in Britain and in my opinion, is on a par with my favorite American army movie," Stripes." Released in the 80s, "Stripes" is the comic story of John Winger (Bill Murray), who joins the army to meet girls and then blunders his way to glory. While "Pugilist Specialist" is funny, the humor is ridden with sharp jabs of melancholy and frustration at the confusion in the United States Marine Corps. Specialist is a true political satire. Like the situation in "Stripes," pandemonium breaks lose when dimwitted officers unwittingly sabotage their own best laid plans, resulting in brouhaha. In a democracy, we have the right to hope that any decisions made affecting the lives of others will not be taken lightly. In "Specialist," the reality is shown to be far from this hopeful outcome.

The Marines are reputed to be one of the most hierarchal divisions in the American defense machine. And as in any other hierarchy where obeying orders is key, bad decisions from superiors go unquestioned. That absolute power corrupts is a well known fact. The Marines are certainly no exception to this rule.

The play has four main characters: Lieutenant Emma Stein (Stephanie Viola), Colonel Johns (Paul Schnabel), Lieutenant Travis Freud (Adriano Shaplin) and Lieutenant Studdard (Drew Friedman). Lieutenant Stein is the "hooker with a heart of gold" and she functions as the conscience of the group. Through the play, we learn that sometime in the past, when Stein felt the public good was not being served, she talked to the New York Times. This was a sacrilegious act, which cost her her career in the Marines. For all her earlier conscientious efforts, toward the latter half of the play, Stein is shown to be the most unrealistic about how to best serve the public. She reports to Colonel Johns (Paul Schnabel), a commanding officer who subscribes to a philosophy of empathy during combat. "Bring your heart, that's the muscle that pulls the trigger."

And as you would expect, the character of Lieutenant Travis Freud (Adriano Shaplin) was written with the goal of balancing-out the Colonel's so-called empathy. Freud exhibits unbridled joy when called to combat. He is also the quintessential video game junkie, but now his remote control has been replaced with an Uzi. Like some of the imbeciles in Xbox's popular videogame Halo, we learn that Freud has acquired a reputation within the marines as a bit of a loose canon. He does not adhere to the make-sure-mind-is-in-gear-principle before pressing the trigger. Freud is bent on human extermination and sees the world only in black and white. When the in-touch-with-his-feminine-side Colonel Johns asks him to agree with him he, responds, "Is it an order sir? Then it doesn't have to make sense."

The conflicts and squabbles between Stein and Freud provide a hilarious, sarcastic backdrop for the mind-numbing Lieutenant Studdard (Drew Friedman), who serves as the recorder for the unit. To Studdard, talk is cheap. He likes to focus on the facts and abstains from idle banter. While he could have represented the prudence we crave, he actually comes off devoid of conscience. He portrays the robot soldier that we all despise.

The four are drawn together in a secret mission to assassinate the "Bearded Lady" at his palace in the desert. From a political standpoint the mission makes no sense, as Stein quickly points out. She states that it is most unwise to assassinate the leader of a country under attack, as it will make him a martyr. She is, of course, unaware of the true nature of the mission, as are we.

The play has a surprise ending that explains very little. The motivation that leads the characters to this ending was obscure, at best. Ideally the surprise twist ending the play would leave us guessing. Alas, in this case we are merely bewildered.

The set is bare with three wooden benches forming the props. The music is minimalist with instrumental beats kicking in now and then, but disappearing during important conversations or moments of high conflict. With little else to add to the flavor, the dialogue has to be stellar to capture the attention of the audience. Stellar it is; writer Adriano Shaplin delivers. The words jump and grab you by the throat. You listen.

Another very interesting and unusual feature is that the characters always face the audience when speaking, never each other. This contributes significantly to the dramatic effect of the play, while drawing attention to facial expressions. The lion of the show is Stephanie Viola as Stein; she gives a very passionate performance. Shaplin and Friedman are stunning and draw many laughs from the audience. Schnabel is a steady act.

While "Pugilist Specialist" focuses on the current Iraq War, it raises timeless political questions regarding the actions of all superpowers. It is not often that we get to see good theater about the present in the present. Reminiscent of work by Harold Pinter, writer of "Betrayal" and also known for his unexpected twists, playwright Adriano Shaplin bitingly asks, "What is the truth and what the hell are we doing?"

59E59 St Theatre |59 East 59th Street



I Love Paris
Tuesdays @ 8PM Sept 7th - 28th
Mondays @ 8PM beginning October 4th.
Blue Heron Arts Center

Reviewed by Armistead Johnson

I Love Paris takes place backstage at the daytime talk show, The View, where Paris is waiting to audition for a slot as one of the show's co-hosts. The play is a stream of consciousness monologue of musings from America's favorite hotel heiress and B porn star, Paris Hilton.

"What's on Paris's mind," you ask? Everything from her hair to terrorism and thankfully, Doug Field's (Down South, An Enola Gay Christmas) script provides no segue from topic to topic, giving I Love Paris an authenticity that fans of Paris's The Simple Life have come to appreciate from Ms. Hilton.

Now, there are critics out there who claim that Paris Hilton is nothing more than a pretty face and hot body with millions of dollars. "How has I Love Paris dealt with such harsh remarks," you ask? By taking her hot body and pretty face out of the equation and having the reality TV star and Guess? model played by someone who no more resembles her than he does her dog Tinkerbell; veteran Broadway actor Kevin Shinick. The bold direction, by Timothy Haskell (one of the most talented directors in New York right now), has Kevin playing Paris as a man, so there is no pretty face or hot body (or horrid drag performance) to get in the way of Paris's intriguingly empty words.

"What should I be doing this weekend," you ask? Well, if you are interested in an intelligent take on one of the most seemingly unintelligent stars of this day and age, going to see I Love Paris would be a great option.

Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased by calling (212) 868-4444 or by going to www.smarttix.com.


Blue Heron Arts Center | 123 E. 24th St. at Park Avenue South



 

I Have a Better Idea
A Series of Solo Performances by Women
September 15-19
Safety in Numbers & Peasant


Reviewed by Stephanie Alberico

Although I only saw a small segment of these women's solo performances, Jan Rudd's "Safety in Numbers," was delightful and funny. I laughed so hard, I cried. Kef Productions presents the first show in this series with a minimal set and a woman who made typical standup comedians look boring. The simplistic setup allowed for the audience to focus in on the talent of the actress and her bizarre jokes.

Jan Rudd performs an amazing show of six women in group therapy. She creates six different characters and makes it amazingly believable. For a
moment, I even thought she might really be bipolar and have six different
personalities. That's how good she was.

Nada, CT, Doris, Urla, Cindy and the overly enthusiastic group leader makeup the six diverse women in the show. CT is a lesbian convict with a potty mouth. Doris is an uptight mother figure who is sexually frustrated. Cindy is the dimwitted, no brain cheerleader type. Urla is the twitching, Gilligan-Island obsessed woman. Nada represents the most normal woman of the group, but still brokenhearted and complex.

"Safety in Numbers," was like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," except it portrayed the experience from a woman's point of view, instead of Jack Nicholson's.

Kef Productions aims to showcase some of New York's strongest and most talented women, and they're definitely on the right track.

I didn't get a chance to check out Peasant or the other shows, but you should. If they are anywhere as funny as this show, they are a guaranteed good time. Laughter is contagious, good for the soul, and makes you feel good. So, what are you waiting for? Life is funny, especially when it involves six crazy women in group therapy.


Tickets are $15 for all shows and $25 for any two separate performances
purchased at the same time.

Call 212.239.6200 or visit www.telecharge.com
Theatre Row Box office at 410 West 42nd Street
www.kefproductions.com or www.thetrerow.org

Other performances include:
September 21-26: (**Note - Show Tuesday, No Show Thursday)
not a nice girl - written and performed by Cheryl King
The Accidental Activist - written and performed by Kathryn Blume

September 29-Oct. 3:
Wreckage - written and performed by Lauren Weedman
Unaccustomed to My Name - written and performed by Marta Rainer




Ophira Eisenberg

"The Gray Area"
and
"Hindsight"

Wednesdays @ 8PM
September 22nd.
Under St. Marks


Reviewed by Tara Koppel

Who can forget their first love? And do we ever completely get over them? These first loves are the guests who randomly invite themselves (unannounced) into our Memory Scrapbook. Sometimes the melody of a song or the scent of soap allows us to briefly stumble upon their page. Other times, however, that page seems to be a permanent fixture in our thoughts and we find ourselves writing and starring in a one woman play about them, so is the case of Ophira Eisenberg, who will be featured on Comedy Central's Premium Blend this season.

I walked into the small downtown playhouse, Under St. Marks, excited about being an addition to the New York Cool Cool crew, and being here, in the heart of undomesticated New York City. Yes, I confess… I am a newyorkcool.com virgin. And when we're through, please feel free to
light a cigarette.

Under St. Marks is a cozy, intimate theater, resembling an underground basement. It seemed hidden, like a secret that I'm letting you all in on. It feels as though you're about to watch a show in the comfort of your own home, but where the performers are much more talented than your brothers and sisters. They offered the audience wine. Have you ever heard of anyone passing up free alcohol? Me neither. And who am I to break tradition…the play began and I took a sip.

If listening to sagas of love is like a roller coaster; then I should have come prepared with a full case of Dramamine. In this hilarious and all too realistic performance of "Hindsight," Ophira invites us into the highs and lows of her first relationship: the fighting, the making up, the intense love, the pissing off, the hating, the crying, the incredible sex, the needing, and finally, the knowing when it's time to let go. Sound freakishly familiar? If this is foreign to you, that's o.k. Surveys suggest that one out of every twenty psychos never have a first love. So don't sweat it! You're in good company.

Instantaneously, Ophira accomplishes what many performers have difficulty doing, capturing her audience and taking us along for the ride. The show did not include what we as an audience have come accustomed to: special effects; murders; or people dramatically dying. The only actress in this play is a single woman; extending me an invite to her intriguing story, and I RSVP'd, ASAP!

Ophira's "Hindsight" details how a person falls "hard" and "messy" into love. To paraphrase her, the first time you fall in love you wear a set of window blinds over your eyes. Every now and then they lift up and you notice questionable behavior, so you lower the blinds again right before intuition and reality sets in. For a moment I thought that the entire performance was a hoax. Was Ophira a private investigator that had been following me for years? How else could she understand my past so well? Thank God for the lessons of "hindsight," right? (I am now proud to say that my eyes are clear of all window treatments.)

Our Memory Scrapbook, similar to a bank account, ages and matures, even if our relationships always do not. This guides us into what is commonly known as "The Gray Area," the second comedy of the night, written by and starring Neil Potter and Bethel Caram. This real life couple have been "committed to non-commitment," existing in the gray area, the locale where a relationship is ambiguously defined.

Receiving bad directions reminds me of this gray area that Neil and Bethel speak of. You're lost: possibly in the vicinity, but still don't exactly know where you are. In a relationship, the gray area means that you are a couple, although not completely established, nor do you always want to be. The only problem lies in that the rules are flexible and often unclear, you don't know what direction the relationship is headed, and you can't turn to an atlas for guidance.

Neil and Bethel have been in this noncommittal relationship for eight years. (No, that is not a typo; I did in fact say eight.) They admit that being in the gray area is a possible outcome from being "afraid to grow up." They can't figure out their relationship because they haven't figured out themselves yet. This probably accounts for the hours of soul searching they invest their time in. Neil is a groupie to motivational speaker guru, Tony Robins, while Bethel reads self-help books like The Power of Now, which made most of the audience laugh at the pitiful ness of it all. (I didn't feel pathetic when I read that book…twice…and bought two copies; one for reading and for decoration.)

Within its dialect, "The Gray Area" comedic ally captures the essence and confusion of the differences between men and women. For example, Bethel suggests that they each say something nice about one another. She begins this exercise by saying she enjoys his wonderful "zesty" personality. Neil replies by telling her he likes her apartment…(enough said.)

The "Gray Area" provokes my curiosity about men and women and if we're truly bred from separate species: belonging to two different animal kingdoms. If so, this certainly explains a great deal. (Now it makes sense why when I communicate with men, they respond by swinging from tree branches while scratching their arm pits and pulling gnats out of their hair.)

There is no gray area about it: both plays were creatively written and had impeccable comedic timing. And in hindsight, I have learned two things about love: the first is that, although love can seem torturous at times, it is vital to us like water, air, food, and porn. Actually, that's not accurate…we can survive a while without food. And the second is that, although our Memory Scrapbook may look messy and unorganized, time and growth will eventually make our future scrapbook into a fine piece of artwork, as are these two performan
ces.

Under St. Marks |94 St. Marks (8th Street)
(between Ave A and 1st Ave)



An (un)Jaded History of Lesbian and Gay Icons, Volume 1

Jade Esteban Estrada
The Lesbian and Gay History of the world, Volume 1
Performed @ Manhattan Theater Source
(Run is over)

Reviewed by Troy Tolley

A boy in a billowy, flowing, white gown informally steps onto stage, casually saying hello, and quickly becomes engaged with the audience. Jade (half in costume) offers us sweet greetings and warm welcomes before he asks us to state who is an icon to us, living or dead, famous or unknown, and to explain why. As each person answered, I was racing through my heart and mind, running through the few icons I feel were powerful enough for me to call an "icon". I dreaded giving my response, because I know of no "icons" who are as obvious as what other people were saying. While others find Oprah Winfrey, Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, and Miles Davis to be their icons, I find Jane Roberts and Elizabeth Fraser to be mine. See what I mean.

When I stated who my icon was (I had chosen Elizabeth), there was so much confusion and "what?" and "who?" and gawking that I quickly changed to the most recognizable name of inspiration to me: Björk!

Ahhh… they all nodded as if that explained everything.

Suddenly, we segue into the performance as Jade begins to transform, to complete his costume, by throwing on a large, mass of golden, curly hair, and altering his voice. His first icon is emerging and the play has begun.

Jade takes us through 6 major icons across time, seeming to focus on their pivotal part in history, using monologue, singing, and dancing. He begins with Sappho, the famous lyrist from Lesbos, whose wealth and aristocracy allowed her to explore her sexuality, making her the first "lesbian" in recorded history (the word "Lesbian" is derived from "Lesbos", the island). Though her freedoms were attributed to her status, there is also strong evidence to support that sexual exploration was not an issue in her time. Nonetheless, Sappho created a world of poetry and inspiration (Plato called her the 10th Muse!), but time, culture, and ignorance have reduced her to mere slang.

For the next hour or so, Jade flips through the pages of history, moving from one icon to the next, leaving you more and more engrossed, inspired, and even emotional. As he channels Michelangelo (sculptor, painter, architect, and poet), Oscar Wilde (poet/playwright), Gertrude Stein (poet, playwright, feminist), Sylvia Rivera (transgender veteran of Stonewall), and Ellen DeGeneres (modern day comedienne), he does not mock them or make them into caricatures. Although entertaining, Jade's icons are wrought with insight and each one offers a profound contribution to the overall message of the performance: We've come a long way in learning to accept each other, and we have a long way to go.

Jade doesn't overshadow his characters with a perfected portrayal of them, nor does he distract you with strained efforts to actually perform impressively, instead he seems to honor each icon with his casual and playful approach. Bad wigs, adorable, fumbling costume changes, random interactions with the audience, big Broadway singing voices; these make the play more like watching a magical child playing dress-up, except with a complexity and wisdom that is not lost in the fun. There are moments you may be thoroughly surprised by your lack of knowledge, (one woman stated that she had never heard Oscar Wilde was gay!), other times you may be moved to tears by the realization of what has been contributed to the freedoms we take for granted as a people. Gay, Straight or in-between, adult, teen, parent or grandparent, this performance is about PEOPLE, about our freedom, and about accepting one another.

This performance may be called "The Lesbian and Gay History of the World", but it is not about gay pride, politics, or power; it is about Humanity and the overlooked contributors to the on-going struggles for absolute freedom for all of us to be who we are, no matter what we are.

Jade has been featured on Graham Norton, and has an extensive and notorious history of writing, acting, and singing, boasting a powerful resume dotted with several awards and praises. He is one of the most famous people you may have never heard of… but you will!

Jade is currently beginning his tour to promote the sequel, Icons Volume 2, wherein he will invite us to explore Alexander the Great, Queen Christina of Sweden, Susan B. Anthony, Billie Jean King, Harvey Milk and 9/11 hero Mark Bingham.

For more information on Jade: http://iconsvolume1.com



Burning the Old Man
A Boomerang Theatre Company Production
Wednesday, September 22nd at 8pm
Saturday, September 25th at 2pm
Friday, October 1st at 8pm
Saturday, October 2nd at 8pm
Sunday, October 3rd at 3pm
Center Stage


Reviewed By Jeff Gangemi

I begin by asking an age-old question: Is the glass half empty or half full? And further, is that a big hole in the wall or just a convenient bit of extra ventilation? Is an inconsistent and not altogether believable character really just struggling to tell us something about ourselves?

Ah, the questions of life - the same questions I ask myself after a production of Boomerang Theatre Company's "Burning the Old Man." It's a story of sibling rivalry, adultery, intrigue, and travel. Or, if you prefer, it's the story of two bickering brothers stranded in the middle of the desert who meet two hopeless hippies and demean the hotel owner's wife.

First, a synopsis: Two brothers, Marty and Bobby, are carrying their recently-deceased father's ashes through the desert to put him to rest at the Burning Man Festival in fulfillment of his dying wish. On the way, their car blows up and they meet Josephine, a hotel desk clerk with a penchant for Thai food. Two hippies, Candy and Earth, join the party and provide some comic relief from the endless slinging of obscenity between Marty and Bobby. Later, Jo's husband, Eddie, gets home after being fired from "his sixth Reno casino in as many months," at which point all hell breaks loose.

Here I must concede that the production of this play was near flawless - one single, unchanging set, a few props, and really solid acting on all parts. I especially liked the younger brother, Bobby, played by Brett Christiansen, a reverently irreverent young man who holds the distinction of being the only character in the play who undergoes any positive transformation. Jo and Eddie are walking stereotypes of a bad marriage and why people stay (but we could've tuned into Lifetime for that), while Candy and Earth flit out as they flit into the action.

Marty is another story altogether, with a sordid past and a hopeless future. He goes from "Mr. Responsibility" to "I hate my life, I want to die" about six times in the course of the action. Furthermore, his immoral sexual escapades leave me questioning the realism of the script. Where has he been for the past three years, under house arrest? Somehow, Timothy McCracken's acting trumps the playwright's inadequate character development to keep the glass half full.

I love Candy and Earth because they simultaneously add humor and levity to the situation. Candy's clairvoyance is performed through her prodigal olfactory capabilities, while Earth is at once a humorous hippie stereotype and a realistic, contemplative young loser. Two of Earth's lines really sum up this play for me: "Love is just evil spelled backwards and wrong," and "Just when life gets to be worth living, it becomes this long, sad road to certain death."

Judge for yourself the tone of this play and the state of mind of the playwright. On my glass half full side, I laughed at the funny parts of this play as if my glass contained brackish water spiked with tequila, while my glass half empty side cried its eyes out, lamenting all the pathetic souls out there roaming the desert in search of a way to get a fresh start at their worn out lives. All things being unequal, I recommend it.

For tickets, go to www.boomerangtheatre.org.

Center Stage | 48 West 21st Street 4th Floor
(between 5th & 6th Avenues)




Malú Huacuja Del Toro's
Celebrities Shouldn't Have Children
(Run is over)

"Jason Madera: The God of Celebrities Shouldn't Have Children"

Directed by : Leonard Zelig
Starring: Brad Thomason, Jason Madera, Tania Robles, Belen Cortizo and Buster the Poodle

Reviewed by Dinika Amaral

Like Milton's "Paradise Lost," writer Malu Huacuja del Toro uses "Celebrities Shouldn't Have Children" to showcase the idea of a fallible God. Brad Thomason, the comic hit of "Just Us Boys," stars as Caesar. The energy and enthusiasm Thomason fans have come to expect are evident in his performance. Caesar is the son of a celebrity who has been chosen by God (Jason Madera) to give a message to the world. Having been born on a heap of silver spoons has guilt-tripped Caesar into spending his adult life apologizing for his wealth. Of course in true superficial Hollywood style the remorse evaporates where lifestyle begins and he has no qualms about living it up.

Feelings of insecurity and unworthiness have shaped an indecisive Caesar that tries his level best to take no stand, like most gentlemen of leisure. Unfortunately for him, God is unwilling to let him off that easy. He dismisses freewill like a pesky footnote and then threatens him with being labeled as insane and thereby losing his wealth. God even uses the girlfriend Diane (Belen Cortizo) to manipulate him. Faced with the possibility of losing Diane, his wealth and having no alternatives, Caesar is on the brink of capitulating, when God is momentarily overpowered. Enter the Devil.

Tania Robles is the sly, conniving Devil in this play. She works very hard to dissuade Caesar from the task of starting a religion and using his inherited celebrity to gain a following. Her motivations are not revealed and the only rationale behind her behavior is that she is against God's will. Diane does most of the work of making Caesar famous for his witnessing God and she arranges for him to be on television. However, breaking away from Donald Trump's example, God wants Caesar to give up his fame and disgrace himself by professing to viewers that "no religion" is the true message. Diane and the devil plead, cajole and advice against this. But Caesar obeys God and gives the anti-message.

Most of the play is set in Caesar's closet, which typically is big enough for God, the devil, Diane and probably half the audience to fit in (maybe all the audience, once we get rid of the clothes). While, simplistic, the set is inventive and creative and allows for the actors to take control of the stage. The smaller size of the hosting Gene Frankel Theatre, further contributes to the vividness of off-beat productions it usually showcases. Workshops conducted here make it the perfect diving board for beginners.

At the close of the play one learns that god was using the devil all along to test Caesar, but the nature of the test is unclear. While "Celebrities Shouldn't Have Children" touches on many interesting themes it falls short of the focus and cohesiveness necessary for clarity and great performances. Probably one of the most touching insights is when Caesar observes that it was the devil that did most of the talking and explaining to him, while Gods used a completely hands-off approach. If it wasn't for the efforts of the devil, Caesar would have been lost. In a very Miltonian fashion one is forced to ask where is God when Caesar needed him most?

That the devil is a woman and God a man would lead feminists to cringe. However, the devil and Diane do all the work and are still defeated by God in gaining control of Caesar, which is a subversive critique of the patriarchal world order.

Jason Madera gives a compelling performance as a twisted God who uses mortals and the devil for his amusement. His presence is similar to the legendary presence of Paul Robeson in Othello. From the onset he commands attention with a bold entrance and continues to hold his own throughout. Madera's previous exploits include "The Cook," which according to critics lays testimony to his skill and versatility. Celebrities Shouldn't Have Children serves as another feather in his cap, fortifying his acclaimed talent.



Toxic Audio

Toxic Audio in LOUDMOUTH
Featuring Jeremy James, Shalisa James,
Michelle Mailhot-Valines, Rene Ruiz & Paul Sperrazza

September 2nd - 30th
Visit www.toxicaudio.com for further details

Review By Liberation Iannillo

Having seen this show twice it’s still hard to definitively describe what the Toxic Audio experience is like. Of course being such an enigma works in their favor. Using only their voices, Toxic Audio delivers a show that is a unique combination of singing and comical performance art. The five talented vocalists that make up this group perform their music and sound effects using nothing but their voices. At first thought this may not sound all that impressive, but after hearing vocalist Paul Sperrazza flawlessly recreate a DJ booth, complete with a scratching records and various song samples, all created by his voice, all at the same time, you’re left thinking, “Did I just hear that?” That is Toxic Audio.

The group, comprised of Jeremy James, Shalisa James, René Ruiz, Paul Sperrazza and Michelle Mailhot Valines, perform a number of songs varying from The Beatles’ ‘Paperback Writer’ to Evanescence’s ‘Wake Me Up Inside’. The latter, which Shalisa James sang lead vocals, was so powerful that I had to remind myself constantly that her flawless voice was not accompanied by musical instruments, that it was her fellow vocalists bringing the house down. Toxic Audio opened with Til’ Tuesday’s ‘Voices Carry’ which was performed with such heartfelt emotion that you would think the song was their own. One of the standout pieces in the show by far is Paul Sperrazza’s performance of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. In fact, Sperrazza’s surreal, fluid body movements and near perfect comic timing unintentionally make him the star of the show.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a show that I raved about it to anyone who would listen to me. The one and only problem I had with the show was that at times it was so overly miked’ that you couldn’t capture the clarity of the voices.

Toxic Audio has performed throughout the United States and recently won the 2004 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. This is definitely one of the best shows running and my only regret is that it’s not longer.

www.toxicaudio.com

Houseman Theater | 450 West 42nd Street | BTW 9th Ave & 10th Ave

 



The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea
Written By Mark A. Robertson
The New York International Fringe Festival
(Run is over)

Reviewed By Mikal Saint George

It is always refreshing to find a drama that deals with men and their relationships with one another that is not the usual trivialized stereotype that so much theatre –and mass media in general - has become. Too often men are reduced to nothing more than primitive lunk heads ruled entirely by their genitals and job titles. Not that the stereotype does not exist – that’s why it is there. But anytime a playwright takes more than a nanosecond to explore some of the fundamentals of what makes men tick as well as the bonds that can tie them together, I am willing to buy a ticket. Mark A. Robertson’s THE DEAD SEA, which premiered at the New York Fringe Festival, does not merely delve but instead goes bravely spelunking into just such relationships.

We are introduced to the characters on the eve of Christmas Eve when a sleeping Jake (Hayden Roush) is abruptly awakened by a would-be intruder pilfering random gifts and household items. After easily overpowering the burglar, Jake is stunned to realize that he has confronted his own brother Caleb (Mark A. Robertson – a triple threat as writer/actor/producer) who ran away 4 years earlier at age 16 and has been M.I.A. ever since. The young men are quickly joined by third sibling Corey (Nick Amick) and their father Paul (Elias Stimac).

Once the family gets over the initial shock of this impromptu reunion they are then startled by the fact that Caleb has apparently not showered nor changed his clothes since leaving home in sophomore high school. His tweaky state of inebriation speaks for itself. This is family however, and they seem relieved, if not particularly over-joyed, to have him home. After all, much has changed since Caleb’s less-than-grand exit. Jake is single again as is brother Corey, who also has the pleasure of a bitter custody battle. Dad has seemingly come to (shakey) terms with his alcoholism and, oh yeah, Mom died about a year ago. You can practically smell the middle class frustration.

There are a couple more intriguing details regarding Caleb’s absence, I won’t give them away but they will definitely raise eyebrows. More importantly, we are able to see the family dynamics that hold this family together through estrangement, addiction and death. While true “families” very often don’t grow up under the same roof, the ones that do – and live to tell about it - often have the kind of bond that simply can’t be broken. From the shared childhood rituals that have spilled over into adulthood to a simple afternoon of holiday shopping, these guys really love each other and somehow, astonishingly manage to find a way to like each other.

Mark A. Robertson indicates promise as a playwright but clearly displays himself as a gifted actor. There are many good actors out there that could easily take on this role and give a truly heart felt, profound performance. Few – very few – could display the kaleidoscope of emotion constantly swirling just beneath the surface of Robertson’s Caleb. He manages to portray the next to impossible balance of wounded spirit, dark depression and smothering narcissism that make this character complex and compelling. Yes, he is repulsive in the way that only homeless, compulsive drinking speed freaks can be but there is something genuinely endearing about him. East village bars are full of these guys, there is a cult of the women (and men) who love them, Oprah built her early career talking to flotsam and jetsam they inevitably leave in their wake.

Elias Stimac as patriarch Paul is a man still dealing with his own demons but willing to do anything (including turning a conveniently blind eye) in order to exorcise those of his offspring. Even in his more joyous moments there is a sadness that permeates his presence as only the pain of watching a child self destruct can. Stimac brings a certain elegance to this sadness that adds a subtle poignance to the story unfolding. Hayden Roush’s Jake maintains a boyish quality that belies an explosive temper. Nick Amick as Corey brings a stalwart reliability that is counter-balanced by the tumultuous emotions surrounding his failed marriage and estranged daughter.

Director Leah Vesonder displays an acute sense of the sublime. She is able to somehow see beauty in the decidedly dowdy world of these four men and even at Caleb’s most pathetic find a sort of dignity that could easily be overlooked by a less astute director.

www.geocities.com/thedeadsea2004





 

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