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Mark Lundholm's
"Addicted... a comedy of substance"
Spring 2004
Zipper Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Addicted... a comedy of substance, written by Mark Lundholm and directed by Bob Balaban, is a tall cool "drink" of a show. Everything about it is cool, from the first sight of the Zipper Theater to the fog as you leave the lobby bar.

Sometimes there can be a harmonic convergence for a show and a space and this is surely it. The Zipper with it's ultra hip urban-junk-yard décor is the perfect place to stage a one man show about addiction. And Mr. Lundholm's story is about addiction to everything ­ booze, food, work, coffee, dope, TV, phone, sex, money and even shoes. But it is mostly the story of Mr. Lunkholm's harrowing addiction to booze and dope and the crazy journey he took to a stoner's Oz and back. In Addicted, Mark Lundholm has used his own life as his canvas to expose himself totally in a darkly comic piece that is both horrifying and terribly human.

The skillful direction by Bob Ballaban was timed to a stop watch second. The lighting by Paul Miller and sound by Randy Hansen were cool and sexy, adding to the fun of being in the theater. And whoever (Walt Spangler?) thought to use a backdrop of hanging beer bottles deserves some kind of award for design. So go see Addicted, it's addicting.



ALL GOOD THINGS: The Story of the Remains
August 2004
The NYC Fringe Festival

They were magic. They were how you told a stranger about rock' n' roll." Jon Landau, Crawdaddy


Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

"All Good Things: The Story of the Remains" is a play about a Boston "boy band" that was popular in the sixties during the time of the English invasion (aka The Beatles). Here is a quote from their press release: "They were signed by Columbia Records. They played on Ed Sullivan. They opened for The Beatles! They never had a hit. What went wrong?"

All "All Good Things" is directed by David Roth, with a book by Michael Eric Stein and music and lyrics by The Remains. It stars Ryan Link, Anthony Rand, Clayton Fletcher, Jay Greenberg, Daniel Hall, Jay Strauss, Dorothy Abrahams, Dina Drew, Melanie McCarthy, Michelle Pruett, Elliott Mayer, Michael James Stamberg, Jason Summers and Daryl Wein. Here is an interesting note from their press materials: The original members of the Remains were from Westport, Connecticut, as is the director, David Roth.


The Remains were formed in the early sixties at Boston College by Barry Tashian, William Briggs and Vernon Miller. They then persuaded Chip Damiani to join as their drummer. The band became a hit in New England with their signature "bottom heavy" rock, so much so that they decided to quit college and move to New York. This move was much to the chagrin of their affluent Westport parents, who were expecting much more from their sons. Once in New York, they encountered repeated cycles of feast and famine as exhibited by playing on the Ed Sullivan Show. Playing Sullivan was a huge honor which did not pay off in fame and fortune, because the show's producers insisted that they mute their heavy sound. They also had good luck in getting a record contract, but bad luck when another group recorded the same single at the same time. All of this up-and-down cycle culminated when after touring with the Beatles (minus drummer Damiani), they were left in Los Angeles forced to get minor gigs to earn enough money to fly home. And soon afterwards, they disbanded.

When watching the show, I could not help but think about fame and fortune and wonder what would have happened for The Remains if they had not quit and stayed on to fight another day. I have a copy of their CD and the music is great. But they were Boston College boys (by way of Westport, Connecticut Boston College boys), and a life of failure and poverty must have been unthinkable.

When you see a show at The Fringe, you see a skeleton, an idea of what a show could be. "All Good Things" is no different. It is a show about a rock band, staged in a gymnasium without proper sound or lighting - a first look for everyone, including the writer, director, and cast. There were some very talented actors and musicians on stage (Ryan Link is always a favorite) and a very poignant story of lost possibilities. So I was left with the same question about the show that bedeviled the Remains themselves. Is there something here, something that should go on, something worth investing more time, money, energy? And the answer is yes, there is something here, something that should go on, a story worth telling, something that is worth putting up again and again - seeing what it looks like, making changes, allowing it to grow, allowing it to Remain. Rock on!


 

Eugene O'Neill's
Beyond The Horizon
September 2004


"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.


Christopher Durang's
Beyond Therapy
Dillons
August 2004

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Christopher Durang (Betty's Summer Vacation, Sister Mary Ignatius Explain It All for You) is one of my favorite playwrights and Durang's "Beyond Therapy" is one of my favorite plays. "Therapy" opened on Broadway in 1982 with Dianne Wiest and John Lithgow in the roles of Prudence and Bruce. Unfortunately I was unable to attend due to an extended childhood. So on Saturday August 14th, I happily went to see "Beyond Therapy" performed by The Source Works Theater Company. And all I can say is, "Wow!"

Director Mark Cannistraro did an amazing job with this show. First, he chose a wonderful cast: Kurt Bauccio as Bruce, Tom Daddario as Dr. Stuart Framingham, Matt Fraley as Andrew, Brad Letson as Bob, Forba Shepherd as Mrs. Charlotte Wallace and Marlene Wallace (also amazing in True West) as Prudence. Most off-off-Broadway shows have a few good actors and one or two so-so actors that the good ones have to drag behind them to the very end. That is certainly not the case with this troupe. Everyone on stage was absolutely hysterical. The actors were obviously having a blast, depicting every bizarre personality disorder known to man.

The set was very simple. Dillons is a supper club/cabaret space and can only accommodate "suitcase" plays. But nevertheless, I was totally taken into the bizarre world of these crazy characters. All the scenes were impeccably timed and I really have absolutely no criticism of anything.

Christopher Durang is a very funny absurdist playwright. I can just imagine him writing his plays, sitting in front of his computer, cracking himself up as he comes up with this insanity. Saying to himself, "Really should I? Will they be too……oh, why not? Hee, hee, hee!"

There are only supposed to be two more Therapy sessions, August 21st and 28th at 8PM, so everyone needs to rush over to Dillons at 245 West 54th Street and see the show before it closes. And if you miss it, perhaps you can ask the cast to come to your home and perform the show for you. I don't know what the price would be, but whatever it is, it would be worth it. After all, this is New York and we can all use a little therapy.

 



 Tracy Lett's
"BUG"

Tuesdays - Fridays at 8 PM
Spring 2004
The Barrow Street Theatre

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Tracy Lett's Bug is one bugged-out show.  Filled with varmints and crawling with vermin, it is one of the best shows I have seen off Broadway.

As you enter the theater there is a wonderful advertisement in the ticket office warning that the show contains nudity, violence and cigarette smoking. And the show certainly contains a lot of nudity and violence, but it is so fast paced the characters have little time to smoke until the very end - but I don't want to give away too much too soon.   

The eerie theme is launched in the beginning when we see the drugged-out Agnes (the wonderful Shannon Cochran) standing in the doorway of a seedy Oklahoma City motel, casually smoking a cigarette, listening to the trucks whizzing by as an ignored phone rings in the background. She then leaves the door wide open while she looks for something to drink in the bathroom.  This directorial choice is a great metaphor for the rest of the story, for Agnes is always forgetting to "shut the door."

Soon her lesbian friend RC (the talented Amy Landecker) arrives with Peter (the amazing Michael Shannon) in tow.  When RC leaves, she leaves Peter (as a present?), and once Peter is in the door, he never leaves. And with Peter come the bugs, with the bugs comes the paranoia and with the paranoia comes the apocalypse.

Tracy Letts has written a very provocative script that is both scary and darkly funny. And Dexter Ballard has done a great job directing; he really knows how to use the space between the lines.  The lighting (Tyler Micoleau) and set (Lauren Helpern) were right on the money; I have stayed in those motels and they nailed it.  The talented cast also features Reed Birney, who does a clever turn as the smiling Dr. Sweet (a clever choice of a name) and Michael Cullen who portrays Agnes's ex-husband Goss.  Mr. Cullen does a fabulous job playing the menacing and perplexed Goss.  So go see Bug, it's "buggin'."

Bug is running a the new Off-Broadway 199-seat Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street (at 7th Avenue), New York, NY 10014. (1/9 to Christopher St./Sheridan Square, or A/C/E/F/V to West 4th Street.) Tickets: tickets are $35-$60 at Telecharge  212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com or Barrow Street Theatre box office two-hours prior to every performance.  Group sales and box office at 212-243-6262. Websites: visit:  www.Bugtheplay.com
 

The Barrow Street Theater | 27 Barrow Street | West Village


Burning the Old Man
A Boomerang Theatre Company Production
September - October 2004
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.



Matthew Holtzclaw's
Cane's Bayou
The NYC Fringe Festival
August 2004

"Don't say sad stuff like that when I'm buzzing," Lila Baggot

Reviewed by Stephanie Alberico

What a relief! I attended my first play at the Fringe Festival and it was delightful. I had no idea what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised by "Cane's Bayou," a play by Matthew Holtzclaw.

"Bayou" is a small production about the hardships of life in the rural south. It was a riot. Drinking,nudity, cursing and offensive one-liners makeup the entire play. Nonetheless, it also dealt with the harsh realities of autism. Gary Michael McElroy, who plays Cane, portrays an autistic adult. His performance was touching and spellbinding. Only six actors are actually in the play, but they all did a wonderful job. The redneck accents and jokes were impressive, believable and hilarious.

These cast members were tight-knit and worked extremely well together.
Their individual and ensemble performances proved their closeness as a cast. They had obviously worked together before and complemented each other on stage. The atmosphere was comfortable and confident, which made it seem authentic and real.

This play was not your normal play. "Cane's Bayou" offers an alternative to the norm and reveals an unusual experience for any audience. There were no big production scenes, minimal props, and no real costume changes. This allowed for some actual "acting," because it forced the actors to keep the audience's attention only through their characters. The set had a couch, a blanket, a table, and a phone. These same props served as the set for Luther and Cane's trailer, Gamey's truck, a bar, and Graceland Construction.

Luther, played by Matthew Holtzclaw, is a quiet, nervous, unsure character who takes care of his retarded brother, Cane. Luther can't catch a break and by the advice of his boss, Ol' Boot, played by Delano Dunn, goes to a bar to meet women. This is where he meets Lila Baggot.

Lila, played by Rachel Plotkin, is the blonde, skinny love interest of
Luther. She works at the bakery at Winn-Dixie and is a loud drunk. The play moves forward with ease and comedy, as the actors chug Natural Light and crack jokes about the lifestyles of rednecks.

Gamey, played by Tony Larkin, is Lila's hateful brother who is always
accompanied by his sidekick, Hunter, played by Matt Hobby. Gamey takes a liking to Cane, but continues to harass Lila about everything. Cane and Luther's complicated relationships are the main focus of this
play. Most of the drama occurs in the haunted swampy grounds of Cane's
Bayou. Cane's girlfriend is also retarded and her name is Bang-Bang, played by Betsy Winchester. She has also mastered the art of playing an autistic female.

"Cane's Bayou" is light and funny. The story and the string of events did not seem to matter as much as the humor and the characters. If you need a break from the hyped-up, extravagant and expensive Broadway plays, this is definitely the play to go see.



Malú Huacuja Del Toro's
Celebrities Shouldn't Have Children
September 2004

"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.


 

William Bennett's
CORPORATE ROCK

Summer of 2004
Blue Heron Arts Center
 
 
Bought, Commodified, and Sold Back to You
for Your Viewing Pleasure

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Timothy Haskell's "Road House" gang is at it again, but this time they are out of the bar into the board room and they are fighting about music. The "Rock" plot is as old as time, Cain-and-Abel time. It's your classic high school drama, transplanted to the world of Rolling Stone. There is the unappreciated, unpublished copyeditor/nerd, Dylan (played by Travis York), whose elitist but obscure musical taste is roundly snubbed by Marcus, the Editor-in-Chief of Rolling Stone (played by Dorian Missick). Marcus much prefers his fair-haired-boy Nathaniel, played by Jamie Benge, a total sellout who has the street smarts to put "the silicone on the cover".

William Bennett has written a clever script with a simple, funny plot. Nathaniel, who is in gambling debt to the French mob, is kidnapped by two French mobsters: Jean Francois (played by Nick Arens), and Andre (played by Aaron Haskell). Jean-Francois and Andre are henchmen/sons of a French drug dealer named Marcellus, also played by Dorian Missick. Dylan witnesses the abduction and decides to use Nathaniel's disappearance as an opportunity to publish his own articles under Nathaniel's name. And as in all good stories, the plot simmers, thickens and boils its way to the end.

The great fun of Corporate Rock is in the telling. The story is directed in a MTV video style with highly campy scenes, flanked by video and blasted with rock. The fourth or fifth wall is continually broken with even the stagehands marching onstage to deliver special effects. Everyone has amazing timing, and the show works like a clock. The cast and crew are obviously having a blast, and so will you.


The very talented cast consists of Travis York, Dorian Missick, Gerry Diamond, Charles Jang, Natalia Hernandez, Jamie Benge, Aaron Haskell, Kellie Arens and Nick Arens. The rest of the rocking artistic team includes Paul Smithyman (sets), Nick Hohn (lights), Sarah Iams (costumes), DeeAnn Weir (fight choreography), Vincent Olivieri (sound) and Rebeca Ramirez (dance choreography).

Corporate Rock is a hoot of a show - it f'ing rocks. So go see it! You'll laugh your a** off. And you heard it here first.

Tickets are $25 and can be reserved by calling Smarttix at 212.868.4444 or by going to www.smarttix.com

Blue Heron Arts Center | 123 East 24th Street


 

The Dead Sea
Written By Mark A. Robertson
The New York International Fringe Festival
August 2004

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


SOPHIA MURASHKOVSKY’s
"DEFENSES OF PRAGUE”
Winter 2004
La MaMa Experimental Theater Club

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

“Defenses of Prague” written by Sophia Murashkovsky and directed by Leslie Lee, is a loosely constructed visual feast of a show based on the ancient Jewish myth of the Golem. The Golem, according to Kaballah legend, was formed from clay by the 17th century Rabbi of Prague. This Golem, like the more familiar Frankenstein, then rises up to betray the very people he was created to save. The play is set in 1968 Prague and the metaphor seems to be the Warsaw Pact, which was formed in 1955 by the Soviet Union and seven Eastern European countries in a “spirit of friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance” as a response to a newly remilitarized West Germany. In “Prague” the play, the Golem terrorizes a gypsy dancer like the Warsaw Pact countries crushed the Czech people in the spring of 1968.

The story is about a gypsy girl named Prague who flees persecution and takes refuge in a cabaret run by a MC who personifies the Golem. This MC/Golem exploits Prague as he did her mother before her, with predictable sorrowful results. And this simple thread of a story is the basis of a dazzling abstract production, filled with music, dance and poetry, the East Village at its very best. The play is written and performed more in the style of an opera or ballet, in which you can’t easily follow the story, but you are really glad you are watching it.

LaMama’s interpretation of Ms. Murashkovsky play is beautifully done, with gorgeous costumes, a fun set (great cemetery stones) and charming music and dance performed by an onstage gypsy band. The Director, Leslie Lee, did a wonderful job creating this show. Set design is by Dara Wishingrad, costumes by Rosemary Ponzo. lighting by Russell Drapkin and sound by Nick Moore. Stas Kmiec is the choreographer and Susan Henle-Christiensen is the director of movement. Props and special effects are by Jacqueline Wade, who is also Assistant Director. The flamenco and gypsy music are by Eugene Doga.

The very talented cast includes: Walter Krochmal, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Angelica Ayala, Nina Savinsky, Julie Saad, Vina Less, Maria Hurdle, Chris Alonzo, Dan Kastoriano, Maya Levy, Gary Andrews, Malia Miller, Channie Waites, Robert Eggers, Meghan Andrews and Erin Lehy.

The cast also includes Svetlana Yankovskaya, Elena Raffloer, Meline Mazmanyan, Olga Shumovych, Gabriel Yakubov, Vasily Romany, and Serguei Riybtsev, who are real Gypsies. And what a wonderful choice it was to cast them.



 

Erin Courtney’s
“Demon Baby”
January 2004
Ohio Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Clubbed Thumb Theater Company’s stated mission is to develop funny, strange and provocative plays and they have done just that with their new production of Demon Baby. Written by Erin Courtney and directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, Baby is the story of an American woman, Wren, played by Heidi Schreck, who moves to London when her husband Art, played by Patrick McNulty, is transferred by his employer.

Wren’s goal when she arrives in London is to write and illustrate a children’s book for a relocation company. This book is to tell the story of a child who moves to a foreign land, initially feeling very lonely and then adjusting, finding friends and starting to feel at home. This is also the story of Ms. Courtney’s play, a simple story indeed, but great fun in the telling.

Wren finds herself paralyzed by the move, unable to leave home and terrorized by her anxiety, which is embodied in the Demon Baby, played by the very funny Glen Fleshler, an English garden gnome who sits on Wren’s chest spouting self-absorbed nonsense. This baby weighs her down, leaving her incapable of adjusting to her new home, and she soon becomes the object of pitying gossip among her new “friends.”

But then Wren, in an on-the-mark performance by Heidi Schreck, takes matters into her own hands and pulls herself out of her malaise by making bizarre choices in a desperate attempt to be seen as herself. In one very funny scene, she strips naked and tries to seduce her nebbish book editor Alan, the very talented Gibson Frazier (also great in La MaMA’s Butt-Crack Bingo). In another she invites everyone over for the evening and only serves one choice of drink, gin and tonic, and one food, biscuits. “Just tell them it’s an American custom”, she tells her perplexed husband. And her idea of entertainment is to blindfold the guests and have them swing at a piñata while running around on the roof.

The brilliance of this production is in the presentation. The directing by Ken Russell Schmoll was right on the money. The set by David Evans Morris and lights by Garin Marschall were gorgeous. The sound by Michael Newman was very skillfully done, especially the sounds in the Sway scene. The very talented cast consists of: Glen Fleshler, Gibson Frazier, Nina Hellman, Leo Kittay, Polly Lee, Patrick McNulty (also great in Red Bull’s Pericles), Heidi Schreck and Mark Shanahan. Of special note was Nina Hellman as Cat - she was hysterical.



 

John Morrison's
Divine Right
March -April 2004
The Workshop Theater


Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams


John Morrison's "Divine Right" is a family tragedy with Shakespearean proportions. Jack Keating, a widowed father (played by Robert Arcaro), has been rejected by his younger daughter Kieren (Macha Ross), who has left Stanford to join a fringe religious cult run by Ray Allman (Christopher Graham). As the story begins, we are at a beach house in New Jersey and Mr. Keating is planning a kidnapping and forced intervention. He has hired a security guard named Phil (Sean O'Connor) to help with the "snatch". Mr. Keating also attempts to enlist the aid of his other daughter Riley (Jeanne Hime) who would rather skinny dip in the Atlantic Ocean than talk to her father about family problems.

We then see the kidnapping and the intervention which takes us to the end of Act I. When Act II opens, it is now a year later and the unmarried Riley has a son whom she plans to leave with her father while she blithely pursues her own life. But no one's life can go on. The Allman cult, with all of its tabloid drama, still exists in the distance; there they are marching toward their own apocalyptic end.

"Divine Right" has a fast-moving plot and is well directed. And it has one humdinger of a tightly written final scene. "Divine" is also blessed with a divine cast: Robert Arcaro, Christopher Graham, Jeanne Hime, Sean O'Connor and Macha Ross. The set (designed by George Allison) was multidimensional with many different playing areas and the lighting by Peter Hoerburger and ecclesiastical music (uncredited) were very effective. Well done!

Tickets are $15 (Students $8) and can be obtained by calling The Workshop at 212-695-4173.



 

Raw Impressions, Inc.
& Penney Seal Productions
Dreams This Way:
The Best of Raw Impressions Music Theatre
March 2004
TADA! Theater Space

"Come on along and listen to, the lullaby of Broadway"


Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Raw Impressions in Association with Penney Seal Productions has a winner in their show, Dreams This Way, directed by Daniella Topol. Dreams is a "dream" of a chance to see some of the best young talent in New York. All eight of the pieces are great musically and many of them are hysterically funny.

Dreams is comprised of eight of the best pieces created in RIMT work shopped presentation at LaMaMA, a process that involved 38 artists who represent what musical theatre looks and sounds like today. I especially liked Fifty Million Dollars and My Gay Best Friend, they were well written and very witty. And I was simply blown away by the sick fun of How Many Annas. So, if you are worried about the future of Broadway, don't. There are some mega talented composers, writers, and musical comedy stars coming your way. So "sleep tight, let's call it a day. Hey!……It's the Lullaby of Broadway."


 

Terese Pampellonne’s
“THE DOOMSDAY CLUB”
February 2004

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Yankee Rep’s production of The Doomsday Club, written by Terese Pampellonne and directed by Chris Morran, is a Five Women Wearing the Same Dress kind of story about a group of women who have formed their own support group so they can be free to wallow in the dark side without being distracted by unrealistic cheerful chatter.

There is a theory that depressed people are only realistic and the rest of us are suffering from some kind of neuroses because we refuse to recognize how perfectly dreadful most everything really is. This is the mantra of the support group in The Doomsday Club. They meet to discuss every possible pending disaster so they can be prepared for the worst possible case and perhaps in a very few instances, be able to take evasive measures.

Ms. Pampellonne skillfully sets up her story by introducing each of her damaged characters and telling enough about the background of each so we can see why they are so willing to meet in a house where they are required to walk on plastic runners and sit on sofas covered with plastic slipcovers. But then the story bogs down. None of the women wants anything from the other women in the room, except an opportunity to tell her own story. There are minor spats over cleanliness but that alone does not supply the conflict necessary to sustain a drama. Having people sitting around talking about the past is a difficult writing task for any playwright, unless he/she can channel Noel Coward. And nothing much happens from the beginning of Doomsday until the end, when one of the characters, the new girl Myra (skillfully played by Mercedes Casamayor), tells the group that even though looking at life in such a realistic fashion might be good for her and show her how things really are, that is precisely why she can’t stay. She needs hope to stay alive.

The show was skillfully directed by Chris Morran. The very talented cast included Lynn Bowman as Celia, Chris McGinn as Estelle, Coree Spencer as Sheila, Mercedes Casamayor as Myra, Celia Bressack as Francine, and Jennifer Lamberts as Elizabeth. Both Ms. McGinn and Ms. Casamayor deserve special note. Ms. McGinn was funny just sitting in her chair and Ms. Casamayor gave a beautifully true performance as “Myra with no n.”




Colin Campbell's
GOLDEN PROSPECTS: A LOS ANGELES MELODRAMA
August 2004 , NYFringe Festival



Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

"An unfortunate family journeys west in 1901 in search of the American Dream, but finds… Los Angeles. Opium! Pornography! Prostitution! Disfigurement! Asphyxiation! Apoplexy! Fun for the whole family."

Golden Prospects is a classic melodrama complete with stalwart heroes, damsels in distress and cape-wearing, mustache-twirling villains. This show is a hoot, and brilliant to boot. Colin Campbell is a very good writer, but he is an even better director.

In theater, casting is everything and Mr. Campbell chose an incredible cast: Colin Campbell (himself), Max Faugno, Dennis Fox, David Furr, Katie Firth, Karl Herlinger, Suli Holum, Vin Knight, David Libby (original music and piano), Rebecca Lowman, Trey Lyford and Jordin Ruderman, Every one of these talented actors totally got it. They skillfully used their bodies and voices to depict the heightened style demanded by melodrama. They didn't just say their lines, they moved their lines.

One of my director friends has a funny joke. He asks,"What is the difference between a joke and a bus?" The punch line is, "If a bus is late, it is still a bus." Prospects has many funny moments - some examples are their campy amputations, cruel seductions and the hyper-pronunciation of words like Los Angeles and cruel (cru-well). In comedy, timing is everything, and Golden Prospects is timed like a stopwatch. Comic timing is a gift from the gods that can be developed but not taught. It is an inborn talent, like perfect pitch. Here they were, twelve actors who had been blessed by the comic gods and goddesses, not one but twelve. I review a lot of off-off-Broadway shows, and I have never before seen this many gifted comedic actors all on one stage.

The costumes (by Melissa Schlactmeyer) were beautiful and appropriately period - a lot of fun capes, carnival barker costumes, white period dresses, etc. The show is hilarious in this bare bones presentation, but would be even funnier if time and money had allowed for a lighting designer, set designer and sound designer who possessed the same campy, outrageous sense of humor as Mr. Campbell. This show could also use some beer as well as some popcorn - so the audience has something to throw as they hiss and boo.



Ophira Eisenberg's

"The Gray Area"
and
"Hindsight"

September 2004
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.



Here's to The Third New York
"A state of the art, one-act musical"
September 2004
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.

 


Lance Werth's
High Cotton
The NYC Fringe Festival
August 2004



Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

"High Cotton," produced by Meredith Lucio (Tex-in-the-City) and directed by Joseph P. McDonnell (director of the Fringe debut of Urinetown), has enjoyed a great run at this years Fringe Festival, playing to full appreciative houses. High in the Cotton is the cast: Claire Alpern (Lurlene), Eric C. Bailey (The Willets), Ivanna Cullinan (Cordelia), Cole Kazdin (Jean), Roland Johnson (Grand Dandy/Grand Mandy), Peter Maris (Flint), and Flotilla DeBarge (Partition).

The plot is a simple melodrama, a loose retelling of King Lear with a twisted ending and lots of fluff added just for the fun of it. There is the father, Grand Dandy, and his three daughters Cordelia (the drunk), Lurlene (the religious nut) and Jean (the sexy bombshell). The other members of the household are Flint (the hunky handyman) and Partition (the saucy maid). All of these characters are tossed together and soaked in the home-made Southern hooch that is "High Cotton."

The script is pure camp and it is served up expertly by the performances of the two veteran character actors: Flotilla DeBarge (the black maid) and Eric C. Bailey (several official-sounding men). They both had amazing timing with all their lines and could elicit laughs by simply walking on stage.

The beauty of the Fringe Festival is its function as an incubator, giving many shows their first chance to play in front of a live audience, a chance to "let her rip." In any comedy, the audience is a member of the cast and they have their own lines, their laughs. Comedy cannot exist without an audience. And High Cotton, with the help of the Fringe Festival, is now well out of the box and out there strutting its campy stuff in front of full houses. So let the show go on, cuz the Cotton is high and the living is easy.


 


Suarez DanceTheater's
Dope
”A Homage to Skater Culture”
March 2004
Tribeca Performing Arts Center

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams and Helen Milholland


SuarezDanceTheater and the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, as part of Tribeca's Artists in Residence Work and Show Festival, are proud to present DOPE: a Dance For Rebels. Dope can mean drugs, but it can also mean hot, good - everything with a bag of chips. Dope to the Saurez Dance Theater is a hot street style of punk dancing – as their subtitle states "A Homage to Skater Culture". And the Tribeca Performing Arts Center is one cool venue to attack.

Christine Suarez, dancer and choreographer, with Daniela Hoff, Aaron Haskell and Becky Pearl capture the energetic movements and abrupt changes of pace of a skateboarder as they swirl about the huge stage and charge the stairs. Always beautifully athletic, they were at their very best when they interacted with each other and showed the audience who they are as they aggressively surfed the stage. Dope's hot dance style was accompanied by Andy Miccolis's cool music and was complimented by some really fly skate gear.

 


I Love Paris
August - October 2004.
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.



I Have a Better Idea
A Series of Solo Performances by Women
Safety In Numbers
September 2004


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.





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

Jade Esteban Estrada
The Lesbian and Gay History of the world, Volume 1
September 2004
Manhattan Theater Source

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



Johnny Guitar
Spring 2004
Century Center Theatre

A funny hot western for the romantic feminist in us all!

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Oh, Johnny, you’ve got my heart. Johnny Guitar, a musical comedy based on the 1954 western classic of the same name, has translated beautifully to the stage. Johnny is a hoot of a show, campy enough to tickle the most jaded fancy, but mainstream enough to be fun for the entire family.

Here is the synopsis from the press release: "Johnny Guitar, the musical, is set in a small town in the New Mexico mountains, circa 1885. The story centers on Vienna, a sultry saloonkeeper who built a booming business 'on her back'. Though Vienna is the ultimate bad girl gone good, her nemesis, the pent-up Emma, sees things differently. A domineering cattle tycoon, Emma controls the town with an iron fist but loses her grip when she falls for the dangerously hot-headed Dancin' Kid. By the time Johnny Guitar, a tall stranger with a secret past, rolls into town, the stage is set for an epic showdown."

Johnny is a jewel with a great set, music and book. The Director (Joel Higgins), Choreographer (Jane Lanier), and the marvelous cast exhibit wonderful comic timing. In fact the timing is so amazing, theater students should see this show to study it alone. Steve Blanchard is wonderful as Johnny, and Judy McLane is marvelous as Vienna, the role created in the movie by Joan Crawford. She brought down the house every time she said, “Oh, Johnny.” The night I attended there were two understudies, Kristie Dale Sanders as Emma (the role created by Mercedes McCambridge in the movie) and Grant Norman as the Dancin’ Kid. The only way I could have told that Ms. Sanders and Mr. Norman were understudies was via the program insert. They rocked and looked born to their roles.

One more thing: Everyone needs to go out and buy a replica of Vienna’s red peignoir set. And I do mean everyone. Trust me, you will definitely want one after you see this show.


 


Jollyship the Whiz-Bang: Sleepless Fishes
(An electro-accordion pyrate puppet sea odysse
Summer 2004
&
Tudley's Reef: Whiz-Bang Variety Night
 First  Thursday of the month @ 10PM Starting June 3rd
Bowery Poetry Club

Reviewed by Jennifer Miranda Holmes

Jollyship the Whiz-Bang: Sleepless Fishes is a zany trip on a pirate ship with a rock opera soundtrack and some crazy crass little puppets. Sound like fun? You bet! The creators and collaborators are a team of adorable, fun-loving and witty guys that will win you over from the sound-check to the final song. This is a punk show mixed with a little Punch and Judy puppet on puppet action.

The story revolves around Tommy a young clown who is rescued from a carnival slave ship by pirates. He becomes the favorite of the ship's captain, a crazy pirate with a green face who educates little Tommy with a hilarious song entitled "Kill it if it don't got feet" where he suggests that creatures that are "different" ought to be destroyed. Tommy doesn't want a life of killing and cruelty so he befriends a mollusk called Glenn who also happens to be a movie producer for an "experimental romance". Glenn introduces Tommy to Dudley, the film's star, a drooling reef with wiggly eyes brought to life brilliantly by Raja Azar the show's co-creator. It turns out that the pirate is secretly in love with Tommy, but to find out what happens you will have to see the show. The dialogue is hysterical and this, combined with fabulous comic timing on the part of the performers, left the audience screaming with laughter .

The music is infectious with catchy and creative lyrics such as "Dirty dirty dirty, scurvy scurvy scurvy: Pirates love" and "You can't sleep with the fishes, because the fishes don't sleep". The songs had people literally dancing in their seats and were performed with incredible charismatic energy by the group, led by the show's co-creator Nick Jones.

The puppets are fantastic and full of personality and the set is casually effective and fun.

The show is so inventive and such a good time; it is the epitome of what good off-the-wall New York theater ought to be. Sail as fast as you can to the Bowery Poetry Club and bring lots of friends, this event is not to be missed!

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door or at http://www.virtuous.com. There will be weekly drink specials sponsored by Michter's Straight Rye Whiskey.

Starting June 3rd, Whiz Bang will host a monthly variety show, Tudley's Reef: Whiz-Bang Variety Night  Every first Thursday of the month starting June 3rd at 10:00 PM also at the Bowery Poetry Club. Acts will range from acrobats, aerialists, puppets, out of town musical guests, and other boisterous performances. Events will also include record releases, video debuts and many special guest appearances.

Ticket to Tudley's Reef are $5.00 and can be purchased at the door or at http://www.virtuous.com. For more information on the above events, please call 212-614-1224 (no reservations), or visit  http://www.bowerypoetry.com and http://oojamadome.org/pirates.html
 

Bowery Poetry | Club 308 Bowery

 

 


Lenora Champagne’s
MOTHER'S LITTLE HELPER
Thursdays - Saturday at 8 PM
Sunday at 5 PM
Spring 2004.
Ohio Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Soho Think Tank’s production of Mother’s Little Helper, written and performed by Lenora Champagne and directed by STT Artistic Director Robert Lyons, is a charming, entertaining evening with just enough detours into the dark side to keep the audience thinking. And it is always great to see anything at the Ohio Theater, with their consistently cool productions and great lighting (accolades to Tyler Micoleau). Artistic Director Robert Lyons really has his act together.

New York has always been populated by self selected transplants, people who in infancy took one look at their crib and their parents and thought oops, how long is it going to be before I can find out about New York and get the hell out of here? Ms. Champagne is one of these immigrants; raised in a Cajun Catholic Louisiana family, she adds a unique spice to New York’s cultural soup.

The Mother’s Little Helper in the title is a reference to a booklet Ms. Champagne's mother was given to explain the mysteries of life to her daughter Lenora. Ms. Champagne skillfully weaves snippets from this unintentionally funny book into her stories about living in New York after 9/11, and her attempts to educate her own pre-adolescent daughter into the new and horrifying “mysteries of life.” She also delivers a cultural weather report on the chilling effect that the present Republican administration is having on the rights of women everywhere. But even though she is addressing very serious subject matter, Ms. Champagne is a very funny storyteller with great comic timing and the generosity of spirit to see the humor in her own eccentricity. Ms. Champagne also tells great Cajun jokes.



 

The York's Theatre Company's
The Musical of Musicals - The Musical!
Summer of 2004
St. Peter's Theatre

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

The Musical of Musicals - The Musical! is a hysterically funny musical satire depicting a simple story, about an ingénue who cannot pay her rent, told in the style of five musical comedy greats: Rodgers and Hammerstein ("Corn"); Stephen Sondheim ("A Little Complex"); Jerry Herman ("Dear Abby"); Andrew Lloyd Webber ("Aspects of Junita"); and Kander and Ebb ("Speakeasy").  All of this fun was written by Eric Rockwell (Music and Co-Writer Book) and Joanne Bogart (Lyrics and Co-Writer Book), who also appear in the show.  The very talented Pamela Hunt is both the director and the choreographer of the show.

The show works on many levels.  First there is a marvelous cast: Lovette George (the ingénue who can't pay her rent); Craig Fols (the slightly foolish hero who will pay her rent); Joanne Bogart (the wise older woman); and Eric Rockwell (the villain/piano player).  They all have great voices and to-the-nanosecond comic timing.  They were also great fun to look at.  Their costumes were simple, variations on black cabaret-type attire, but their faces were amazing.  Lovette George, in particular, could give Jim Carrey a run for his money in a "Who's got the best rubber face?" competition. 

Then there are the jokes - total howlers for audience members familiar with the various composers, but still funny enough to elicit a laugh from a musical comedy novice.  After I saw the show I was talking about it with a relative who has performed in musical comedies since she was a child.  I told her she had to see it, because she would probably like it even more than I did because she would get some of the more obscure musical comedy references.  She then asked me if her six year old daughter would like it.  I thought for a moment and said, "Yes, she would.  She would not get the insider jokes, but the performers are so funny and the musical numbers are so wonderful that she would like it anyway."  But before you make reservations for a first grade class, let me add one caveat:  I know this kid and she adored Phantom and Little Shop.

All the different segments work.  The show starts with a dead-on send up of Rodgers and Hammerstein set amid the corn fields of August, then moves on to a cynically twisted scene set in an apartment house in the dark world of Sondheim.  Next it was time to idolize-a-diva in the Jerry Herman scene. I have seen many middle-aged-community-theater divas ham it up as Mame, so those jokes killed me. A total Phantom junkie, I loved the Andrew Lloyd Webber piece.  The night I attended, when it was time for the Webber piece, someone in the audience groaned and said, "He deserves to be skewered." But they sure did laugh during the scene and all the Weberesque songs were beautiful.  The show ends with a very witty Kander and Ebb segment, with the final bits sung in many different languages.  Life is so very Cabaret! 

The York Theater has an excellent road show on their hands.  "Musical" has a simple set and most of the music is supplied by an on-stage piano.  This show could easily be performed in a large cabaret space.  Throughout the country there are people who cut their theatrical teeth on musicals and they will be a perfect audience for this show.  I only hope that if it tours, it tours with this cast. Bravo!

Tickets are $55. Students tickets are available on the day of the performance for $20, subject to availability.  Tickets are available by calling Smarttix at (212) 212-868-4444, at smarttix.com.

Saint Peter's Theatre | 619 Lexington Avenue

James Christy Jr's
NEVER TELL
August 2004 NYFringe Festival
(Run is over)

Reviewed by Jeffrey N. Gangemi

Currently winding down its 6th year, the New York Fringe Festival has quickly grown into the largest multi-arts festival in North America. With more than 200 companies from all over the world performing for sixteen days in more than twenty venues, its website proudly declares that this gala of the arts attracts a "young, educated, culturally adventurous audience." An estimated 60% of attendants fall between the ages of 18 and 35. Investigating further, I am beginning to feel like I'm onto something here. I find myself shouting, "This isn't just any demographic! This is my demographic!" I begin to wonder what this play called "Never Tell," a collaboration of father-son team James Christy Jr. (Playwright) and James Christy Sr. (Director), might offer a person of my demographic.

As I sweat my way to the 4th floor of 380 Broadway, the name Access Theatre starts to seem a misnomer. My expectations are high, but I don't know if they're this high. Not three minutes inside the lobby, the volunteer doorman is already giving me rave second-hand reviews of the show. Next, the playwright himself proudly tells me that his production has been extended for two more days beyond the end of the festival. "Wow!" I think to myself, "I'm impressed already." But, at the same time, I can't help wondering, "If you continue beyond the fringe, where exactly does that leave you?" I am hoping I will soon be privy to that information.

According to the playwright, "Never Tell" presents, "in a vivid series of ironically comic and emotionally explosive scenes, a contemporary of friendship and betrayal." Ten minutes into the action, it occurs to me that I'm experiencing something more here; this play ventures even deeper - into the depths of the human psyche and its different methods of communicating truth. From technology to art to verbal interaction, extending to love and all the acts it entails, the characters communicate with each other in any number of ways. Through the action and dialogue, Christy ponders how a person's concept of truth and his modes of communication contribute to his eventual happiness and success in sex and relationships.

Furthermore, in "Never Tell," I found an exceedingly well-crafted sequence of monologues and dramatic interchanges with just the right amount of humor woven in. The work delves into the complex and convoluted web of relationships between five young New Yorkers. Manny, a mentally unstable everyman, hopes to change his life (and the world) with a computer program that can predict human behavior. Will, an artist and curator, gains notoriety through an art installation that includes documentary style footage of a rape. Will's wife, Anne, and her best friend, Liz, engage in unhealthy relationships with men for different reasons. And finally, the enigmatic and improbable Hoover exposes all of their problems, enabling a final resolution.

For me, contemplating Hoover's actions and the motives behind them is the highlight of the play. No doubt, the ease and humor with which actor Josh Weinstein delivers his performance are a major factor. But moreover, Christy's writing easily conveys the multiplicity of emotions at work between the characters. Manny's desperation and paranoia, Will's audacity, Liz's helplessness, along with Hoover's wit and deceptiveness are all given, through monologue and dialogue, appropriate attention and background as to simplify an otherwise complex series of interactions.

Each time I check in with myself, I find my brain performing cartwheels. One moment I'm laughing. The next I'm horrified. Through it all, I am unmistakably enjoying myself, despite the darkness that lurks just below the characters' skin, eating away at them from the inside out.

As I make my way home from the theatre, I feel like I'm bringing a bit of the Fringe Festival back to Brooklyn with me. And after regaining my senses, they're all in agreement. This is a great play. Congratulations to James Christy Jr. on a very promising debut.


 

Adriano Shaplin's
Pugilist Specialist
September -October 2004
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


 


Sergio Cacciotti’s
“Quitters”
Tuesday through Saturday at 8PM
Sunday at 3PM
February 2004
Irish Arts Center

“The Great American Smoke Out”

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Yankee Rep’s production of Quitters, written by Sergio Cacciotti and directed by Chris McGinn is a hoot of a story about two slackers who attempt to quit smoking. What starts as a pot induced bet escalates into an all out war as a withdrawal induced paranoia sets in.

Jake, skillfully played by the playwright Sergio Cacciotti, and John, played by the equally talented Jon Hemingway, spar, spat and spy on each other in a desperate attempt to win the bet by forcing the other to give in to the siren call of the killer weed. They are totally believable as the suffering combatants and exhibit great energy as they drive the story to its bitter end.

The supporting cast consists of Jake’s put-upon girlfriend Maria, the talented and funny Michelle Marlowe and the The Grim Reaper, played with a spirit of fun by Karl Itzkowitz. Mr. Cacciotti has written a very funny tight play and Chris McGinn did a great job directing it.




Road House
Not the Musical... the Fightsical!
January 2004
The Barrow Street Theater


Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Road House, directed by Timothy Haskell, is a spoofy send-up of Road House, the movie, a B-movie western from 1989 that has become a cult classic. Road House, the play, is a hoot of a show – out-camping the campy original and filled with hysterically funny fight scenes. The actors literally give their all, flying through the air in barroom brawl after brawl. The plot is the classic western - a famous bouncer is hired to clean up a small town honky-tonk. Our hero arrives in town only to find out that the only way he can clean up the dive he was hired to “bounce” is to eliminate all the corruption in the town. There is also a love story between the bouncer and the local “hottie” doctor, whose “sew-em up” services are in great demand.

But here is the subtle brilliance. Road House was a bad movie, with bad dialogue and poor acting and not much of a plot. Road House, the play, is a wonderful send up, keeping all the stilted dialogue and the predictable plot structure but twisting it all into a theatrical explosion. Taimak Guarriello, who plays the lead role of the bouncer, does a great imitation of Patrick Swayze’s acting in the movie. Mr. Guarriello is a very talented stunt man and martial arts expert who looks hysterical in his blond mullet wig. Mr. Guarriello, as you will be sure to note, also has a great butt.

This show is fun, like a musical presented by the WWF (they don’t sing). Timothy Haskell has every reason to be very proud of his show - it rocks! The very talented cast includes: AGO (the magic chef), Rachelle Anthes, Nick Arens, Laura Baggett, Jamie Benge, Lucia Burns, Christopher Joy, Brian Kantrowitz, Harry Listig, Rachael Roberts and Rolando Zuniga.



That Is The Question?
Summer of 2004
The Kraine Theatre

Reviewed By Mikal Saint George

Not for the faint of heart, Dale Johnson’s searing THAT IS THE QUESTION is pushing audience’s primal buttons at the Kraine Theatre. Directed by Linda Burson, playwright Johnson candidly explores potential powder kegs such as sexuality (hetero, bi, tri) the transient nature of so many big city relationships, a woman’s right to choose (her sexuality, her reproductive options) and the level of almost casual violence that is inflicted on women on a practically daily basis.

Set in Manhattan’s west village THAT IS THE QUESTION tells the story of Kim (Marie Bedford), a vivacious, sexual explorer and her new roommate Dani (Megan Minto), a wide-eyed, new to the city neophyte. There is also Kim’s boyfriend Spencer (Greg Thornsbury) a perpetually erect Peter Pan fascinated by all things carnal. Dani eventually begins dating David (Kyle Minshew). In one of the play’s more inspired performances, Minshew effectively portrays a vaguely nerdy, timid computer geek who initially seems about as intimidating as a station wagon full of nuns. In the production’s more film noir moments however, we are chillingly introduced to the character’s truly psychotic side. The cast is nicely rounded out by Dorcey Winant as Kim’s yenta –ish mother and Alana Rose Abbott, double cast as departing roommate Jenny and crisis counselor Hope.

Make no mistakes; this is a no-holds-barred look at very intimate aspects of the character’s lives. The action opens with the final orgasmic moments of a ménage-a-trois. We are first introduced to the characters in their post coital euphoria. It is not the nudity however that intrigues the audience the most. Due in large part to the free-spirited, youthful nature of the two lead actresses and the school boy horniness of Thornsbury’s Spencer, the nudity does not come across as gratuitous – certain death for most wannabe “downtown’ ‘cutting edge” productions. Instead, it becomes a logical, even charming element to the story. Anyone who has ever danced naked in their living room while blasting heavy metal will understand. It is, in fact, the emotional intimacy - -the naked psyche-- that will have you contemplating this play long after you have left the theatre.

As the drama unfolds each of the characters is faced with harsh and ultimately life altering realities and grown-up decisions – often a result of the frivolity they so doggedly pursued. It is hard to explain this production without giving too much away. This would in fact be sinful as there are many surprising twists and turns that should be experienced without warning! As much action/suspense as drama, Johnson and Burson have helmed this production in such a way that the audience not only witnesses the action but experiences it with the characters. The piece often has the feeling of a quirky indie film. Alan Baron’s artful lighting helps to give Mark Hankla’s minimalist set an intimate, at times surreal quality. In fact, given more blood and a few really cool cars, this could easily be a Quentin Tarantino property. THAT IS THE QUESTION proves to be a roller coaster that is not always comfortable but promises to leave you wiser for daring to take a ride.

Tickets are $19, discount for students, www.smarttix.com

 


 


J. B. Edwards’
The Sanctuary
Sundays at 4PM & 8PM
Feb - March 2004
Blue Heron Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams


The Sanctuary, written by J. B. Edwards and directed by Jeffrey Stocker, is set in a seedy Caribbean dive called the Sanctuary Café. Six people are forced to seek “sanctuary” from a tropical storm. Stranded by the weather, they confront God and their inner demons as the storm rages outside. Mr. Edward has set this ambitious work in a sad world of loneliness and senseless violence.

Having a group of “strangers” thrown together by chance is a device that has been used with good result in many well-known plays. “The Night of the Iguana” by Tennessee Williams is one such notable play, with characters thrown together on a tour bus. Sanctuary, like Iguana, features a defrocked priest as the protagonist. In Sanctuary the play, a defrocked priest fleeing a scandal in New York goes to the Caribbean to hide. On the night of the storm, he is recognized by a stranded tourist and forced to defend himself to a group of strangers.

In The Sanctuary, J B Edwards has used the storm device to create a claustrophobic world where everyone feels free to talk openly about their innermost thoughts. And in the world of this play, they talk at length with no fear of interruption. Sanctuary is more of a tone poem than an actual play because most of the evening is spent with the characters telling us (in almost monologue form) who they are and what they want, rather than developing the story through interaction. The conflict that ends the story is supplied by the homophobic Rocky (very ably played by Robert Scorrano). Rocky detests everyone, and every time it is his turn to talk, he spews venom everywhere. Mr. Edwards has created a desolate world populated by strong characters. Now he needs to release them to tell his story of loneliness and the quest for redemption.

The set was simple but effective. The sounds effects deftly portrayed a Caribbean storm. The actors and director did a very nice job. Of special note were Memory Contento as Missy, Sharlene Hartman as Daisy and Robert Scorrano as Rocky.


 

Tony & Tina's Wedding
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:00 pm
Saint Luke's Church
Summer 2004

It's a party, and you're invited
.

"I'm holding out for Pigs in a Blanket"
- Valentina Vitale

Reviewed by Diedre Kilgore

A joining of a union between Tony Nunzio and Valentina Vitale
Every Thursday through Saturday night at 7:00. The ceremony begins at St. Luke's Church, 308 West 46th Street

The Cast of that night: Joli Tribuzio, Johnny Tammaro (swing), Laura Escalante (swing), Scott Voloshin, Danielle Monteznos (swing), Craig Thomas Rivela, Amy Broder (swing), Deno Vourderis, Cindy Kostello (swing), Rhett Kalman, Daniella Gernoble (swing), Mark Nassar, Janine Molinari (swing), Joe Leone (swing), Abraham Sparer (swing), Henry Caplan, Susanna Hairy (swing), Danny Bruckert, Ernie Curcio, Matthew Knowland, Miriam Daly, Mike Lavelle, James Kluz and Sam Solovey (who recently guest starred in the Apprentice)

I had a little time to kill before meeting up to see Tony & Tina's Wedding with my fabulous clothing designer friend Eric Landgren, so I ducked into Pomaire, my favorite Chilean restaurant in Manhattan. Knowing I would be fed during the show, I opted to just nibble on a marvelous ceviche appetizer while sampling various South American cocktails. What.

Hunger pains at bay accompanied by a nice little buzz, I felt rejuvenated. I met Eric outside of St. Lukes Church where we were literally ushered inside. Unsure whether we should sit on the Groom or Bride's side, we were fortunately rescued by the usher who realized that we were friends of the Bride, huh? We took our places and were immediately accosted by a nun with Touretes. Not the kind of Tourettes people constantly accuse ME of having, but the kind that makes one twitch uncontrollably. Eric and I loved this nun, but unfortunately, I didn't catch her name. Sorry about that, funniest nun in the world. You see, here's the thing. That night, there were about 10,000 understudies performing, and it was a little difficult for me to keep track of everyone, but I did my best. My apologies to anyone I may have left out. Understudy or not, they all did a fantastic job.

"But back up a minute", you might be saying to yourself, "I thought this show was cancelled?"

Well, it was, until Big Apple Entertainment got a hold of it and has brought it back to life. Back by popular demand, the longest running show Off-Broadway, Tony & Tina's Wedding is here again, and for those of you finding yourselves in Las Vegas, it's running there too. So get out there and relish in the outlandish drama of an Italian wedding gone nutso (I learned all of my Italian American sayings from The Fonz).

Tony and Tina's Wedding was just recently made into a movie, starring Joseph McIntyre and Mila Kunis (That 70's Show) which screened this year at the Tribeca Film Festival. From what I understand, the film falls short in its attempt to re-create a story that was originally intended as an audience-interaction piece. I can understand why. The whole charm (and point) of watching Tony & Tina's Wedding is that you, as an audience member, are included in the festivities. You get to know the characters and they get to know you, and you don't really feel like you're watching a play as much as finding yourself thrown into the middle of a twilight zone that features an extremely trashy, bizarre Italian wedding.

There are two locations, when you go to see this show. The first is at St. Luke's Church, where the wedding takes place, then everyone parades a block down restaurant row with the cast to the reception hall located under Sophia's Restaurant. The journey alone between the two venues is loads of fun, especially while watching the reactions from the people on the street, who often times, seem to truly believe that we are a giant group of trashy wedding people. It's hilarious to watch the actors scream inappropriate things to the people on the street and witness the looks of disdain on the passersby's faces. It certainly puts you in a dimension outside of reality.

At the reception, the fourth wall becomes completely non-existent, melding dimensions, making you feel eerily comfortable yet a bit out of your skin at the same time. But just when Eric and I started to get a little edgy and confused, alcohol was served. What a great show! The characters not only include you in their worlds but will even lean over at times and tell you secrets. The production is truly an ensemble piece with a circus of activity and is therefore difficult to get the full experience of the show from only one viewing. From where I was sitting however, I was really taken with the bridesmaids, played by Danielle Montezinos, Laura Escalante and Amy Broder; one was very pregnant, one was a complete slut, and the other had a major attitude problem. Other standout performances included the father of the groom, played by Mark Nassarand who would blurt out offensive things at the most inappropriate times, accompanied by his sleazy girlfriend fabulously played by Janine Molinari, who kind of reminded me of a bizarre cross between Pat Benatar and Joan Jett. After having said this, depending on where you are, you get a completely different experience than the people sitting across the room from you. Not to mention that the majority of what you're seeing is improvised, so the vibe definitely changes with each production. At this reception, you not only get liquored up, you get fed. The food even tastes like wedding reception food. Eric was all about the pasta smothered in white sauce, until he saw an attractive man sitting at another table that forced him to have creative visions of other things one could smother in a white sauce. The whole experience was like an acid trip where you find yourself inside of an eerie cartoon, but at the same time, everything feels so very real.

Running Time: 2 hours 45 min - Price: $85 - $125
$125 VIP seating -- you will be seated in the best seats, and treated like family! 212-352-3101

Saint Luke's Church| 308 West 46th Street



Toxic Audio in LOUDMOUTH
Featuring Jeremy James, Shalisa James,
Michelle Mailhot-Valines, Rene Ruiz & Paul Sperrazza
Summer of 2004


Visit www.toxicaudio.com for times and dates

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


Sam Shepherd’s
True West
March 2004
The Bernie West Theatre at Baruch College

“Two Actresses take on Sam Shepherd’s True West”

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

There has been some controversy in the press about this show. It seems that Sam Shepherds agent, Judy Boals, has notified the producers that Mr. Shepherd intention was for this play for be cast with two men as the brothers. And Indigo Productions has instead cast two very talented women – Marlene Wallace as Lee and and Sarah Jackson as Austin.

Well, not to worry, all is saved. Indigo Production’s version of True West is in no way a feminized version of the story. Those girls have balls. In fact, this being New York, it is possible to get married, several times as a matter of fact, to men who are far less masculine than the characters these women are portraying. And you heard it here first.

Thomas G. Waites has directed a very true version of True West and once you are seated in the theater, the role-reversed casting becomes unnoticeable. The actresses are totally believable as two siblings, each of whom wants what the other has. And Mr. Shepherd has written a superb play, but we already knew that. The talented cast also features Charlie Moss as Saul and Mary A. Sarno as Mom. So go see True West, not because it’s a controversial show, but because it’s a good show.

 

 

 

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