Friday, April 20, 2007

Review - Some Men (Second Stage Theatre)

Stage Buzz Review by David Pasteelnick

Terrence McNally could be considered by some as the still-living patron saint of gay theater. While I imagine he would chafe at such a limiting honorific, the fact remains that his body of work contains many seminal works of modern gay theater – The Lisbon Traviata, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Corpus Christi, the book for the musical A Man of No Importance – and now he adds to that list with Some Men, performing at Second Stage Theatre through April 22.

A collection of interlinked vignettes, Some Men attempts to chart the different shapes that intimate male-male relationships have taken over various decades of the 20th Century and into the 21st. While by no means a perfect work, Some Men does serve as a theatrical weigh-station, noting where the gay community has been, where it is now and even to some extent where it may be heading.

The play is book-ended by a gay wedding taking place at the Waldorf-Astoria. Various generations of gay men, both coupled and single, arrive and offer observations on the proceedings. From this jumping off point, the action see-saws through time, providing snapshots of life in the ‘20s, ‘60s, ‘70s, etc. The problem with snapshots is that sometimes you don’t get a full idea of what is happening in the photo, or the emotion or message that the artist attempts to convey is not fully realized. This is the case in a few scenes such as one at a military funeral. More fully realized moments take place on a beach in the Hamptons, a restaurant dining room at the Waldorf, and my personal favorite – a bench in Central Park.

I had the good fortune to attend an earlier version of this work when it was performed at the Philadelphia Theatre Company last summer. The play has evolved considerably since then, and while I felt a few scenes lacked the punch they packed in the prior incarnation, the play holds together much better as a whole now. The cast is uniformly strong, with some standout moments by David Greenspan as a drag queen during the Stonewall riots, Michael McElroy as a Harlem Renaissance nightclub host, and Don Amendolia in a variety of scene stealing roles. Consideration must also be given to Kelly AuCoin and Romain Frugé whose moving portrayal of a couple at various stages of their relationship provides audiences with a crucial through-line that grounds the piece.

Director Trip Cullman, who has helmed several of my favorite Off-Broadway works, provides a sure hand to the proceedings, making a clear narrative out of what could have been a chaotic evening and keeping the pace brisk and engaging. He steers clear of mawkish sentimentality and never lets a joke hijack a scene. The simple (ornate chandeliers notwithstanding) and extremely flexible and functional set was designed by Mark Wendland. Linda Cho’s attractive and effective costumes play a vital part in keeping the proceedings coherent. Kevin Adam’s evocative and at times humorous lighting and John Gromada’s nostalgia-inducing sound design also do their part to make the overall evening extremely enjoyable.

Some Men may not be all men and it may not have reinvented gay theater, but it provides a brisk, effective, and at times moving tour of what it means and has meant for a man to love another man.

Written by Terrence McNally
Directed by Trip Cullman
Set Designer: Mark Wendland
Costume Designer: Linda Cho
Lighting Designer: Kevin Adams
Sound Designer: John Gromada
Assistant Set Designer: Rachel Nemec
Assistant Costume Designer: Terese Wadden
Assistant Sound Designer: Bridget O’Connor
Production Stage Manager: Lori Ann Zepp
Stage Manager: Stephanie Gratton

Featuring Don Amendolia, Kelly AuCoin, Romain Frugé, David Greenspan, Jesse Hooker, Michael McElroy, Pedro Pascal, Randy Redd, and Frederick Weller.

Second Stage Theatre
307 W. 43rd Street

Through April 22nd

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Review - Picasso at the Lapin Agile (T. Schreiber Studio)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

I’ve long been a fan of Steve Martin’s cute and quirky Picasso at the Lapin Agile, though until Friday, I had never seen it performed. What a delight to have my first staged version of the show not only live up to, but exceed, my expectations.

The bright and witty comedy, produced by the T. Schreiber Studio, imagines a chance encounter between Albert Einstein (Josh Marcantel) and Pablo Picasso (Richard Zekaria) in a small bar in Paris, the Lapin Agile. Both are on the cusp of revealing their own particular brand of genius; Einstein with his theory of relativity, and Picasso with Cubism. They are also on the cusp of a radical new century, one that they will come to symbolize.

The play deals with the nature of art, revelation, physics, wine, men, women, love, history . . . a myriad of concepts. Most interesting is its take on genius and fame, both as it relates to Picasso, Einstein and a time-traveling visitor (Edward Campbell, Jr.), who is never named, but is wearing blue suede shoes, and to Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (Michael Black), a nobody who is determined not to let history pass him by unnoticed.

The production is superb, especially in its technical values. George Allison’s highly detailed and realistic set transports the audience to turn of the century Paris. In fact, some of the audience sits onstage during the production, as patrons of the Lapin Agile. Lighting designer Andrea Boccanfuso recreates the intimate feel of a small Parisian bar, and has a couple of stunning visual effects at the end of the play. Karen Ann Ledger’s period costumes are marvelous and give added depth to the characters.

The eleven person ensemble is excellent, with special praise to Zekaria as the manic and sexy Spaniard; Marcantel, whose charmingly goofy Einstein was pleasure to watch; and Frank Mihelich and Maeve Yore as Freddy and Germaine, the down-to-earth owners of the Lapin Agile. Michael Black as Schmendiman provides some of the funniest moments of the show; he has excellent timing and a willingness to throw himself into the sublime ridiculousness of his role.

Director Cat Parker proves adept both at the over-the-top humor and the moments of quiet wonder that Martin has created in his play.

Congratulations to the cast, crew, and T. Schreiber Studio for an excellent production.

Written by Steve Martin
Directed by Cat Parker
Scenic Designer: George Allison
Costume Designer: Karen Ann Ledger
Lighting Designer: Andrea Boccanfuso
Sound Designer: Christopher Rummel
Rehearsal Stage Manager: Shane Van Vliet
Production Stage Manager: Melanie Bell
Assistant Director: Brittney Venable
Set Decorator: Carolyn Mraz
Assistant Costume Designer: Summer Lee Jack
Stitcher: Francesca Neville
Technical Director: Brian Smallwood
Assistant Technical Director: Joe Powell
Lighting Assistant: Rand Sherman
Lightin Assistant: Anna C. Jones
Production Photographer: Rod Goodman
Publicist: Katie Rosin
Industry Liaison: Jessica Faller

Featuring Frank Mihelich (Freddy), Jaim Aylward (Gaston), Maeve Yore (Germaine), Josh Marcantel (Albert Einstein), Arela Rivas (Suzanne), Todd Cowdery (Sagot), Richard Zekaria (Pablo Picasso), Michael Black (Charles Dabernow Schmendiman), Andrea Marie Smith (The Countess), Ivette Dumeng (Mimi the Admirer), and Edward Campbell, Jr. (A Visitor).

T. Schreiber Studio
151 W. 26th Street, 7th Floor
Through May 6th

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Review - The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both and there you have . . . Jamie Morris’s wildly absurd The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode. In this episode, entitled “The Best Little Whorehouse in Peekskill,” Mrs. Garrett and the girls are faced with the prospect of losing their dorm to development, the elimination of Mrs. Garrett’s job, and the Starbucks-driven closing of Edna’s Edibles unless they can come up with enough money to save the day. They do what any good boarding school girls would do . . . open a brothel.

Morris’s send up of this bewilderingly popular show (it ran nine seasons according to IMDB) hits all the expected marks – Tootie’s skates, Natalie’s constant grinning through her lines, Mrs. Garrett’s cries of “Girls! Girls!” It also stakes out some new territory – taking Jo and Blair’s love/hate relationship and accentuating the love portion. Woven in are some amusingly rewritten songs from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, some lines and images that would shock a sailor and will promptly get lodged in your brain forever, and a visit from Blair’s cousin Geri that led one audience member to loudly exclaim, “Oh no, they are NOT going there!”

Yes, they are. And it’s damn funny.

The five actors in the show all do a remarkable job of creatively parodying their TV characters. It is Brooks Braselman, who plays Natalie and several other minor characters, however, who steals the show. Not only is his Natalie spot on, but he is such a dynamo that he seems to vibrate with energy every time he’s on stage. Jamie Morris, playing a sex-crazed Mrs. Garrett, keeps up with him and always looks like he’s having the time of his life. In fact, that seems to be case with all the actors – they look like they’re having a blast.

The show is not without its slow moments, and there are a fair number of jokes that fall flatter than Mrs. Garrett’s flapjacks, but the laughs easily outnumber the groans. My suggestion is to get there a little early, grab a drink upstairs at the KGB Bar, and reminisce about some of your favorite episodes. Then grab a seat and try to keep up with the actors. Be prepared for a wild, raunchy, crazy time.

Written by Jamie Morris
Parody lyrics by Brooks Braselman and Jamie Morris
Directed by Christopher Kenney
Set Design by Michael Lee Scott
Musical Arrangements by Hank Bones

Featuring Brooks Braselman (Natalie), Christopher Kenney (Blair), Charlie Logan (Jo), Jamie Morris (Mrs. Garrett), and Jaquay Thomas (Tootie)

Kraine Theater
85 E. 4th Street

Tickets: or 212-352-3101

Review - Tales of the Lost Formicans (Nicu’s Spoon)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

An alien, describing the culture of the Formicans (its name for late 20th century Americans), in Constance Congdon’s Tales of the Lost Formicans, refers to it as “complex, but strangely intangible.” This is also a perfect description of Congdon’s play. Dealing with aliens, Alzheimer’s, the disintegration of the family, middle-class apathy, and any number of other subjects, the play is hard to classify, and even harder to describe.

Luckily, Congdon’s play seems to be about taking away whatever message resonates most with each individual audience member. Don’t be surprised if you take away a completely different message than everyone else.

The main story concerns Cathy (Rebecca Challis), a woman whose husband has left her for a much younger woman. She leaves her life in New York and, son Eric (Nico Phillips) in tow, returns to Colorado to live with her parents, Evelyn (Celia Bressack) and Jim (Brian J. Coffey). Jim is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and gets progressively worse over the course of the play. Dealing with her father, her perpetually angry teenage son, and the attentions of Jerry (Michael Hartney), the local conspiracy nut, proves to be almost more than she can handle.
And then there are the aliens.

Rather than writing a basic family drama, Congdon presents the audience with an anthropology lesson, as a group of aliens observe and attempt to understand the lives of this group of humans. They get most of it wrong, but of course, that’s the point. The results force us to view ourselves and our lives in a different light.

Nicu’s Spoon is an extraordinary company in that they celebrate the diversity of acting talent in the city by casting “multi-racial, multi-abled, multi-aged, and multi-gendered talent.” The cast of Formican’s certainly is true to that mission, and generally speaking, they are a diverse and talented group. Two actors in particular, Michael Hartney and Brian J. Coffey, are outstanding. Hartney, as the socially awkward Jerry, creates a character that is so sympathetic, it almost physically hurts every time he says or does the wrong thing. And watching Coffey’s Jim devolve from a robust foreman to a confused, shuffling old man is heartbreaking.

My main problem with the play, and sadly one which I couldn’t overcome, is that the world that Congdon was writing about in the late ‘80s doesn’t seem as relevant now. Congdon’s Formicans were on the verge of winning the Cold War. Though there was a Bush in the White House, they had yet to experience the first Gulf War. 9/11 wasn’t even something they could have conceived of. Their America, pre-cell phones and the Internet, seems almost quaint.

In an effort to overcome this, director Brett Maughan shifts the play to present day America and adds in references to Bush and Iraq. Unfortunately, this just makes it seem more out of place, or rather, out of time. Of course certain aspects of the show still resonate – dealing with Alzheimer’s, divorce, intergenerational family issues, etc. But it just doesn’t seem to be enough to make the show work as a whole.

While Nicu’s Spoon is certainly a company to watch, their upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Richard III might prove a better showcase for their talents and their unique mission.

Written by Constance Congdon
Directed by Brett Maughan
Stage Manager: Kathleen Conway
Lighting Designer: Steven Wolf
Lighting Design Intern: Stephen Halouvas
Prop & Scenic Designer: Brett Maughan & S. Barton-Farcas
AD/Production Assistant: Alvaro Sena
ASM/Production Intern: Chrissy Capobianco
Costume Designer: Thomas Cassetta
Build Crew Head: John Trevellini
Lights/Sound Running Crew: Kathleen Conway & Tom Cassetta
ASL Interpreters: Pamela O. Mitchell, Pat Dash, Gerald Small & Sharon Williams

Featuring Rebecca Challis (Cathy), Brian J. Coffey (Jim), Celia Bressack (Evelyn), Nico Phillips (Eric), Lindsay Goranson (Judy), Michael Hartney (Jerry), Jovinna Chan (Head Alien), Russell Waldman (Alien 2), Dirk Smile (Alien 3)

Theatre 54
244 W. 54th Street
Through April 15th
Wed.-Sun.: 8 pm