Sunday, May 20, 2007

Review - My Inner Mark Berman (Theater for the New City)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

In his program notes, Evan Laurence, creator and star of My Inner Mark Berman, dedicates the production to Charles Ludlum and Everett Quinton of Ridiculous Theater fame. It’s no wonder. My Inner Mark Berman has a very Ridiculous Theater vibe; in many ways, it’s a throwback to the wonderful, over-the-top, mind-bending downtown theatre scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The play follows Mark Berman (Evan Laurence), a mild gay man so disheartened by life that he gives up and becomes Cricket Santiago, a flamboyant and glamorous drag queen. This is enough to get him institutionalized. Enter the wise and stoic Rabbi (the marvelous David Slone, Esq.), a psychiatrist brought in by the scheming Head of Hospital (Danny Smith). With the help of transsexual Nurse Sass-Poo (Christopher Noffke) and a well-endowed superhero called Sgt. Misconception (Richard C. Lurie), the Rabbi realizes that Cricket is more than what she seems. Where he expects to find merely a figment of Mark Berman’s imagination, he discovers dimensional shifts, alternate realities, ancestral ghosts, and other things that he longs to explore, despite his strict religious upbringing.

Will the Rabbi face his ghosts and learn to open himself to the universe’s myriad truths? Will Nurse Sass-Poo find love and contentment as she becomes her own woman? Will the evil Head of Hospital get it in the end? Will Mark Berman ever return? And seriously, what is up with Sgt. Misconception’s codpiece? These questions and many more get answered by the end of the show. Well, maybe not the codpiece one, but what is life without mysteries?

The play is marvelously absurd and features songs both amusing and touching. The acting is strong with outstanding performances given by David Slone, Esq., Danny Smith, and Christopher Noffke. Noffke, in particular, has both a wonderful voice and expressive face; his Nurse Sass-Poo is the highlight of the show. Laurence, though amusing as drag queen Cricket and appropriately pathetic as Mark Berman, seems dwarfed at times by the giant personalities of Slone and Noffke. There are moments when Cricket is larger than life and fabulous, but to hold her own against the Rabbi and Nurse Sass-Poo, she needs to be that and more for the entire show. Smith, reminiscent of a younger Chris Kattan, is a remarkably physical actor, with almost a dancers’ control over his body. His Head of Hospital is a work of evil genius, though it is his Kishka Meldstein who receives the best reaction. Lurie’s Sgt. Misconception is one of the more absurd inventions in a play full of them. He plays his part with the eagerness of a puppy, though like Laurence, he tends to be overwhelmed by the other actors. Lurie has a good singing voice, although at times his parts were out of his range.

If there is one overall problem with the show, it is the pacing. The play runs approximately 80 minutes. Despite that, it seems much longer due to a couple of scenes that seem extraneous, overly long blackouts, some awkward blocking, and problems with timing. Director Richard Mazda could have tightened the show considerably, and should have considered removing the intermission entirely. It interrupts the momentum of the show, and from an audience member’s standpoint, isn’t really necessary.

Despite these few flaws, My Inner Mark Berman is a fun and surprisingly introspective show. For those hankering for a taste of some downtown New York theatre of old, My Inner Mark Berman is a good choice.

Written by Evan Laurence
Directed by Richard Mazda
Music and Lyrics by Evan Laurence
Music Produced and Arranged by Richard Mazda
Stage Manager: Ryan Schmitz
Choreography: Tana Leigh Pierce
Assistant Director: Katie Braden
Sound/Lights: Mi Sun Choi

Featuring David Slone, Esq (Rabbi), Richard C. Lurie (Clown/Sgt. Misconception/John Smith), Christopher Noffke (Nurse Terry Sass-Poo), Evan Laurence (Mark Berman/Cricket Santiago/Young Rabbi), and Danny Smith (Head of Hospital/Hipster/Kishka Meldstein).

Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue

Friday, May 18, 2007

Review - Couples (WorkShop Theater Company)

Stage Buzz review by David Orchard

Gay, straight, frustrated, bestial – just some of the complex relationships on show in Rich Orloff’s intriguing Couples at The WorkShop Theater Company. Eight short, two-person scenes each drawing the audience in with an intimate portrayal of relationships at a tipping point. From the awkward fumblings of a drunken hook-up to the tediosity of a middle-aged marriage, what could easily be boring, “slice of life” vignettes is actually a fascinating peep into the lives of those around us. While each couple is experiencing some kind of crisis – major and minor – the scenes vary from domestic realism to fantasy and inner-monologue. Each scene is well-directed by Paula D’Alessandris, Phillip Emeott and David Gautschy (each directing several of the scenes) and hits the right tone for the tiny space of the Jewel Box Theater – relying on a minimal set and carefully pooled lighting and atmospheric effects by lighting designer Richard Kent Green. The intimacy of the relationships and the size of the theater could easily lead to under- or over-acting, something that is pretty much avoided throughout the evening.

A smartly conceived opening scene has all 16 actors waiting in line for a Disneyland rollercoaster while the first vignette, Matterhorn, takes place in their midst. An irritable forty-something husband and wife bicker incessantly while their offstage kids cause mayhem. Wende O’Reilly as Arleen deftly avoids caricature while conveying the frustrations of the unsatisfied wife who ultimately finds a kind of peace with her husband Jerry (Richard Mover). Of the seven other scenes, four others deserve special mention.

Class Dismissed deals with the painful parting of a professor and student relationship after their gay affair has been uncovered. Ken Glickfield as the ageing Gene and Jess Cassidy White as his young protégé bring a tender touch that hits home but isn’t overly sentimental.

Lion Tamer is the most bizarre of all the scenes – balancing Noel Coward-style witticism with the sex-charged writing of Jackie Collins. Justin R.G. Holcomb as “A Man” is viewing the apartment of “A Woman” (Christine Verleny) with a view to rent or purchase. As they flirt urbanely their dialogue becomes more charged until Man begins to tell how he “mounted” a lioness while on safari. Holcomb’s wave of dark blond hair and sensuous delivery create a performance that is both leonine and seductive, despite the disturbing imagery.

In Oh Happy Day, a black, gay couple celebrates their tenth anniversary in the happy cocoon they’ve created for themselves while dealing with the aggravations and discrimination that surrounds them. C.K. Allen as Larry and L.B. Williams as Elliot show a genuine warmth and affection and play off each other’s charms in a way that can only be described as endearing.

In the evening’s final scene Right Sensation, Stewart (Michael Anderson) and Paula (Jaqueline M. Raposo) stumble back to her place after a night out drinking. The emotionally, and physically, scarred Paula soon pulls back to reveal an uncomfortable secret. Raposo shows both a fragility and strength while Anderson deals with her revelation in a “foot in mouth”, yet tender way – something that the directors of Lifetime TV movies would be advised to study.

All in all, Couples goes to prove that there’s drama in everyone’s lives, but if only it could be resolved in less than ten minutes like these are.