Friday, August 31, 2007

Review – Long Distance (The Ateh Theater Group and CollectiveP.A.S.T.@chashama)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Having now seen two productions by the Ateh Theater Group, The Girl Detective and Long Distance, I can say that I see some common threads. Their productions are well-acted and directed. They are adapted from some very unusual short stories. And they are always strange. Subtly, bewilderingly, and wonderfully strange. They won’t be everyone’s thing, but if you see the world as slightly skewed and perplexing, they may be just what you’re looking for.

The world of Long Distance is certainly skewed and perplexing. Grounded in real life, but deliciously apart from it, the three short plays that make up the evening have a somewhat magical feel. Each deals with seemingly mundane event – a young woman expecting a visit from her parents while trying to get her boyfriend to leave (Visitors), a mother who doesn’t want a mammogram (Flush), and a young woman beginning her freshman year of college (Skin Care). But the stories go in directions that no audience could anticipate – urban legends come to life, fish mysteriously appear in toilets, and a girl slowly turns to dust from strange form of leprosy.

Of course, to tell much more than that would mar the beauty and surprise of the stories.

The cast of Long Distance is stellar. Elizabeth Neptune as Meredith, the young woman waiting for her parents, and Amy, the neurotic older sister of the college freshman, is particularly good. Playing off Neptune in Visitors, Jake Thomas as the boyfriend, Parrish, is a genially everyman, with a flair for subtle comedy. Also noteworthy are the engaging Kathryn Ekblad and Diana Lynn Drew in Flush and Jesse Paul Wilson in Skin Care.

Ably directed by Bridgette Dunlap and Alexis Grausz, Long Distance is a marvelous and unusual reminder of the magic that theatre can produce.

Adapted by Bridgette Dunlap from the stories of Judy Budnitz
Directed by Bridgette Dunlap and Alexis Grausz
Set Designer: Emily French
Lighting Design: Natalie Robin
Costume Designer: Amy VanMullekom
Sound Designer: Chris Rummel
Illustrator: Rusty Zimmerman
Sound Board Operator: Lenny Collado
Stage Manger/Assistant Director: Hannah Miller
Publicist: Katie Rosin, Kampfire Films PR

Featuring Diana Lynn Drew, Kathryn Ekblad, Charley Layton, Madeleine Maby, Sara Montgomery, Elizabeth Neptune, Hugh Scully, Jake Thomas and Jesse Wilson

Chashama 217
217 E. 42nd Street

Closes: September 1st

Review – One Nation Under (At Hand Theatre Company)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Andrea Lepcio’s One Nation Under is a rare treat: a traditional tragedy told in a way that will reach a modern audience. With a cast of talented actors and crackerjack directing by Tye Blue, it provides an exciting and satisfying evening of theatre.

One Nation Under tells the story of Arlene Stanton (Adrienne Hurd), a judge on the fast track to the Supreme Court. Shepherding her through the process is Wesley Hanna (Peter Reznikoff), a conservative Svengali with the President’s ear. When Eric (Christopher Abbott), Arlene’s layabout son, announces that he has taken a job with Haliburton in Iraq, Arlene allows Wesley to pull some strings in order to keep him safe. Because of that action, Arlene’s family and her law clerk, Quinta (Toks Olagundoye) become involved with the young Reservist from the Bronx who has been assigned to protect Eric, Darcee Washington (J’nelle Bobb-Semple), her son Chester (also played by Bobb-Semple during an extremely moving epilogue), and sister Lilifrieda (Chrystal Stone), a streetwise woman who will do anything to protect her family. Since this is a tragedy, it’s clear that no one makes it through unscathed.

There are any number of things to praise about this production. Andrea Lepcio’s script is tight and well-written. In a very short time it manages to deal with race, sexuality, class struggles, and politics - national, international, and family. Director Tye Blue keeps the pacing of the play interesting, never letting the it lag, but allowing moments of stillness that make the faster-paced scenes that much more effective. In addition, Blue makes excellent use of the stage, a simple but effective set designed by Nathan Elsener.

The company is impressive, with special praise going to Chrystal Stone, Christopher Abbott and J’nelle Bobb-Semple, all of whom are outstanding in their roles. Toks Olagundoye as the uptight law clerk, Quinta, manages to have some of the most humorous moments in the play, her tentative flirtation with Lilifrieda, as well as some of the most poignant, her loss of faith in Judge Stanton and what she stands for. Adrienne Hurd is impressive as Judge Stanton, especially in her scenes with Abbott. Peter Reznikoff hits all the right notes as the genial, but dangerous, conservative powerbroker. One part of Wesley’s character doesn’t ring true, that is his romantic pursuit of the judge in the latter part of the play. This is not Reznikoff’s problem, in fact, he gives it his all, but rather a problem with Lepcio’s script. While it’s not unreasonable to expect a man like Hanna to fall for a strong, self-assured woman like Arlene, the speed with which it happens and the proprietary way with which he treats her at the end of the play seems to come out of nowhere.

This minor hiccup aside, One Nation Under is an excellent, well-produced play. Though I did not see At Hand’s previous production, POP!, if One Nation Under is any indication, this is definitely a theatre company to watch out for.

Written by Andrea Lepcio
Directed by Tye Blue
Costume Design: Michelle Andre
Assistant Costume Design: Bianca DiPietro
Scenic Design: Nathan Elsener
Asst. Scenic Design: Liz Schurra
Sound Designer: Nathan Leigh
Lighting Design: Josh Starr
Asst. Lighting Design: Lauren Madden
Stage Manager: Sarah Ripper
Dramaturg: amy freeman
Production Manager: Marty Strenczewilk
Press/Marketing: Daniel Horrigan
Press Agent: Stephen Sunderlin
Business Manger: Meghan Strenczewilk
Wig Design (Arlene): Armando Corral
Photographer: Salma Khalil

Featuring Adrienne Hurd (Arlene Stanton), Peter Reznikoff (Wesley Hanna/The Help), Toks Olagundoye (Quinta Maxwell), Christopher Abbott (Eric Stanton), J’nelle Bobb-Semple (Darcee/Chester Washington/The Help), Chrystal Stone (Lilifrieda Day/The Help)

Medicine Show Theatre
549 W. 52nd Street

Closed: Sunday August 26th

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Review – Princess Mimi Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Frog (a play for someone else’s children) (The Hamburger Theatre Company and th

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

With a title that references Dr. Stranglove, I think I can be forgiven for expecting a play that would take the story of The Frog Prince, best known by way of the Brothers Grimm, and turn it completely inside out. Instead, Princess Mimi Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Frog (a play for someone else’s children) is a remarkably conventional retelling of the story.

Princess Mimi (Sarah Todes) is spoiled. Her father (Miriam Mintz) and grandmother (Steven Olender) aren’t willing to do much about her behavior, so Mimi’s only friend is her golden iPod, Poddy. When Mimi drops Poddy down a well, she is so distraught that she makes a deal with a Frog (John Kurzynowski) –she’ll let him live in the palace if he gets her iPod back. He does. She reneges. Her father lets the frog move in anyway, but only until a new iPod arrives (poor Poddy got all wet and no longer worked). After some initial awkwardness, they become friends. The iPod arrives, the frog leaves, Mimi realizes that a slimy green friend who actually listens is better than an iPod any day. A kiss. A prince. Happily ever after.

Playwright Patrick Flynn has created an amusing piece of children’s theatre. There’s enough pop culture, slapstick, and silliness to keep a gaggle of kids entertained. And thanks to the antics of the Narrators (played in this production by Marty Glyer and Michael Lister) there’s some funny stuff for parents as well. But I’m not convinced that The Hamburger Theatre Company trusts the material. Director Zachary Stewart seems more interested in using tricks - gender-bending casting of the King and Queen Mum, stylized movement, self-referential theatrical jokes – to make the production seem geared more toward adults. While it is an interesting choice, I’m not sure it was the best one in this case. In addition the play feels rushed. As it is, it runs considerably shorter than the promised hour and fifteen minutes. Stewart could easily afford to take things at a slightly less frantic pace.

The actors in Princess Mimi seem to be having a good time and there are some rather good performances. Chief among these are Marty Glyer and Michael Lister as the Narrators and John Kurzynowski as the Frog. Kurzynowski was without a doubt the most expressive amphibian I’ve seen since Kermit the Frog. Sarah Todes did an excellent job as the spoiled Princess. Both Mintz and Olender did well with their roles, though the Queen Mum and King are really there to serve as a foil for Mimi, so they didn’t often get a chance to shine.

The production values are very good for a Fringe show. Andrew Scoville’s scenic design and Caitlyn Larson’s lighting manage to rein in the cavernous stage at the Connelly Theater. Laura Helmer’s costume design is fun and inspired.

Ultimately, this production of Princess Mimi is a lot like the dry macaroni and glitter art you made in elementary school. You and your friends loved making it. Your parents thought it was the best thing ever. But for those who weren’t involved, it’s just hard to get too worked up about it.

Written by Patrick Flynn
Directed by Zachary Stewart
Scenic Design: Andrew Scoville
Costume Design: Laura Helmer
Lighting Design: Caitlyn Larson
Sound Design: Robert Ribar
Co-Scenic Design: Harry John Shepard
Props Design: Adele Rylands
Production Stage Manager: Paul Bedard

Featuring Marty Glyer (Narrator 1), Michael Lister (Narrator 2), Miriam Mintz (King Timothy the Tolerable), Steven Olender (The Queen Mum), Sarah Todes (Princess Mimi), John Kurzynowski (The Frog)

The Connelly Theater
220 East 4th Street

Closed: Sunday August 26th

Review - . . . Double Vision (Don’t Say Miami and Joshua P. Weiss/New York International Fringe Festival)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

There’s something a little unfocused about . . . Double Vision, Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich’s new play being produced at the 2007 NY Fringe Festival. While quite a bit of the play rings true, especially when dealing with the subtle and not so subtle ways people sabotage the relationships that could bring them happiness, there are enough unrealistic situations to suggest that the playwright really wanted to write an absurdist piece, but felt the need to make it more palatable for a mainstream audience.

. . . Double Vision centers around three roommates: Dave (Shane Jacobsen) and Mark (Quinn Mattfeld), two 30-somethings, falling apart because of their dysfunctional relationships, and Ben (Christopher McCann), a man in his 50s blissfully happy to have found the 21-year-old of his dreams, Michelle (Sarah Silk). Mark only dates married women, for fear of allowing himself to get in too deep, and is avoiding calls from Amy, a woman who could turn out to be something meaningful. Dave is dating Mary (Rebecca Henderson), a high-powered business woman, though their relationship is on the rocks because neither one wants to address the issue of Mary’s upcoming transfer to LA. The final character in mix is Celia (Linda Jones), the boys’ next-door neighbor, who is having relationship issues of her own. She works a night shift so she can limit the time spent her reliable, but boring, boyfriend Michael.

The most interesting characters are those who are least tethered to reality, in this case Dave and Mary. Dave’s stress over the impending end of their relationship has led him to hallucinate a blonde-haired woman who keeps magically appearing in front of his car, forcing him into wreck after wreck. He also refuses to use the subway because he always sees a naked man, one no one else notices and one who is beginning to look more and more like him. Mary has a knack for business and has found that no one is her equal in the office, but her possible transfer and Dave’s refusal to address it is keeping her from being able to make a decision about anything, even what shoes to wear. When she finally does make a decision, one to make her more Californian in preparation for her move, it has dire consequences.

Given that they play the most complex characters in . . . Double Vision, it’s no surprise that Shane Jacobsen and Rebecca Henderson stand out. Jacobsen, who was most recently seen playing a smarmy Lothario in I’m in Love With Your Wife at the Midtown International Theater Festival, proves himself a versatile and interesting actor. His unselfconsciousness, both in regards to his nudity in the play and his character’s slow descent into madness, make him fascinating to watch. Henderson’s Mary could have easily been a two-dimensional character, an indecisive girl waiting for Dave to come through for her. Instead, Henderson shows the pain and disappointment hiding under her ball-busting exterior. Most importantly, she does an excellent job portraying Mary’s confusion and disgust of what she is becoming as her relationship crumbles.

While some of the roles, Mark in particular, seem underwritten, the cast is uniformly strong. This combined with Ari Laura Kreith’s extremely competent directing, smooth over several of the script’s bumpier moments.

. . . Double Vision is not as strong of a play as it could have been, but the strength of the acting and directing make the production enjoyable nonetheless.

Written by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich
Directed by Ari Laura Kreith
Production Stage Manager: Andrea Ghersetich
Lighting Design: Anjeanette Stokes
Set, Costume and Prop Design: Michael Wilson Morgan
Sound Design: Ben Morss

Featuring Rebecca Henderson (Mary), Shane Jacobsen (Dave), Linda Jones (Celia), Quinn Mattfeld (Mark), Christopher McCann (Ben), Sarah Silk (Michelle)

The Linhart Theater
440 Lafayette Street

Closed: Friday August 24th

UPDATE: . . . Double Vision continues to run as part of the FringeNYC Encore Series through Sept. 16 at the Bleecker St. Theatre (45 Bleecker Street). For further information visit the . . . Double Vision website.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Review – Sodomy & Pedicures (Jeanne d’Ork Productions and the New York International Fringe Festival)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a huge fan of one-person, autobiographical theatre. I find that a great deal of it is self-indulgent and better suited for a psychologist’s office than for the stage. That being said, I was surprised to find myself amused and delighted by Jessica Hedrick’s Sodomy & Pedicures, playing as part of the New York International Fringe Festival.

Raised to be a feminist by an Irish-Catholic women’s studies professor and a blue collar Communist, but stuck in a Cosmo-loving world, it is no wonder that Hedrick has issues with sex. When she meets an Italian Lothario who wants to dominate her, not to mention explore a little anal loving, all her ideals about equality and feminism fly out the door as she finds herself irresistibly drawn to him. As she tries to understand these feelings, she explores her views on life, love, and sexual politics, all the while turning to her friends and family for their advice and input. While Hedrick’s tale is amusing, it is her performance that really seals the deal. She is a funny and engaging storyteller, a marvelous mimic, and remarkably unselfconscious given the material.

Director Julia M. Smith proves herself particularly skilled in allowing the comic scenes to build slowly - never forcing the humor, but never letting it get too slow. Hedrick’s scene in which she discusses an intimate use for a peacock feather is an excellent example of this. In addition, Smith makes very good use of the small stage. Where many one-person shows tend to take a static ’stand and speak’ approach, Smith avoids this while keeping all the movement natural.

In Sodomy & Pedicures, Hedrick does a marvelous job in telling her story and in making the audience care about her. By the end of the show, it’s easy to imagine that you were just spending the evening with a very good, very funny friend, instead of watching a piece of theatre.

Written and Performed by Jessica Hedrick
Directed by Julia M. Smith
Production Stage Manager: Rebecca Nell Robertson

The Players Loft
115 MacDougal Street

Closed: Saturday August 25th