Friday, December 14, 2007

Review - Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind Best of 2007 (The New York Neo-Futurists)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Each performance of a play is, by its very nature, a unique experience. Perhaps an actor will be moved by an audience’s reaction and discover something new about his character. A prop may be missing. A line may be flubbed. Perhaps a techie has a hangover. Every little thing affects the show. However, most productions strive to make these differences to be as minor as possible.

The same cannot be said of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the long-running brainchild of Greg Allen, who created the show in Chicago and helped created the New York version. True to his ideal, the New York Neo-Futurists strive to live up to the motto, “If you’ve seen one Neo-Futurist show, you’ve seen one Neo-Futurist show.” While this is great from an audience’s standpoint, it makes for a difficult review.

TMLMTBGB is frantic. And funny. And thoughtful. It’s voice, and rhythm, and dance. It’s yoda dolls, Bichon Frisés, and water balloons. It is 30 plays in 60 minutes. And for two weekends in December, it is the best of 2007.

To choose the best of 2007 must be a daunting task. The New York Neo-Futurists are prolific. In the approximately three years that they’ve been performing in New York, they’ve premiered 1122 plays. Granted, a long Neo-Futurist play is probably still under 5 minutes. But that is impressive regardless. The Neos have narrowed the year’s offerings down to 45 plays. 15 plays are the same in the two weekends of the Best of 2007. There are 15 other plays for the first weekend and a new batch of 15 for the second. 30 plays any given night. If you come to the show both weekends, you’ll still see new things.

What I find most intriguing about TMLMTBGB is that the plays aren’t simply sketch comedy. Sure, there are plenty of funny ones. But the ones that are most interesting and resonate the most with me are the introspective pieces. While there is no guarantee that these will be performed in the last two performances of the Best of 2007, keep an eye out for The Truth About Mormons, a play by Christopher Borg about growing up Mormon and gay, Before it floats away I try to remember it all, a haunting, non-verbal piece by Joe Basile, and my favorite of the evening, Erica Livingston’s This Is Not A Panic Attack, in which the other actors help the audience visualize what a panic attack feels like to her.

The audience favorites tend to be the humorous plays, especially those that incorporate music, dance, and audience participation. Among the best of these are Joey Rizzolo’s brilliant Spoiler Alert, a catchy little song that gives away the secrets of everything from ‘Citizen Kane’ to the final Harry Potter novel, Jeffrey Cranor’s … on arguing Kantian metaphysics over espresso with a Bichon Frise, that is more or less, just what it claims to be, and Salaam-E-Ishq for SRK, by Eevin Hartsough, a marvelous dance and audience participation play that gets better each time I see it.

Though there are only two more shows left in the Best of 2007, the New York Neo-Futurists will be back on January 4th with new shows. If you miss tonight’s or tomorrow’s performances, do yourself a favor and go see a show as soon as you can. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is one of the most exciting and interesting nights of theatre in New York.

[Ed. – The Neo-Futurists rarely attribute their plays to individual performers in their programs. The attributions above are based in part on the New York Neo-Futurists Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind Best of 2007 chapbook, assumptions made based on the casting, their website (, and discussions with individual members of the company.]

Created by Greg Allen
Written, Directed and Performed by The New York Neo-Futurists
Technical Director: Lauren Parrish

Featuring The New York Neo-Futurists: Jenny Williams, Justin Tolley, Joey Rizzolo, Rob Neill, Erica Livingston, Sarah Levy, Jacquelyn Landgraf, Eevin Hartsough, Ryan Good, Kevin R. Free, Jeffrey Cranor, Christopher Borg, Joe Basile.

The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street

Friday and Saturday at 10:30 PM through December 15th

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Review - Scapin (Turtle Shell Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

From the moment the audience steps into the Turtle’s Shell Theater, director Shawn Rozsa plunges them into the neon-bright world of Itty Bitty Italy, the village that serves as the setting for Scott McCrea’s new translation of Molière’s Scapin. There are vibrant colors everywhere; it is, after all, the feast of San Piccolo, the patron saint of Itty Bitty Italy. There is the set that doesn’t quite define what space belongs to the actors and what belongs to the audience. And then there is the wise-cracking Musician who welcomes you in and entertains you until the play. It’s a pre-show that practically jumps up and yells “Benvenuto!”

It is also exactly what McCrea’s translation calls for. Rozsa knows that an audience needs to be warmed up for a show like this. It’s hard to come in off the chilly streets and be ready for in-your-face slapstick. This pre-show entertainment allows the audience to steal away from the New York winter outside and bask in Itty Bitty Italy’s warm and welcoming glow.

Scapin follows a pretty standard classical storyline. Two young men, scions of the richest families in town, have fallen in love with women their rapacious fathers would never approve of. Young, rich, and handsome, they are unfortunately not the brightest bulbs, so it’s up to Scapin, the wily servant, to save the day. There will, of course, be sight gags and naughty humor. Secret identities and shocking revelations. Heck, they’ll even throw in some puppets for good measure.

The cast of Scapin does a marvelous job. Most notable is Spencer Aste as the vulpine Scapin. Silver-tongued and not at all trustworthy, Scapin is a wonderful character and Aste seems to have a great deal of fun playing him. As the miserly fathers, John Freimann and Roger Grunwald create grotesque and amusing caricatures, each with wonderful idiosyncrasies – Freimann with a stoop and a weirdly bum leg, the fan-wielding Grunwald with a voice that is equal parts Leslie Jordan and Truman Capote. Though the roles of the young lovers are underwritten, the four actors playing them, Nico Evers-Swindell, Matt Luceno, Maya Rosewood, and Catherine Wronowski, each have several moments to shine . . . and sigh and swoon and pine as all comedic young lovers must. Also praise-worthy is the juggling, guitar-playing, balloon-animal making Jay Painter, who greets the audience and keeps them entertained before the show and during intermission (he also plays a Porter and provides incidental music and sound effects during the play). His wide, toothy grin and willingness to do anything for a laugh are remarkable.

Production values are strong. Keven Lock’s bright and electrically vibrant sets perfectly frame A. Christina Giannini’s ‘70s-inspired (and one suspects vintage, in some cases) costumes. Eric Larson’s lighting shows everything off to great advantage.

Scapin does have its share of slow moments, and like many other slapstick comedies, relies heavily on the audience being really into the show. In addition, there are the usual line flubs, costume malfunctions, and prop problems that are part of live theatre. To their credit, the cast does a good job of covering when needed.

One final note - for the more adventurous audience members, there are a dozen or so seats onstage. While I am generally happiest safely tucked behind the fourth wall, I nevertheless enjoyed being in one of those seats for Scapin. Granted, I didn’t have to deal with an actor’s crotch in my face like one of the other hapless audience members, but there was a certain buzz at being up there during an exciting and energetic show like this.

Producer/Artistic Director: John W. Cooper
Directed by Shawn Rozsa
Translation by Scott McCrea, from the play by Molière
Scenic Designer: Keven Lock
Lighting Designer: Eric Larson
Costume Designer: A. Christina Giannini
Sound Designer: David Roy
Stage Manager: Neal Kowalsky
Assistant Stage Manager: Monet C. Fleming
Marketing and Publicity Director: Jeremy Handelman
Production Assistant; Chrissy Capobianco
Associate Sound Designer: Adam “Zee” Zorn

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Review - Sister Cities (T. Schreiber Studio)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

It’s hard to imagine anything that could be done to make the T. Schreiber Studio production of Colette Freedman’s Sister Cities any better. From the moment the audience enters the theatre and sees George Allison’s amazing set, to the last word before the lights come down (a humorously used vulgarity, in case you are wondering) this funny and touching play is a treasure.

Carolina, Austin, Dallas, and Baltimore are half-sisters, each with the same mother, Mary, and different fathers. The children’s names were Mary’s idea; she wanted to name them after their birth cities (though she admitted that she messed up with her eldest, Carolina - the concept wasn’t quite fleshed out when she was born). Austin, a novelist who is living with her mother, has called her sisters home after Mary’s suicide. The girls, who are not particularly close, are left to deal with the aftermath of her death, the lies that they’ve been telling each other and themselves, and one huge secret that is best not given away here because its revelation is remarkably powerful and central to the entire play. Suffice it to say, the truth will set them free, but it will be painful.

The five women in the cast do an outstanding job with their roles. Though only briefly in the play, Judith Scarpone as Mary effectively displays her character’s complex emotions dealing with a crippling disease, and in her scenes with Maeve Yore’s Austin, shows a steely resolve wrapped in motherly pride. Yore is excellent as the writer, forced to watch her mother’s decline and become Mary’s unwilling confidante as she plans her suicide. The other three characters could easily have become stereotypes – Carolina, the uptight lawyer, Dallas, a prissy schoolteacher, and Baltimore, the wild child – but thanks to superb writing and nuanced performances on behalf of the actors (Ellen Reilly, Emberli Edwards, and Jamie Neumann, respectively), these characters instead appear fully realized and interesting. Where Yore, Reilly, Edwards and Neumann truly excel is in creating a realistic family dynamic. There is a complicated mix of love, jealousy, self-pity, seething anger, and humor on display as the characters push each other’s buttons like siblings often do. The actresses mine these emotions to great effect.

Sister Cities features effective direction by Cat Parker, and strong technical aspects by George Allison (set), Karen Ann Ledger (costumes), Andrea Boccanfuso (lights), and Chris Rummel (sound). In particular, there is a nice, almost cinematic, touch with the sound when the pre-show music (James Taylor’s ‘Carolina In My Mind’) transitions from the main speakers into a small onstage radio. It was well-executed and effectively pulled the audience right into the scene.

This is the third production that I have seen at T. Schreiber Studio, and it’s certainly no mystery to me why each performance I’ve attended has had a sold-out house. The plays are well-chosen, as is the cast, and the technical aspects are always particularly well done. If you’ve never seen a T. Schreiber Studio production, you certainly should, and Sister Cities is a great one to start with.

Written by Colette Freedman
Directed by Cat Parker
Scenic Designer: George Allison
Costume Designer: Karen Ann Ledger
Lighting Designer: Andrea Boccanfuso
Sound Designer: Christopher Rummel
Production Coordinator: Gina Roché
Stage Manager/Fight Coordinator: Eliza Jane Bowman
Assistant Director: Frank Mihelich
Set Decorator: Carolyn Mraz
Technical Director: Rohit Kapoor
Production Photographer: Gili Getz
Publicist: Katie Rosin

Featuring Emberli Edwards (Dallas), Jamie Neumann (Baltimore), Ellen Reilly (Carolina), Judith Scarpone (Mary), and Maeve Yore (Austin).

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

Through November 18th

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Review – The Blood Brothers Present . . . Pulp (The Blood Brothers and Nosedive Productions)

Stage Buzz review by Byrne Harrison

The Blood Brothers are back. After last year’s successful production, The Blood Brothers Present . . . An Evening of Grand Guignol Horror, the ghoulish Brothers Blood (Patrick Shearer and Pete Boisvert) have returned bringing panic, terror, wit and gore to a city that can’t seem to get enough of it. This year’s production, a perfect lead in for Halloween, features three short plays sandwiched between gory vignettes. Not everything in Pulp works, but the show features many more hits than misses.

The theme of this year’s production is ‘pulp,’ as in the pulp fiction of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Two of the three short plays hit this style dead on. The first, Best Served Cold by Mac Rogers, is a suspenseful tale of a woman’s revenge on the woman who stole her man. Set in a diner late at night, and narrated by the delightfully cold Patrick Shearer, Best Served Cold shows the confrontation between wronged Marybeth (Anna Kull) and Brianne (Jessi Gotta), the diner owner and woman who ran away with Nick (Marc Landers) and all Marybeth’s money. The play is tight, clever and suspenseful and is very deftly directed by Patrick Shearer and Pete Boisvert. The acting is outstanding, with particularly high marks going to Gotta and Kull.

The other play that hits the nail on the head is James Comtois’ Listening to Reason - a fun little play, full of malice and threat, but with a tidy surprise-ending. In this one, Marc Landers is back playing a serial killer who preys on young women. Hounded by the police and by Patrick Shearer, who again narrates and seems to be inside the killer’s head (one hesitates to call so malicious a voice ‘his conscience’), he takes shelter in the apartment of Miss Greene (Jessi Gotta). Unlike most of the women who venture onstage in a Blood Brothers play, Miss Greene lives. Comtois’ twist is excellent and brings to mind the old mysteries on ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents.’ Jessi Gotta is, once again, particularly good, and Listening to Reason gives Marc Landers a chance to shine as the brutish killer.

The third play in Pulp is a disappointment. Dead Things Kill Nicely, by Qui Nguyen, ignores the pulp genre entirely and tries for comic horror, along the lines of the recent Evil Dead: The Musical. The story, a young girl (Gyda Arber) “saved” from zombies by crazy woman, Story (Stephanie Cox-William), and her creepy son, Rhyme (Pete Boisvert), is okay, and could actually have been fun. Unfortunately, it was hampered by forced dialogue spoken in accents that would have made the Monty Python boys wince. It was also the only one of the three main plays not using a narrator. Stylistically, this made it stick out. While this was my least favorite piece of the evening, it did feature a truly creepy turn by Pete Boisvert as the gravel-voiced Rhyme – so named because he speaks in nursery rhymes. He does such a marvelous job, Rhyme is guaranteed to make an appearance in your next nightmare.

Surrounding the three main plays are four vignettes that have less to do with Pulp and more to do with the Blood Brothers. These are the gory, creepy little tales to disgust and delight the audience. The first of these, Metaphor by James Comtois, features the entire Blood family – Shearer again, as the more literate of the Brothers, Boisvert, as the other brother, and Stephanie Cox-Williams as Gramma Blood. In this vignette, Shearer explains the similarities between theatre and surgery, using his brother as a handy visual aid. The second piece, a comic, and bloody magic show called Something Up His Sleeve, features Brian Silliman as the Magician, with Anna Kull as his hapless assistant. The two creepiest pieces follow. In the first, Bugs In My Skin, Michael Criscuolo plays a young man who comes to appreciate his little multi-legged insect friends to the point of wanting to turn himself into one. Not only is it freakishy disturbing, but it features some excellent directing by Stephanie Cox-Williams. The final vignette is a brutal piece about torture featuring Arber and Kull called What Color Is The Sun?

It is worth mentioning that the bloody special effects in The Blood Brothers Present . . . Pulp are more sophisticated than last year’s, and as such, are much more fun to watch. While there is no guarantee that Nosedive will continue this to bring back the Blood Brothers and their gory stories, if this is an indication of what they can do after only two years, I can only imagine what the Blood Brothers could be with a couple more years, and many more corpses, under their belts. The Blood Brothers Present . . . Pulp closes soon – don’t miss it.

Written by James Comtois, Mac Rogers, Pete Boisvert, Patrick Shearer, Qui Nguyen
Directed by Rebecca Comtois, Patrick Shearer, Pete Boisvert, Stephanie Cox-Williams, Matt Johnston
Production Manager: Stephanie Cox-Williams
Stage Manager: Jessica Lazar
Board Operator: Mike Caputo
Fight Choreographer: Qui Nguyen
Lighting Designer: Phil Shearer
Makeup Designer: Leslie Hughes
Sound Designer: Patrick Shearer
Original Music: Larry Lees
Press Agent: James Comtois
Producers: Pete Boisvert, Rebecca Comtois, Stephanie Cox-Williams, Patrick Shearer
Associate Producers: James Comtois, Marc Landers

Featuring Gyda Arber (Serena, Molly, First Victim, Croceus), Michael Criscuolo (Tired Driver, Man, Police Officer), Jessi Gotta (Brianne, Miss Greene), Anna Kull (Marybeth, The Assistant, Second Victim, Tormina), Marc Landers (Nick, Killer), Brian Silliman (Officer Clancy, The Magician, Brad, Mr. Tucker), Pete Boisvert (Brother Blood, Rhyme), Stephanie Cox-Williams (Gramma Blood, Story), Patrick Shearer (Brother Blood)

The 78th Street Theatre Lab
236 W. 78th Street, 2nd Floor

Through Saturday, October 27th

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Announcement - The Blood Brothers Present: Pulp

The Blood Brothers Present: Pulp


Gyda Arber, Michael Criscuolo, Jessi Gotta, Anna Kull, Marc Landers, Brian Silliman

Listening To Reason
by James Comtois
Directed by Matt Johnston

Dead Things Kill Nicely
by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Pete Boisvert & Patrick Shearer

Best Served Cold
by Mac Rogers
Directed by Pete Boisvert & Patrick Shearer

The 78th Street Theatre Lab
October 11-13, 18-20, 25-27, Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m.

“For sheer playful fun, make this gory confection your Halloween treat.” - Time Out New York

“Sheer, merry sadism, sexual savagery, and witty humor.” - The Off-Off-Broadway Review

A deranged psycho killer, deaf to pleas for mercy, tries one last-ditch effort to dodge the cops through the reluctant help of one terrified hostage. Molly, a young teen looking for a quick snog in the woods, now has to cover a zombie hicky. And Brianne has to keep Marybeth from pulling the trigger for just eight more minutes, but learns that, when talking for one’s life, time has a way of slowing down.

This is The Blood Brothers Present: PULP, Nosedive Productions’ follow-up to last year’s Blood Brothers Present: An Evening of Grand Guignol Horror. James Comtois (The Adventures of Nervous-Boy), Qui Nguyen (Men of Steel, Living Dead in Denmark) and Mac Rogers (Universal Robots, Hail Satan), New York indie theatre scene’s hottest — and let’s face it, sickest — playwrights write three original works inspired by the pulp horror comics and short stories of the 1940s and ‘50s.

The Blood Brothers Present: PULP features graphic violence and strong sexual situations and is recommended for adults only.

The Blood Brothers Present will be performed at the 78th Street Theatre Lab (236 West 78th St. at Broadway) October 11-13, 18-20, 25-27 (Thursday through Saturday). All shows are at 8 p.m. and tickets are $18. Subway: 1 to 79th Street; A to 81st Street; or 1 2 or 3 to 72nd Street.

For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit

Review – The Lady Swims Today (WBISI Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

A backwater resort on the Chesapeake Bay. A shady businessman who promises quick, but not easy, money. A mysterious message, “The lady swims today.” All of these, combined with a handful of locals whose greed overwhelms their good sense and the women who threaten to ruin it all, are on display in H.G. Brown’s The Lady Swims Today at the TADA Theatre. This tight crime drama is a pleasure to watch.

The most striking feature of The Lady Swims Today is the most readily apparent, the marvelous set created by designer Joseph Spirito. It truly captures the feel of the bar of the down-on-its-luck Carney Hook Marina Motel and provides an excellent backdrop to showcase the locals: George (Gordon Silva), the bartender; Harley (Jack Rodgerson), a dockworker and wannabe piano player; and Mal (Rob Sheridan), a former contraband runner who is trying to make a respectable living running the motel with his wife, Beverly (Vivienne Leheny). George and Harley seem to fit the bar perfectly, a little worn and a bit seedy. Mal and Beverly fit in a little less; they’re the dressed up version of what the bar could be. There are also three outsiders at the motel: Joyce Stevens (Kate Udall), Beverly’s old friend, now a reporter; Alice (Kelli K. Barnett), Harley’s ‘dancer’ girlfriend; and the most out of his element, Eddie Hajazi (Robert Funaro), the midlevel hood who is looking for some payback. This payback involves piracy and could net over $2 million. But for it to work, he needs help.

The Lady Swims Today is a fun ride, slowly unfolding, unveiling complication after complication as it builds towards its conclusion. Director Stephen Sunderlin does an excellent job with the pacing, maintaining a coiled tension in most of the scenes that drives the action to a number of explosive moments, the best of which feature Eddie and Joyce, two characters who are much more alike than they’d care to admit.

The acting in this production is strong, though certain actors shine. Vivienne Leheny, in addition to being an excellent as Beverly, has a remarkable voice, clear as crystal whether in a whisper or a shout. Rob Sheridan’s Mal is a character clearly at war with himself. For his wife’s sake, he wants to keep clean, but every new day brings frustrations and setbacks. He clearly wants a moment of his old life back, even though that life also repulses him. Robert Funaro as Eddie is slick and in charge. Funaro occasionally comes across a little stiff, though he is excellent in the more dramatic moments or when interacting with the female characters. It’s clear that Eddie is a lady’s man; Funaro seems to have a great deal of fun playing with this aspect of his character.

With an engrossing story, excellent acting, and deft direction, The Lady Swims Today is an impressive thriller that is sure to entertain.

Written by H.G. Brown
Directed by Stephen Sunderlin
Scene Design: Joseph Spirito
Costume Design: Vanessa Leuck
Lighting Design: Brett Maughan
Stage Manager: Joanna Leigh Jacobsen
Assistant Stage Manager: Connie Baker
Assistant Director: Avriel Hillman
Fight Choreographer: Jim Bender
General Manager: Tom Smedes
Press Representative: Jim Randolph
Photographer: Roger Gaess
Web & Print Designer: Keith Paul

Featuring Gordon Silva (George Santos), Robert Funaro (Eddie Hajazi), Jack Rodgerson (Harley Davis), Rob Sheridan (Mal Peters), Vivienne Leheny (Beverly Sharon Peters), Kate Udall (Joyce Stevens), Kelli K. Barnett (Alice Bender)

TADA Theatre
15 W. 28th Street

Through Sunday October 21st.

For tickets visit or call 212-352-3101

Friday, October 5, 2007

Reading - Come Again (WorkShop Theater Company)

On Sunday October 7 the WorkShop Theater Company’s “Sundays at Six” series presents a free reading of

a comedy in five sexual acts
by Rich Orloff

four wonderful actors
Richard Kent Green*, Gary Mink*, Tracy Newirth*, Kari Swenson Riely
in five short plays set in one hotel room about five different combos:
- a married couple with conflicting scoring methods
- a threesome with a guy who’s still learning where to put what
- a lesbian couple who decide to strip away pretenses
- two swinging couples sharing one check
- a woman alone who gets tied up in a game of dare

stage directions read by Tanya Marten*
Note: These plays contain mature themes and immature characters
*members, Actors Equity
Performance times and dates are subject to change.
Please call (212) 695-4173 to confirm.

Reading - The Book of Ted (WorkShop Theater Company)

The WorkShop Theater Company presents a free reading.

1960. Late Summer. Ted and Mary have a great marriage, great friends and a great life. If only it weren’t for this pesky hurricane…Another beautiful day in the heart of the fabulous Florida Keys!

by David Schmitt

C. K. Allen Frank Biancamano* Ken Glickfeld* Milton James*Joshua Knapp Cam Kornman* Jim Nugent* Linda Segal*

*Member, Actors’ Equity Association

directed by Scott C. Sickles

Thursday thru Saturday
October 11 thru 13 at 8:00 p.m.

Performance times and dates are subject to change.
Please call (212) 695-4173 to confirm.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Review – Austentatious (From the Top Productions and the New York Musical Theatre Festival)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

There are two shows called Austentatious currently playing at the Julia Miles Theater. One of them is a horrifyingly bad adaptation of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ being put on at a local community theatre by a group of mediocre thespians. The other is the fun musical about the birth of that production with music and lyrics by Matt Board and Joe Slabe, and book by Board, Slabe, Jane Caplow, Kate Galvin and Luisa Hinchliff. The former is as deliciously terrible as the latter is clever and amusing.

Austentatious the musical follows the birth of Austentatious the play being performed by the Central Riverdale Amateur Players. Their long-time creative director has left to do bigger and better things – dinner theatre – leaving the company without a leader. Hoping to fill that gap is Emily (Stacey Sargeant), a dancer/playwright/behind the scenes director, who has written Austentatious and is staging it with the help of Dominic (Stephen Bel Davies), a pretentious, wannabe director who has little knowledge of the theatre and even less of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (he owns the DVD and is shocked to discover they made a book out of it).

The production is plagued by problems from the beginning. Only five people show up for the audition: Emily, who plans to star in the show she’s written; Jessica (Lisa Asher), a veteran of the Central Riverdale Amateur Players; Blake (Paul Wyatt), a young man with a bit of a drug habit who is using the play to get out of his group therapy sessions; and a couple, Lauren and David (Amy Goldberger and George Merrick) – she plans to play Elizabeth and he’s there to help her, not to audition. David, of course, ends up as Mr. Darcy, while Emily is cast as Elizabeth by her boyfriend, Dominic. Watching over them all is Sam (Stephanie D’Abruzzo), the stage manager. She is above the egos and the in-fighting. She only wants to see the show succeed.

What follows is a little bit of Waiting for Guffman with some Noises Off thrown in. Along the way there are some wonderful songs, a love story, a full-fledged meltdown by the overworked and underappreciated Sam, and a dance-off between Elizabeth Bennet and her sister, the Pirate Queen, on 42nd Street in New York City (seriously). It’s a fun, silly, crazy adventure that culminates in an awful, but wildly amusing production of the play.

For a musical, however, Austentatious seems a little light on music. Board and Slabe’s songs are good, especially Sam’s “I Manage,” David’s sweet “By the Book,” and the full company number “Tech,” which shows the technical rehearsal before the play opens. But several of the songs merely peer into the characters’ inner lives and motivations, which is interesting, I suppose, but in most cases doesn’t cover anything that the book and the actors themselves haven’t conveyed.

In addition, it’s worth noting that the most hilarious portion of the musical, the actual performance of Austentatious has no musical numbers, other than the dance-off.

Acting is solid throughout the production, with particularly good work by Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Stephen Bel Davies, and Paul Wyatt.

Austentatious, like most of the musicals in the festival, shares its space with other productions. Given that limitation, set designer Jesse Poleshuck and lighting designer Jeff Croiter do an excellent job. Also commendable is Sarah Maiorino’s costume design. The costumes for the play within the play were marvelous, and the street clothes worn by the actors seemed to fit each one’s personality to a tee.

Austentatious is a fun musical with a few flaws that might bother critics, but probably won’t interfere with your enjoyment of the show. It’s well worth a look.

Music and Lyrics by Matt Board and Joe Slabe
Book by Matt Board, Jane Caplow, Kate Galvin, Luisa Hinchliff, and Joe Slabe
Directed by Mary Catherine Burke
Musical Director: Matt Castle
Choreographer: Rhonda Miller
Asst. Choreographer: Jennifer Littlefield
Stage Manager: Leah McVeigh
ASM/Prop Master: Marianne Ward
Scenic Design: Jesse Poleshuck
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Lighting Programmer: Ku’uipo Curry
Costume Design: Sarah Maiorino
Costume Assistant: Elizabeth Ektefaei
Technical Supervisor: Nathan Watson
Set Construction: No Time for Love Productions, Ken Larson Company
Publicity: Sun Productions, Inc.
Producing Consultant: David Carpenter

Featuring Lisa Asher (Jessica), Stephen Bel Davies (Dominic), Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Sam), Amy Goldberger (Lauren), George Merrick (David), Stacey Sargeant (Emily), Paul Wyatt (Blake)

Featured Musicians: Matt Castle (Piano), Christopher Downes (Bass), Michael Klopp (Drums)

Julia Miles Theater
424 W. 55th Street

Closes Sunday, September 29th

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Review – The Brain From Planet X (Kritzerland, Inc. and the New York Musical Theatre Festival)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Science fiction films from the ’50s and ’60s have provided marvelous fodder for parodists. Their bright-eyed optimism, cheesy special effects and unabashed anticommunist messages seem to be especially fertile ground – witness such shows as Little Shop of Horrors, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Zombie Prom, and Reefer Madness (okay, not technically sci fi based, but it has the right vibe). Also consider Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show created to mock these over-earnest, over-acted films.

For The Brain From Planet X, writers Bruce Kimmel and David Wechter have created a show that is, at its best, a kitschy send-up of those sci fi groaners. Unfortunately, due primarily to a weak book, static direction by Kimmel, some lame borscht belt one-liners and sight gags, and a rather uncomfortable audience participation segment, the show never really lives up to its full potential.

The Brain From Planet X, predictably, deals with an invasion from outer space. It’s 1958 and aliens have set their sights on the San Fernando Valley. They won’t stop until all mankind is enslaved. The Brain (Barry Pearl), with sidekicks Yoni (Alet Taylor) and Zubrick (Cason Murphy) in tow, has the ultimate weapon, a Mind-Bending Ray, that saps the will from anyone who gets zapped by it. Only the Bunson family - good, upstanding, God-fearing Americans - stand in their way. Can the Bunsons stop the invasion and save mankind? Probably. But it’s the how and when that make it fun.

The show is certainly not without its charms. Foremost among these are Bruce Kimmel’s delightful songs. The opening number “The Brain from Planet X” gets the show off to a rousing start, aided by some able choreography by Adam Cates. Kimmel shows good range throughout the show with such songs as “Good Girl/Bad Girl,” “The World of Tomorrow,” his ironic look at the future from the standpoint of the ’50s, the fun and Sondheim-styled “Things Are Gonna Be Changing Around Here,” a duet featuring Amy Bodnar and Rob Evan, and the wild, though totally inappropriate for the show, “The Brain Tap,” a tap dance number which sounds like it could easily find a home in The Drowsy Chaperone.

Even the book has its moments. The role of the Narrator (played with mock seriousness by Benjamin Clark) is spot on. From his notice that a nurse is standing by to assist those whose constitutions might too weak for a show this terrifying to his explanation of the wonder of Feel-O-Rama (a brilliant touch by Kimmel and Wechter), he pokes fun at the terrific excesses of these films. Indeed, when the dialogue is following or even slightly mocking the overwrought dialogue from the ’50s films, it works. It’s when the show veers toward total camp, cheesy one-liners, and novelty songs that it loses steam.

Even when the book doesn’t come through, the acting goes a long way toward making up for it. Of particular note are Merrill Grant as Donna Bunson, the good girl who really wants to be bad, Alet Taylor as the man-hungry space alien, Yoni. The pixyish Grant shows off her athletic ability and comic timing in “Good Girl/Bad Girl,” while trying her best to seduce her beatnik boyfriend (Paul Downs Colaizzo). Taylor shines at several points, most notably during her song “I Need An Earthman.” Chad Harlow deserves praise for his work as Private Partz, a non-speaking role that he plays with much aplomb. A mere roll of his eyes is enough to get the audience laughing.

Also worth noting is the herculean effort put forth by Barry Pearl as the Brain. Covered from neck to feet by a black sheath and wearing a gigantic brain helmet (one of many wonderful costumes designed by Jessa-Raye Court) so he appears to be a giant floating brain, he nonetheless manages to be dynamic and amusing.

The Brain From Planet X has its share of flaws, but if you are a fan of the old sci fi movies it sends up, or just want to enjoy some good music, it’s worth checking out. If you have a low tolerance for cheesy one-liners, this one probably isn’t for you.

Book by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel
Music and Lyrics by Bruce Kimmel
Directed by Bruce Kimmel
Choreographed by Adam Cates
Scenic Design: Heather Wolensky
Costume Design: Jessa-Raye Court
Lighting Design: Jason Scott
Sound Designer: Sara Even
Orchestrations: Larry Moore
Additional Vocal and Dance Arrangements: Lawrence Goldberg
Technical Director: Travis Walker
Stage Manager: Rachel Maier
Music Direction/Conductor: Lawrence Goldberg
Casting: Michael Cassara Casting
Publicist: Sun Productions, Inc.
General Management: Martian Entertainment, Carl D. White, Lauren P. Yates

Featuring Amy Bodnar (Joyce Bunson), Benjamin Clark (Narrator/Professor Leder), Paul Downs Colaizzo (Rod), Rob Evan (Fred Bunson), Merrill Grant (Donna Bunson), Chad Harlow (Private Partz/Ensemble), Joe Jackson (Ensemble), Naomi Kakuk (Ensemble), Cason Murphy (Zubrick), Denise Payne (Ensemble), Barry Pearl (The Brain), Richard Pruitt (General Mills), Alet Taylor (Yoni), Erin Webley (Ensemble), Steven Wenslawski (Ensemble)

Featured Musicians: Lawrence Goldberg (Keyboard 1), Brian Cimmet (Keyboard 2), Greg Thymius (Reeds), Marc Schmied (Bass), Aaron Russell (Drums)

Acorn Theatre
410 W. 42nd Street

Closes Sunday, September 30th, see for schedule and tickets

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Review – Have You Seen Steve Steven? (13P)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Usually when a play becomes as frustratingly opaque as Ann Marie Healy’s Have You Seen Steve Steven?, I spend so much time trying to figure out what it means that I lose any enjoyment in the simple art of watching it. That’s why I find myself surprised to say that I really liked this play, even though I’d be hard pressed to tell you what the playwright was trying to say. Thanks to the humorous writing and marvelous acting, it doesn’t much matter that the audience is as bewildered at the end of the play as the characters onstage are.

Have You Seen Steve Steven? follows Kathleen Clarkson (Stephanie Wright Thompson), a typical American teen. Typical, except she seems to realize that something’s not quite right in her artificial neighborhood of nearly identical mini-mansions. Her parents, Mary and Frank (Alissa Ford and Tom Riis Farrell) are preparing for a dinner party with family friends, the Dudleys, whom no one quite remembers, in a house that no one is sure how long they’ve lived in, in a neighborhood where they’ve never met any of the neighbors. That makes it easy for Hank Mountain (played with creepy jocularity by Matthew Maher) to insinuate himself into their midst. Is he a new neighbor? Is he something more sinister? Well, that doesn’t quite get answered, but it’s okay. Not knowing may be the point.

As the evening progresses, Kathleen begins to remember her missing childhood, aided by the Dudleys’ son, Thomas (Brandon Bales), a childhood friend she can’t quite recall, and Anlor (Jocelyn Kuritsky), a traumatized foreign exchange student. As Hank and his equally mysterious cohort Vera (Carol Rosenfeld) keep the adults busy, the teens unravel the mystery of their forgotten youth, most of which deals with their imaginary dog, Steve Steven, and the day he went missing. From the moment that connection is made, Hank and Vera nudge them closer to the truth as their world begins to spin out of control.

The acting in Have You Seen Steve Steven? is outstanding. Stephanie Wright Thompson hits just the right note as young girl not quite sure what is happening to her life, and unable to decide if she really wants to do anything about it. Alissa Ford and Tom Riis Farrell, as the Clarksons, manage to gently send up middle class Midwesterners without being cruel or snarky. They’re funny. They’re self-absorbed. But mostly, they’re just average. Kate Hampton and Frank Deal as Jane and Bill Dudley, revel in their characters’ suburban oneupsmanship. Matthew Maher is excellent as Hank Mountain. Part seer, part harbinger of doom, all smiles, he’s implied danger in a bright knit cap.

Director Anne Kauffman creates a dynamic production where everything is just a little off kilter and a little out of reach. Sue Rees’ stage design is interesting. She’s designed a room that has plenty of space, like most McMansions, and lacks any defining touch of style or personality. It’s as if the Clarksons have managed to live in this house without making the slightest imprint on it.

Have You Seen Steve Steven? is a creepy, yet funny show that will leave you feeling somewhat off-kilter. If you feel the need to have everything wrapped up and explained by the end of the play, this is probably not the show for you. However, if you can stand ambiguity and the feeling of being somehow left out, this show is worth a look.

Written by Ann Marie Healy
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Sets: Sue Rees
Lights: Garin Marschall
Costumes: Emily Rebholz
Sound: Jeremy J. Lee
Dramaturg: Janice Paran
Stage Manager: Megan Schwarz
Assistant Stage Manager: Amara Watkin-Anson
Assistant Director: Sydney Gallas
Press Representative: Jim Baldassare
Associate Producer: Sandra Garner

Featuring Brandon Bales (Thomas), Frank Deal (Bill), Tom Riis Farrell (Frank), Alissa Ford (Mary), Kate Hampton (Jane), Jocelyn Kuritsky (Anlor), Matthew Maher (Hank Mountain), Carol Rosenfeld (Vera), Stephanie Wright Thompson (Kathleen)

The East 14th Street Theater
344 East 14th Street

Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m. through October 6

Friday, September 14, 2007

Review – Auntie Mayhem (Wings Theatre Company and Gato Flaco Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

A gay version of Auntie Mame. I’ll admit, when I heard the title Auntie Mayhem, that was all I was expecting – a crass, shrill rip-off of the original play. To my surprise, I discovered instead a delightful, subtly thought-provoking, and above all, genuinely sweet play about a good-hearted ex-drag performer, Felony Mayhem (the always enjoyable Moe Bertran), and the family he creates when he opens his home to Dennis (Jason Luna Flores), a gay street kid.

The small apartment (beautifully created by designer Florencio Flores Palomo) is pretty cramped to begin with, already home to Felony, his partner Bobo (Ivan Davila), and their sometime houseguest, Charlotte Reyes (Mark Finley), a drag diva who used to be in an act with Felony. Though the apartment is tiny, Felony’s heart isn’t and soon he finds himself the guardian of two more street kids, Ivan (Carl Ka-Ho Li) and Epiphany (Andre Darnell Myers). Taking place over several years, Auntie Mayhem shows the subtle and not-so-subtle ways a family, even a makeshift one, can change people.

Ably directed by Donna Jean Fogel, Auntie Mayhem is well-written and Pumo clearly has an ear for realistic dialogue. The language rings true whether hip hop or camp. This is aided in no small part by the talented cast. Moe Bertran has a gift for playing over-the-top characters in a way that grounds and humanizes them. His Felony is a complex mix of emotions and feelings and they play across Bertran’s body and face in a way that is immediate and powerful. Mark Finley’s Charlotte is the opposite, closed and wary, using arch humor as a way to protect himself. This makes it all the more enjoyable when Finley lets Charlotte’s mask slip a little and allows the vulnerability to show. Ivan Davila as Bobo, an unapologetically blue-collar gay man, is particularly good and avoided stereotype. He is gruff, gentle, playful, humorous, and given the chaos of finding himself the guardian of three teens, remarkably serene.

It is in creating the characters of Dennis, Ivan and Epiphany that Pumo and the actors outdid themselves. It’s enough of a feat to have believable characters onstage, but to create believable teenagers is a true gift. It comes as no surprise that Pumo works with LGBT youth. Jason Luna Flores does an able job as Dennis, especially as he grows from street hustler to college student. He and Davila have excellent chemistry – a strong father/son vibe. Carl Ka-Ho Li has a dancer’s body and uses it to full advantage. He also pulls off a remarkable rap about Generation Q that is worth the price of admission. Andre Darnell Myers is exceptional as the transgendered Epiphany, especially at showing the rage that these kids can feel at the injustices of life.

That brings up the remarkable thing about Auntie Mayhem - the way it manages to teach a little bit about the struggles of gay teens, especially those of color, living on the streets. It also reminds them that all it takes is one person who cares to make a difference in these kids’ lives. Best of all, it does it subtly and never draws attention to “The Moral” or allows the play to become mawkish. For that, Pumo is to be congratulated.

Written by David Pumo
Directed by Donna Jean Fogel
Set Designer: Florencio Flores Palomo
Lighting Design: Michael Megliola
Fight Choreography: Kymberli Morris
Production Stage Manager: Shuhei Seo

Featuring Moe Bertran (Felony), Ivan Davila (Bobo), Mark Finley (Charlotte), Jason Luna Flores (Dennis), Carl Ka-Ho Li (Ivan), and Andre Darnell Myers (Epiphany)

Wings Theatre
154 Christopher Street
Through September 29th; call 212-627-2961 for tickets.

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

Monday, June 11, 2007

Review - Fritz and Froyim (Turtle Shell Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

I will admit, I’m a sucker for a clever concept. And Fritz and Froyim, the new musical by Norman Beim with music by Mark Barkan and Rolf Barnes, certainly has one. What would happen if a former SS officer were haunted by the ghost of a holocaust victim - not just any victim, but a comedian and nightclub performer? In this case, the answer is cabaret. But unlike other musicals featuring Nazis and cabarets, this one takes a very broad and comic approach. While I would argue that it doesn’t always work, it certainly is a bold experiment.

The play starts on a strong note with the entrance of Tracy Stark, the music director and sardonic narrator of the play. Martini in hand, she lets the audience know that it’s in for an unusual night of theatre. As if to prove the point, Fritz (T.J. Mannix) is introduced wearing a Nazi uniform and holding a ventriloquist’s dummy, Froyim, who looks like a Jewish concentration camp prisoner. They run through a series of groan-worthy Hitler jokes (okay, some of them are pretty funny). This, of course, is Fritz in 1968. How he went from a dashing German officer with a lovely wife to a lonely middle-aged ventriloquist is the meat of the show. Told primarily in flashback, the audience gets to see the first visitation of Froyim (Matthew Hardy) and how his arrival led to the loss of everything that Fritz held dear. Will Fritz come to terms with the past and settle his inner and outer demons? Well, I found the play to be a little unclear on that aspect, but it makes for an interesting journey.

Since the show is presented as a cabaret performance, I expected the acting to be over-the-top. Well, not Fritz, since he is mostly participating in a cabaret that isn’t of his own choosing, but certainly the other characters. Several of the actors play broad to great effect. Most noteworthy in this respect are Joan Barber and Richard B. Watson. Both excel at broad comedy, but are also capable of giving subtle, nuanced performances when their roles call for it. Both Mannix and Hardy give good performances, though Mannix could do more to differentiate between the young and in-control Fritz and the broken man he becomes. His Fritz seems never to age, and more importantly, never really seems to change very much, despite it being important to the show that he does. Hardy seems a little subdued as Froyim; the role would benefit from a touch of Harpo Marx. Rounding out the cast are the lovely Erin Cronican and expressive Dennis Holland, both of whom do a good job with their various roles.

As is expected from Norman Beim, the dialogue is strong and several of his lyrics, those for “People are Anxious to Hear What’s New” and “I Keep a Kosher Home” in particular, are excellent. However, for each hit, there is a miss, with some of the songs seeming forced, especially when the topic turns to love. Despite this, Barkan and Barnes’ music is wonderful, and while I don’t think that every song needs to stay in the show, it’s hard not to enjoy listening to them.

While this is neither the strongest of Beim’s shows I’ve seen, nor the strongest show produced by Turtle Shell Productions, if you find the concept intriguing I would suggest seeing Fritz and Froyim before it ends its limited run.

Books and Lyrics by Norman Beim
Music by Mark Barkan and Rolf Barnes
Directed by John W. Cooper
Musical Direction by Tracy Stark
Choreography by Cheryl Cutlip
General Manager: Jeremy Handelman
Dramaturge: Scott McCrea
Stage Manager: Sarah-Dakotah Farney
Costume Designer: A. Christina Giannini
Set Designer: Ryan Scott
Lighting Designer: Eric Larson
Sound Designer: Scott Sexton
Technical Director: Jason Shrier
Assistant Choreographer: AC Jermyn

Featuring Joan Barber (Chorus/Anna/Trudi Miller), Erin Cronican (Chorus/Elsa/Secretary), Matthew Hardy (Froyim), Dennis Holland (Chorus/Mayor/Mr. Berger/Father Dominicus/Dr. Schmidt), T.J. Mannix (Fritz), Tracy Stark (Narrator), and Richard B. Watson (Chorus/Eric/Gunther Sachs/Dr. Sigmund).

The Turtle’s Shell Theater
300 W. 43rd Street, 4th Floor

Through June 16th

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.

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


Monday, March 26, 2007

Review - Dream of a Common Language (3Graces Theater Company)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

3Graces Theater Company is committed to “exposing and exploring the power of women’s experiences through theater.” Not only have they chosen an excellent vehicle, Heather McDonald’s powerful Dream of a Common Language, but they have created an outstanding production.

Dream of a Common Language tells the story of husband and wife painters, Clovis (Annie McGovern) and Victor (Kerry Watterson). Both are Academy trained. Both are dedicated to their art. But only one is male, and in late-19th century Paris, that is all that matters. Clovis’s art is viewed as trivial, and indeed, so is she. Even Victor, who obviously loves and cherishes her, is blinded by his view of what constitutes ‘serious’ art. Things come to a head during a dinner party attended by several other artists, including the free-spirited Pola (Suzanne Barbetta) and the serious Marc (Ian Christiansen). When the women are banished to the garden so the men can plan their next show, Clovis is pushed to the edge. She stands up for her art and for herself, finally making Victor realize the frustration she is forced to live with every day at the hands of men like Marc and him.

The production is outstanding, from Mandy Hart’s wonderful sets to the music performed by musicians Chip Barrow and Zsaz Rutkowski, who remain onstage throughout the play. Director Karen Sommers lets the play build slowly, drawing the audience in, until they become engrossed in the story. She makes good use of Hart’s deep, multi-leveled set, and designer Anjeanette Stokes’ lighting to create beautiful stage pictures. And she is blessed with a wonderful cast.

McGovern’s Clovis is a remarkable woman, full of self-doubt and longing, but obviously talented, even if the world doesn’t recognize it. Watterson’s Victor is protective of his wife, yet dismissive, at times forgetting that she is flesh and blood and not an inanimate object to be painted. The two are marvelous together; their interaction in the moving final scene of the play is heartbreaking.

This was my first experience with 3Graces. Given the outstanding choice of material, the meticulous attention to the production values, and the superb acting, it will not be my last.

Written by Heather McDonald
Directed by Karen Sommers
Live Music by Chip Barrow and Zsaz Rutkowski
Original Music Composed by Chip Barrow and John D. Ivy
Set Design: Mandy Hart
Lighting Design: Anjeanette Stokes
Costume Design: Veneda Truesdale
Sound Design: John D. Ivy
Choreography: Dorothy Abrahams
Technical Director: Patrick T. Cecala II
Production Manager: Pamela D. Roberts
Assistant Stage Manager: Uys DeBoisson
Dramaturgs: Kathleen Bishop, Patrick T. Cecala II, Annie McGovern

Featuring Suzanne Barbetta (Pola), Ian Christiansen (Marc), Kelli Lynn Harrison (Dolores), David Kahn (Mylo), Annie McGovern (Clovis), Kerry Watterson (Victor)

Hudson Guild Theater
85 E. 4th Street

March 16-April 6
Mon., Thurs., Fri., Sat.: 8 pm
Sun.: 3 pm

Tickets: or 212-279-4200

Fundraiser - EAT Sings Sondheim

Eat Sings Sondheim - a benefit cabaret for Emerging Artists on Monday, March 26th, at 8 pm!

Directed by Tom Wojtunik

Come hear some of your favorite EAT members croon Sondheim like you’ve never heard it before.

Performers include:
Paul Adams
David Bishop
Amy Bizjak
Christopher Borg
Marc Castle
Laura Fois
Erin Hadley
Steve Hauck
Ryan Hilliard
Brian Louis Hoffman
Rebecca Hoodwin
Shannon Marie Kerr
Sebastian La Cause
Jenny Lee Mitchell
Maya Rosewood
Kristen Wilkins

Tickets are $20 at the door. Reservations can be e-mailed to . It will be performed at Emerging Artists Theatre, 311 W. 43rd St., 5th Floor, between 8th and 9th Avenues, Monday March 26th at 8pm.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Review - Five By Tenn (Turtle Shell Productions & the Terrapin Troupe in association with Off the Leash Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Given that Tennessee Williams is one of the best-known American playwrights, it’s unusual to see the words “New York premiere” attached to a production of any of his plays. But that’s exactly what Turtle Shell Productions has given us - an evening of Williams’ one-acts, featuring the New York premieres of Why Do You Smoke So Much, Lily? and Thank You, Kind Spirit. Although the plays, written by Williams from the ages of 23 to 33, are somewhat uneven, they hint at the greatness to come.

Director John W. Cooper uses one of the plays, Thank You, Kind Spirit, as a framing device for the other four pieces. In Kind Spirit a faith healer, Mother DuClos (Natalie E. Carter), leads a group of believers toward peace and healing, as long as they’re willing to pay. Throughout the play, Mother DuClos becomes aware of the other stories, as though psychically picking them up from the ether. When she does, the action in her play pauses, and the new play begins.

The first of these is the hallucinatory Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen . . ., a play that drips with desire and frustration, like sweat on humid bayou night. The second and fourth plays, Hello From Bertha and The Lady of Larkspur Lotion deal with a familiar Williams’ theme – people at the end of their rope, brought low by alcohol and crushed dreams. The Lady of Larkspur Lotion is unusual in that it allows the two characters, Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore (Rebecca Street), an early version of Blanche DuBois, and her next-door neighbor, an alcoholic, unaccomplished Writer (Leon Fallon), to live happily in their delusions, if only for an evening. The third short play in the group is Why Do You Smoke So Much, Lily?. Featuring a passive-aggressive mother (Susan Capra) and a daughter (Christie Booker) who is reaching the edge of her sanity, it has hints of The Glass Menagerie and Suddenly Last Summer.

Each of the plays is well-acted, with standout performances given by Natalie E. Carter as Mother DuClos, Rebecca Street as Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore, and Leon Fallon as The Writer.

Production elements in Five by Tenn are especially strong. Set designer Ryan Scott has created a run-down, claustrophobic playing area, which nonetheless is versatile and roomy enough for each for the various plays, despite having the cast of Thank You, Kind Spirit stay onstage the entire time. Eric Larson’s lighting and Roman Battaglia’s sound design complement the set, creating the illusion of a run down apartment on a rainy night somewhere in the Vieux Carre.

While these five plays merely hint at the brilliance that was to come, any Tennessee Williams aficionado would do well to see Five by Tenn. Turtle Shell and Off the Leash are to be commended for bringing these diamonds in the rough to light.

Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by John W. Cooper
Co-Produced by Jeremy Handelman
Stage Managed by TaShawn “Pope” Jackson
Dramaturge - Scott McCrea
Assistant Director - Patrick Mills
Scenic Designer - Ryan Scott
Lighting Designer - Eric Larson
Costume Designer - A. Christina Giannini
Sound Designer - Roman Battaglia
Dialect Coach - Karla Nielson

Featuring Emily Arrington (Little Girl), Kay Bailey (Bertha), Christie Booker (Lily), Susan Capra (Mrs. Yorke), Natalie E. Carter (Mother DuClos), Christina Christman (Lily/Girl), Jovanka Ciares (Lena), Elizabeth Clark (Woman/Girl), Nina Covalesky (Woman), T. Michael Culhane (Youth), Barbara Ann Davison (Mrs. Wire), Leon Fallon (The Writer), Chris Ford (Man), Joyce Feurring (Woman in Rear), Daniel Kipler (Man), Grace Manzo (Little Girl), Sylvia Mincewicz (Second Young Woman), Trish Montoya (Middle-Aged Woman), Margaret O’Connor (Goldie), Vincent Oppecker (The Writer), Candice Palladino (First Young Woman), Lennard Sillevis (Young Man), Rebecca Street (Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore)

The Turtle’s Shell Theater (in the Times Square Arts Center)
300 W. 43rd Street

Through March 25th
Mon., Wed.-Sat.: 8 pm
Sun: 3 pm

Monday, March 5, 2007

Review - The Girl Detective (The Ateh Theater Group)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

It’s risky adapting a surreal and lyrical short story for the stage. But then, it’s risky to write a story like that to begin with. In the case of the theatrical version of Kelly Link’s The Girl Detective, people will very likely praise or damn it based on their feelings about Link’s short story, because Bridgette Dunlap’s adaptation is extremely faithful to the text and style of the source. But love the story or hate it, you have to respect this production, ably presented by The Ateh Theater Group.

People looking for a traditional play probably won’t leave satisfied. The Girl Detective is non-linear. Certain scenes exist to set a mood or create an image; they don’t always move the story forward. And the plot, part hard-boiled detective novel, family drama, love story, fantasy, fairy tale, ballet, comedy . . . well, it’s often a little hard to follow. The main things to know: the Girl Detective is looking for her missing mother; she is being observed by a Guy in a tree, who is also the narrator of the tale; and there exists somewhere below us an Underworld where everything that’s lost ends up and where dancing is the primary language.

If you can set aside the need to be told a story or to have everything wrap up in a nice, understandable way and simply enjoy the experience, this is an amazing production.
To begin with, the Connelly Theater, unlike many Off-Off-Broadway spaces, features a huge, deep proscenium stage. Set designer Emily French makes great use of it by creating numerous levels and playing areas. The space also gives choreographer Whitney Stock plenty of room to display her rousing and athletic dance numbers.

The acting is superb. Kathryn Ekblad, a tall, striking actor, powerfully creates the extraordinary Girl Detective. Ben Wood as Guy, the young man who is basically stalking her, creates a character that is sweet and naïve, rather than creepy. While Ekblad and Wood can be considered the leads of this show, everyone receives at least a few moments to shine. Particularly notable are Danielle Thorpe, as the Girl Detective’s mother, John Long, as the Tall Man, and Elizabeth Neptune, as a television Reporter. In addition to being excellent actors, the cast knows how to move. Stock’s choreography is a pleasure to watch, which is in no small part due to their skill and the sheer exuberance with which they approach it.

Director Bridgette Dunlap keeps the play moving quickly, much like the music that runs through it. In addition she’s added interesting little flourishes – a dumbshow at the beginning that previews some of the play’s important moments, mimed gondolas to take people across the river to the Underworld, instead of the more prosaic canoes from Link’s story. Small things, but they add a great deal to the show.

You may leave The Girl Detective not quite sure of what you just saw or what you were meant to take away from it. But if you can let go enough to savor the experience of the show, you’ll enjoy it.

Adapted and Directed by Bridgette Dunlap
From the story by Kelly Link
Choreography by Whitney Stock

Featuring Ben Wood as Guy, Kathryn Ekblad as The Girl Detective/Ensemble, Charley Layton as Father/Ensemble, Madeleine Maby as Housekeeper/Ensemble, Elizabeth Neptune as Reporter/Ensemble, Danielle Thorpe as Mother/Ensemble, Sara Montgomery as Expert/Ensemble, John Long as Ned/Ensemble, Marie Weller as Waitress/Ensemble, Time Eliot as Husband/Ensemble, Alexis Grausz as Birthday/Ensemble.

Connelly Theater
220 East 4th Street

Through March 17
Thurs.-Sun.: 8 pm

Tickets: 212-352-3101