Thursday, January 18, 2007

Review - The Servant of Two Masters (The New Globe Theatre, Inc.)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

When adapting a piece of classic theatre, many writers tend to modernize the play, either by cutting it mercilessly to better suit those with short attention spans, or by filling it with contemporary language and references for fear the audience might be too dim to follow slightly archaic language. It is a great pleasure to discover that Anne and Stuart Vaughan, in adapting Carlo Goldoni’s masterpiece, The Servant of Two Masters, decided that Goldoni knew what he was doing and left the play virtually intact.

Admittedly, there are times when the overwrought language makes the audience groan, but the characters are groaning right along, because this Servant is performed with a wink and a nod to an audience that is meant to be in on all the jokes.

The linchpin of the play is the wily, and perpetually hungry, servant Truffaldino (Steve Campbell), who signs on as the servant to two gentlemen, hoping to double his wages without either of them figuring out what’s going on. One these gentlemen is, in fact, a woman named Beatrice (Jana Mestecky) disguising herself as her dead brother. “His” arrival in Venice disrupts the engagement of Clarice (Alessandra Ziviani) and Silvio (Grant Kretchik), and kicks off a series of events that lead to wild misunderstandings, secret meetings, curses, a dual, a handful of attempted suicides, and, of course, the inevitable happy ending.

Campbell, as Truffaldino, handles the farce, wordplay, and physical humor well - imagine Matthew Broderick channeling Groucho Marx and you’ll get the idea. Also noteworthy are Gray Stevenson as Clarice’s flirty maid, Smeraldina, Rich Hollman, who gleefully mugs and preens as Beatrice’s lover, Florindo, and Ziviani and Kretchik as the interrupted lovers. Ziviani, in particular, has some wonderful scene-stealing moments.

The production did have a few flaws. Some of the slapstick bits went on too long and started to become stale. At several points, the play seemed to sputter and stall; scenes that should have been fast and frantic were instead filled with pauses and stage business that slowed them down. Mestecky’s Beatrice made no attempt to appear or sound masculine, other than by wearing men’s clothing and pulling her hair into a ponytail. This removed any possibility of exploring the frustration Beatrice must have experienced trying to pass, as well as the liberation the masquerade could provide. But generally speaking, these problems didn’t take too much away from the production.

On the technical side, the show featured a bright and versatile set designed by Bart Healy and some wonderful costumes from designer Martin A. Thaler. Fight director Craig Rising did a marvelous job as well, especially with a humorous swordfight between Beatrice and Silvio.

Despite its minor flaws, this is a generally strong production of a remarkably funny play. If you like classic farce, The Servant of Two Masters is well worth seeing.

Written by Carlo Goldoni
Adapted by Anne and Stuart Vaughan
Directed by Stuart Vaughan

Theatre 33
11 West 43rd Street, 3rd Floor

Through January 21st
Tues.-Sat.: 8 pm
Sat.: 2 pm
Sun: 3 pm

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Review - Nutcracker: Rated R (Angela Harriell and Theater for the New City)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

There are those who will avoid Nutcracker: Rated R based on the title, assuming that this is a snarky parody of the beloved Christmas ballet. The truth of the matter, however, is that Angela Harriell has created a unique and intriguing work that is at once an elegant homage to Tchaikovsky’s original, a sly send up of New York in the 1980s and today, and a showcase for her considerable talents as a choreographer and dramatist and her cast as dancers and actors.

In this version of the Nutcracker, Clara (Juliana Smith) is a rebellious teen attending a Christmas party with her family. Her strange uncle Drosselmeyer (David F. Slone, Esq.) gives her, not a nutcracker, but an album by an androgynous singer from the ‘80s called Firecrotch. Left behind by the drunken partygoers, Clara falls asleep in the restaurant and sees the battle between the Rats (in this version, very sexy rats) and the suited and cellphoned Corporate Soldiers.

Where Tchaikovsky has Clara dance with her nutcracker, Harriell has her dance with the Firecrotch Record, using some very amusing choreography. Imagine how a record would move and you’ll get a sense of it. Drosselmeyer’s record is, of course, magic, and it sends her back in time to New York in the ‘80s. It’s there that Harriell shines as a choreographer, weaving a Spanish block party, Chinese delivery people, strippers, coke addicts, and even street people into amazing dance numbers. Two pieces in particular were spectacular: The Blow Fairies, which showed the highs and lows of cocaine addiction; and Derelicts, a sublime dance featuring two homeless people in Central Park. Eventually, Drosselmeyer shows Clara her parents in their youth and takes her to The Stall Club where she finally gets to meet her idol, Firecrotch.

This remarkable show features a talented ensemble of dancers and actors, all of whom, with the exception of Slone, play multiple roles. Of particular note are Amber Shirley, a beautiful and athletic dancer who plays the Rat Queen, Jesus Chapa-Malacara, who is outstanding in both Derelicts and The Blow Fairies, Clare Tobin, as the Blow Queen, and Joseph Schles, who is amusing as hell as a Chinese delivery boy in Race of the Dragons. The cast also includes Gregory Dubin, Christopher L. Dunston, Christina Johnson, Kimberly Lantz, Kate Lawrence, Adam Pellegrine, Renee Scalise, and Emma Stein.

Hopefully, this is not the last we’ll see of Nutcracker: Rated R.

Choreographed by Angela Harriell

Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue