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: www.ticketcentral.com 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 EATTheatre@aol.com . 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 na├»ve, 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