Thursday, March 20, 2008

Something Fun

One of our favorite theatre companies, the New York Neo-Futurists, are participating in the International Pillow Fight this Saturday in Union Square.

If you would care to join them, the information is below:

Join us as we participate in the International Pillow Fight and then see yourself on our website in a video created by our house manager king, Adam. Yes, we are videotaping the sheer carnage and raw energy that is a Baby(head) in a pillow fight.Meet under the Astor Place cube by 2:30PM so that we can march in Baby(head) solidarity to the biggest mass of flying feathers in NYC. And wear a Neo tee if you have one! BYOP.

Sadly, no one from Stage Buzz is available to attend the event, so if anyone does make it down there and can get a photo or two of a Neo in the melee, feel free to pass it along.

Review - Julius Caesar (Coyote Laboratory, Inc.)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

I will admit to a certain amount of trepidation when I see a theatre company full of young people that refers to itself as being experimental, especially when they’re producing one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I tend to worry that I’ll be asked to sit on the floor while bunraku puppets are used instead of actors and the Bard’s language is jettisoned in order to find words that better “speak” to a young audience. I worry that in their youthful exuberance, they will shoot for style without bothering to look for substance.

While Coyote Laboratory is comprised of young performers, seems to be reaching out to a young audience (which based on the audience the night I attended, it appears to be doing rather well), and refers to itself as “an experimental arts laboratory,” they are most decidedly attempting to present both style and substance. Not every innovation they attempted worked, but in terms of an inaugural production, it bodes well for the company.

By presenting Julius Caesar, Coyote Laboratory is using both the popularity of one of the best-known plays in the English language and the current political situation to their advantage. They do quite a bit to put their own mark on it. Most notable is the use of Turner Smith’s set. Despite being in a rather cavernous theatre space, Smith has carved out a small playing area, built of unadorned plywood platforms, surrounded it on three sides by the audience, and enclosed the entire thing in chain link fencing. The end result looks rather like a ring for a cage fight. By placing actors behind that fence during the mob scenes, the audience is effectively incorporated into the mob, which is a very nice touch. This incorporation of the audience gave the play a more immediate sense of urgency.

There are two other innovations that while interesting, are not equally effective. First, Smith (or perhaps the company, as Coyote is meant to be a collaborative effort) changes the sexes of the two sets of married couples so that Caesar and Brutus are played by women (Kyle Kate Dudley and Kimberly Wong, respectively) and Calpurnia and Portia by men (Doug Harvey and Harry John Shephard). This cross-gender casting is disorienting in the case of Wong and Shephard, who never quite seem comfortable playing the opposite sex, especially in each other’s presence. Dudley and Harvey however make their interactions work to the point that gender never seems to intrude.

The second deals with the troubling issue of what an actor is supposed to do while his or her character lies dead on stage. Normally, they simply lie very still and wait for the scene to end, so they can make a discreet exit. In this production, death isn’t the end for the character. In fact, once dead both Dudley and Wong continue to react to the action on stage. They are no longer Caesar and Brutus, per se, but seem to be some sort of feral spirits, still feeling the residue of their emotions at death, but without the ability to comprehend what is going on around them. Regardless of the intent, it is a very moving and clever twist.

The performances in Julius Caesar are strong overall, and though the company prefers to be thought of as strictly as an ensemble, I’d like to commend four actors who did particularly well: Seth Andrew Bridges as Casca, Marian Brock as Ligarius, Whit Lyenberger as Anthony, and Doug Harvey as Calpurnia.

Coyote Laboratory’s Julius Caesar is a very solid first production; this is a company to watch out for.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Turner Smith
Kept by Karina Martins
Lights designed by John Robichau and Kyle Kate Dudley
Cloakes designed by Kimberly Wong
Masks designed by Elizabeth Spano and Turner Smith
Fights choreographed by Seth Andrew Bridges
Sets designed by Turner Smith
Dramaturgy: Karmenlara Seidman and John Robichau
Weapons provided by Dan O’Driscoll

Created and Performed by Steve Boyle, Seth Andrew Bridges, Marian Brock, Alex Coppola, Kyle Kate Dudley, Doug Harvey, Whit Leyenberger, Shannon Pritchard, Harry John Shephard, Elizabeth Spano, Kimberly Wong.

Teatro LA TEA
Clemente Soto Velez Center
107 Suffolk St., 2nd Floor

Closed March 15th

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Review - Count to Ten (Justin Boccitto and The Group Theatre Too)

Stage Buzz Review by Patrick Doyle

What do dance and love have in common? Both require confidence and commitment, which Victor and Madoc, the two leads in The Group Theatre Too’s Count to Ten, are sorely lacking.

Victor (Justin Boccitto) is a composer, writer and choreographer, who has been involved in several flops on Broadway. He flees New York and heads to the Starwood Performing Arts Camp to spend time finishing his musical and potentially recharging his career. Madoc (Brian Merker), a camper, is his protégé and the leading player in Victor’s newest musical. What do they have in common? Besides inexperience with women, lack of self confidence, being raised in broken households and their reluctance to show vulnerability…well it’s almost easier to try and find the differences between the two (about 10 years in age). But both the adolescent and camp counselor need to learn a few things about life, love, and growing up. What better place to learn those lessons than in performing arts camp? And as the drama unfolds, the audience is carried along for the ride.

And as every would-be camper knows, you can’t have a summer-themed show without having a love story. This show is no exception. From the innocent crushes between campers to the paternal surrogacy of campers and counselor, this show provides something for everyone. Although at times the story can be predictable, the audience gets exactly what it expects – a happy ending. And who doesn’t love a happy ending?

Brian Merker playing Madoc, is an excellent choice for the 15 year old protégé. He portrays the irrationality that most 15 year old boys exhibit, yet shows enough tenderness that the audience is enamored with him. It’s hard not to identify with him and his struggles.

As Traci, Madoc’s love interest, Lexie Speirs shows a realistic naivety that charms both Madoc and the audience. When Traci later is emotionally hurt, the audience can commiserate with her embarrassment.

Claire Vaughn (Jennifer Avila) provides a wonderful maternal substitute for this hodgepodge of campers, and yet unlike most mothers, still finds the time to fall in love herself. Her relationship with Victor becomes the exact mirror of the camper’s romance…often literally on the stage where one couple stands stage left, and the other stage right.

Steve Varnell (Jacob Burlas) is the bully, intent on terrorizing Madoc until he drops out of the camp show. That being said Burlas plays the role of bully more comically than menacing.

The cast is dynamic in their performances, especially in their tap dance numbers. Counselor and campers meet student and teacher (most of this cast has studied tap dance with the choreographer), and Mr. Blevins should be proud. Not only has he taught them some very difficult numbers, but they have performed them flawlessly. And the specific talents of one particular young lady in the chorus can’t be ignored. Several times, Katelyn Morgan’s voice would carry forth distinctly from the rest of the chorus. At 16 years of age, this young lady has a very good chance of going far with her singing career.

As this play is sharing a performance space with another production, the set is nearly nonexistent except for a few small boxes. This production rather chooses to focus more on the story, the music, and more importantly, the dance performances. And while the music is solid, there aren’t any particular standout hits. The closest is a fun song called ‘Dear Mom and Dad’ sung by the campers. What elevates the musical numbers is the outstanding work on the dancing done by the cast of Count to Ten and Mr. Blevins and the absolute enthusiasm with which the cast approaches their roles.

If you are a fan of tap dance, you should see this show. The tap dance numbers truly remarkable and the rhythmic nature of the show will stick with you for several days. Both young and old will find something to enjoy in Count to Ten.

Book: Michael Blevins
Lyrics: Michael Blevins, Beth Clary
Music: Michael Blevins, Scott Knipe, Bruce Sacks, David Wollenberger
Director: Michael Blevins
Musical Director: Christine Riley
Choreography: Michael Blevins
Wardrobe: Bob Flanagan
Production Manager: Cristina Marie
Lighting Design: Joyce Liao
Stage Manager: Greg Loproto
Art Direction: Alex Maxwell
Percussion: Jeff Brelvi
Technical Director: Paul Gregorio
Associate Producers: Denise Brysett, Doug Francisco, Mary Ann Penzero, Kenny Weiner, Lisa Weiner

Featuring: Justin Boccitto (Victor Chase), Jennifer Avila (Clair Vaughn), Brian Merker (Madoc Dean), Lexie Speirs (Traci Elizabeth Meyers), Jacob Burlas (Steve Varnell), Heather Lightcap (Rosie Busche), Hunter Gross (Nick Russo), Dylan Bush (Inez Glazier), Chris Kinsey (Biz Andrews), Doug Francisco (The Producer), Nick Ardito, Jenna Black, Michael Breslin, Mckenzie Custin, Steven Etienne, Brittany Hoehlein, Roman Micevic, Katelyn Morgan, Brandon Wiener.

The Connelly Theatre
220 East 4th Street
Between Avenue A & B

Closed March 16

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Update - 8 Minute Madness Playwright Festival

Congratulations to the winners of Turtle Shell Productions‘ 8 Minute Madness Playwright Festival.

Best Playwright - Aoise Stratford for “Our Lady of the Sea”

Best Production - David Ledoux (director) for “I Understand Your Frustration”

Best Actors - Pia Ambardar & Justin Morck

Monday, March 17, 2008

Review - Seesaw (Justin Boccitto and The Group Theatre Too)

Stage Buzz Review by Patrick Doyle

Sir Isaac Newton said for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and although he was defining physics, this same law can be applied to the everyday emotional struggles that happen in our lives. A new relationship can often throw our lives out of balance, but eventually the balance will return, whether we want it or not. Michael Bennett, Cy Coleman, and Dorothy Field’s Seesaw, presented by Justin Boccito and The Group Theater Too at The Connelly Theatre, explores just how far off balance Gittel Mosca’s (Cristina Marie) life can go before the inevitable reaction takes place.

Gittel is a street smart urban dwelling, dancer with a poor track record in relationships. She’s poor, uneducated, involved in the arts, yet fiercely independent, proud, and able to adapt to her situation. Jerry Ryan (Tim Falter) is a Midwestern lawyer, recently separated from his wife, who meets Gittle at a party. He’s educated (although naïve about city life), financially secure, and yet dependent on his former father in-law. He’s the exact opposite of Gittel in nearly every way, yet calls her to ask her out on a date. Can opposites really attract? Can they stay together? The audience certainly hopes so.

Bennett’s book (which was nominated for a Tony Award) is a well written look at a brief love affair. His story, set in New York City in the early 1970’s is ironically not much different than present day New York…although less expensive. His main story proves to be most interesting, yet he introduces additional characters to hold our interest, exploring sexuality, multiculturism, and gender identity issues.

The character of David (Brian Duryea), a choreographer and dancer, who happens to be a master of interior decorating, is not surprisingly the gay sidekick. However, his homosexuality is only a matter of fact, and not a source of comedy. In fact, quite the opposite, his sexuality is defended by the heroine of the show. Duryea’s comedic stereotypical portrayal however provides just the right amount of lightheartedness needed to keep the story moving towards its inevitable conclusion.

Michael Blevins choreography and direction are set to show audience members exactly how talented his cast is. From the intricate tap dancing numbers, to the grace of his leading players, the audience is given a complete tour of the talents that each of these actors hold. Of particular interest is Tim Falter’s dancing, which he makes seem effortless, often reminiscent of Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. His technique is smooth and nearly fluid in movement.

The set, although sparse is ingenious in design, and utilized well. Painting opposite sides of the furniture different colors (pink and blue emphasizing balance in both storyline and production) provides multiple uses, while allowing less time between scene changes. These changes are completed quickly, with chorus members providing short dance pieces to keep the audience members entertained while set pieces are moved onto the stage.

Vangeli’s costume design provides excellent glimpses into the 1970’s with all it’s garish couture. Shimmering fabric with pant suits are back and fully help transport the audience back into the “Studio 54″ nightclub scene. Additionally Vangeli puts the chorus in “Fosse styled” black outfits, which both reveal the dancers abilities and refrain from upstaging the storyline. Balance is what is most important in this show, and the company of Seesaw provides just that. A balanced performance that leaves the audience wanting to see just a bit more.

Book by Michael Bennett
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Michael Blevins
Stage Manager: Kelly Varley
Choreographer: Michael Blevins
Costume Designer: Vangeli
Musical Director: Christine Riley
Assistant Stage Manager: Mary Ann Penzero
Accompanist: Christine Riley
Second Keyboards: Sol Bloch
Bass: Scott Thorton
Percussion: Satch Vivenzio

Featuring: Jerry Ryan (Tim Falter), Gittel Mosca (Cristina Marie), David (Brian Duryea), Sophie (Janelle Neal), Julio Gonzales (Ryan Gregorio), Sparkle (Paul Aguirre), Ethel (Crystal Chapman), Sara Andreas, Ann Ehnes, Kevin B. Johnson, Stephanie Long, Geoffrey Mergele, Emily Knox Peterson, Jennifer Sanchez, Stacey Sipowicz, Sidney Erik Wright.

The Connelly Theatre
220 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10009
Between Avenue A & B

Closed March 15

Friday, March 14, 2008

Review - The 8 Minute Madness Playwright Festival (Turtle Shell Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

When dealing with a theatre festival featuring 27 short plays performed in 3 groups by over 40 actors, it's difficult to decide what to talk about. But that's part of the fun of Turtle Shell Production's 8 Minute Madness Playwright Festival. Now in its fifth year, this festival promises a little something for everyone.

Since the festival was divided into three groups, I was not able to attend all three shows. This review will focus on Groups A and C.

Given that there are 18 plays in Groups A and C, to talk about each would be a little cumbersome. Instead, I'll hit some highs and lows. Group A featured some strong plays, though its comedies seem to be most effective. Director Gaye-Taylor Upchurch has a good sense of comic timing which makes the well-written comedies that much stronger and tends to mask the inadequacies of the weaker ones. First among the comedies is Mark Harvey Levine's charming Surprise, a cute tale about Peter (Christian O'Brien), an unlucky-in-love psychic who can only see two minutes into the future, Whitney, the girlfriend (Monika Schneider) who is dumping him, and Esther (Constance Parng), the waitress who eventually shows Peter that love isn't always written in the stars. Featuring some wonderfully timed sight gags, snappy dialogue, and a cast that works seamlessly together, Surprise is delightful.

Two other comedies stand out. First is Walter Thinnes's Meeting Without End. Attendees at this meeting talk in consultant speak, clichés, and aphorisms. As the meeting goes on, the phrases freely mix and mingle (or perhaps mangle) leading each attendee to spew nonsense in an ever more absurd and amusing jumble. Ably overseen by Christine Booker as the Meeting Organizer, the play features attendees Robin Madel, Kaolin Bass, and Justin Tensen. To their credit, all four manage the increasingly odd language extremely well. The other strong comedy is Shaun Raviv's Rats. This clever tale of a gullible rat (Bill Toscano) who finds some cheese and the fast-talking rat (Christian O'Brien) who convinces him not to eat it manages to work in animal rights, outsourcing, veganism, and blood diamonds. Toscano does a good job as the hungry, but simple rat. O'Brien nails the part of the slick con man (con rat, I suppose) and his come-uppance at the end of the play is wonderful.

To her credit, Upchurch proves equally adept at more dramatic works. The somewhat difficultly named The Ta Ta Song of the Aftermore: Movement One, Constance Parng's meditation on memory and loss, is directed with an almost liquid motion that suits the material. In Parng's play, three sisters (Santana Dempsey, Monika Schneider, and Christine Booker) remember the night their mother left, each in her own way. Parthy and Me by Ben Lewis seems at first to be an awkward morning after between Parthy (Emily Coffin) and Paul (Rob Welsh). As the play turns to confessions about broken hearts, desire, and need, Upchurch slows the pace, allowing the actors time to show some of their characters' depth and motivations. Not an easy thing to do in an 8-minute play.

The acting in Group A is generally strong. Noteworthy examples are Christian O'Brien in Surprise and Rats, Christine Booker as a woman dealing with a friend who'd had a stroke in Struck, Eric Edward Glawe as an earnest love-struck elephant in Elephants and Coffee, and Emily Coffin in Parthy and Me.

Group C features more dramatic work, though most of them do have their comedic moments as well. Two plays in particular stand out. First is Nina Mansfield's powerful play about harassment, Smile. Set in a police station, a Man (Bristol Pomeroy) and Woman (Pia Ambardar) each give statements concerning an assault. The beauty of this play, and much of the credit goes to Pomeroy and Ambardar, is that each character garners the audience's sympathy at some point and at the end of the play, two different members of the audience could very easily disagree as to whether the Man or Woman were at fault. Director David Letwin does an outstanding job using an economy of movement. The second noteworthy play is Jeremy Handelman's Tic-Tac-Toe in which the game is used as a metaphor for the various patterns that we can't escape in our lives. As the manipulative Kenny (Byron Loyd) recovers from surgery, his sister Stacey (Lauren Robert), a woman who is "flypaper for emotionally needy men," plans her escape into the arms of the man she believes is her last shot at love. An interesting piece, it shows Handelman's skill with family drama.

Other interesting plays in Group C include Scripted by Mark Harvey Levine, in which a couple, Elaine (Danielle Faitelson) and Simon (Collin Smith) awake to find that someone has left them a script of their day, each action and word they'll speak already set down on paper, and Low & Away by Demetra Kareman, in which Frank (Bristol Pomeroy) and Carol (Elise Rovinsky) try to raise an "alpha" daughter, but worry that neither is up to the task.

Group C also features one of the more risky works, Spence Porter's Men/Women, where a battle of the sexes is played out using only two words of dialogue: Men and Women. Gamely and kinetically directed by David Ledoux, this show has some good moments, but Porter's conceit quickly grows tired. One must admire his daring, however, and Turtle Shell is to be commended for trying it out.

The performances in Group C are at times hit or miss, especially among some of the younger actors. However, Group C does feature some excellent work by Bristol Pomeroy. As the father in Low & Away, the assault victim in Smile, and a man running a stoop sale in The Dali Lama Drinks His Own Pee (certainly the most intriguingly named play in the festival), Pomeroy excels.

Each Group's audience voted for the top four plays from that night. The winners of Group A (The Ta Ta Song of the Aftermore: Movement One, Parthy and Me, Meeting Without End, and Rats), Group B (Abuse from Another Life, What's on Your Mind, A Lovely Moon, and Our Lady of the Sea) and Group C (Low & Away, Smile, Tic-Tac-Toe, and I Understand Your Frustration) will duke it out this week in the final competition. Only one playwright will be chosen as the winner of the 8 Minute Madness Playwright Festival. That winner, along with the winners of the outstanding actor awards, will be announced at the Awards & Gala event at The Irish Rogue this Sunday, March 16th at 6 PM.

Since this week's fare includes the best of each series, if you want to see the best of Turtle Shell and the Terrapin Troupe (their acting company), now is the time to visit the Times Square Arts Center.

Playwrights: Group A - Mark Harvey Levine (Surprise), J. Stephen Brantley (Struck), Rich Rubin (A Most Unsuitable Conversation), Aoise Stratford (Elephants and Coffee), Constance Parng (The Ta Ta Song of the Aftermore: Movement One), Ben Lewis (Parthy and Me), Walter Thinnes (Meeting Without End), Shaun Raviv (Rats), Henry W. Kimmel (The Dilemma of a Standing Ovation); Group B – Fran Handman (Abuse from Another Life), Jane Prendergast (The Diers), Ann-Marie Oliva (Momology), Edward Musto (Poor Hearts), Rich Espey (Peelers), David Fox (What's on Your Mind), Evan Guilford-Blake (A Lovely Moon), John Buczko (The Final Chuckle), Aoise Stratford (Our Lady of the Sea); Group C - Spence Porter (Men/Women), Mark Harvey Levine (Scripted), Demetra Kareman (Low & Away), Lynn Snyder (Don't Look! ), Nina Mansfield (Smile), Eric Alan Bower (The Dali Lama Drinks His Own Pee), Jeremy Handelman (Tic-Tac-Toe), Steven Korbar (I Understand Your Frustration), William Munt (Big Red Button)

Directed by Gaye-Taylor Upchurch, John W. Cooper, Arthur French, David Ledoux, David Letwin

Stage Managers: Nate Brauner and Amanda-Mae Goodridge Producer/Artistic Director: John W. Cooper Assistant Production Manager: Amanda-Mae Goodridge Scenic Designer: Ryan Scott Lighting Designer: Eric Larson Costume and Props: Christina Gianinni Sound Design: Susan Smale

Featuring in Group A - Surprise: Monika Schneider (Whitney), Christian O'Brien (Peter), Constance Parng (Esther); Struck: Christine Booker (Veronica), Bobby Tuttle (Adrian), Rob Welsh (Brit); A Most Unsuitable Conversation: Justin Tensen (A), Bill Toscano (B); Elephants and Coffee: Robin Madel (Woman), Eric Edward Glawe (Elephant); The Ta Ta Song of the Aftermore: Movement One: Santana Dempsey (August), Monika Schneider (Ava), Christine Booker (Elizabeth); Parthy and Me: Rob Welsh (Boy/Paul), Emily Coffin (Girl/Parthy); Meeting Without End: Christine Booker (Meeting Organizer), Robin Madel (Confirmed Attendee), Kaolin Bass (Requested Attendee), Justin Tensen (Tentative Attendee); Rats: Bill Toscano (Rat), Christian O'Brien (Tar); The Dilemma of a Standing Ovation: Kaolin Bass (Adam), Audra George (Eli), Natalie Anderson (Mavis), Santana Dempsey (Tara), Justin Tensen (Jerry)

Featuring in Group B - Abuse from Another Life: Traci Hovel (Ernest), Justin Morck (Prudence), Jonathan M. Castro (Armand); The Diers: Deidre Lynn (Betty), Kendall Zwillman (Hele), Susan Wallack (Sally), Anna Savant (Nurse); Momology: Coleen Sciacca (Mom #1), Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz (Mom #2), Barbra Ann Smilko (Mom #3); Poor Hearts: Alison Crane (Young Lady), Justin Morck (Young Man), Tony Mirchandani (Driver); Peelers: Cynthia Fellowes (Bookmaker), Jonathan M. Castro (Marengo), Carol Lambert (Miss Anna); What's on Your Mind: Tony Mirchandani (Dave), Cynthia Fellowes (Karen), Jonathan M. Castro (Jeff); A Lovely Moon: Traci Hovel (Julia), Barbra Ann Smilko (Lynn), Tony Mirchandani (Warren); The Final Chuckle: Benato Biridin (Jackie Jordan), Edward Sheldon (Father L.D. Riley); Our Lady of the Sea: Justin Morck (Brother), Bill Toscano (Father), Jonathan M. Castro (Boyfriend)

Featuring in Group C - Men/Women: Bernardo Cubria (He 1), Mark Becker (He 2), Annie Mistak (She 1), Emily Elizabeth Simoness (She 2); Scripted: Danielle Faitelson (Elaine), Collin Smith (Simon); Low & Away: Bristol Pomeroy (Frank), Elise Rovinsky (Carol); Don't Look!: Kaolin Bass (Paul), Annie Mistak (Cheryl); Smile: Bristol Pomeroy (Man), Pia Ambardar (Woman); The Dali Lama Drinks His Own Pee: Bristol Pomeroy (Sherwin), Emily Elizabeth Simoness (Lisa), Patrick Cann (Tim), Tara Gadomski (Angela), Bernardo Cubria (Nathan), Shiloh Klein (Babs); Tic-Tac-Toe: Lauren Robert (Stacey), Byron Loyd (Kenny); I Understand Your Frustration: Patrick Cann (Ted), Pia Ambardar (Brad); Big Red Button: Bernardo Cubria (1), Mark Becker (2)

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

Through March 15
Wed.-Fri.: 8 PM; Sat.: 3 and 8 PM

Awards & Gala Event: Sunday, March 16 (see for details)

Tickets: Theater Mania 212-352-3101