Friday, May 30, 2008

Review - Colorful World (Nosedive Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Photo by Aaron Epstein

Imagine a world in which an actual superhero exists. Impervious to pain and bullets. Human, but somehow more than human. What reaction would that inspire from those of us who were under his protection? Gratitude? Fear? Envy? In Nosedive Productions’ latest endeavor, Colorful World by James Comtois, the answer is as complex as the cast of characters brought to life in front of our eyes.

And what a cast of characters it is. First among them is Overman (Patrick Shearer), the emotionless, blank-eyed savior of humanity. He kept the Twin Towers from falling and wrapped up the war in Iraq, but he couldn’t save New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. It was his appearance in 1988 that led various wannabe crime-fighters to don capes and tights and take aim at society’s dark underbelly. While many of them proved ineffectual, some made their marks on society. Among those were Ramses (Abe Goldfarb), an Egyptian-themed hero, his lover Johnny Patriot (Christopher Yustin), a loose cannon called The Peacekeeper (Ben VandenBoom), and the sexy Tigress (Jessi Gotta). After some mishaps, the government labeled them all vigilantes and forced them to hang up their uniforms and become ordinary citizens again.

For The Peacekeeper, retirement robbed him of his reason for living. For Tigress, living life as plain old Karen Fisher from Brooklyn offered a peaceful, albeit boring, existence, tended to by geeky fanboy Guy Madison (Mac Rogers). Jeffrey Michaels, the former Ramses, leveraged his superhero past to help his industrialist present, leading him to be one of the richest men in America. But betrayed by a government that stole his ability to be Ramses, and he suspects, was behind the death of Johnny Patriot, Jeffrey nurses a dark side.

When worldwide chaos, the disappearance of Overman, and the possibility that Overman is not the only one of his kind bring Jeffrey and Karen back together, costumes come back on and fists fly in an effort to save mankind. But from whom?

Complex and epic in scope, Comtois’ Colorful World both pays homage to the pulp comics that inspired it and transcends them by making his characters more human than any that ever graced the pages of those visually colorful, though morally black and white, pages. To give too much detail will ultimately destroy the surprise and intrigue that Comtois has built into his story. Suffice it to say, no one is what he appears.

Colorful World features some outstanding performances, first among them by Patrick Shearer, whose Overman is strong, morally true, and really, really creepy. Shearer does a terrific job both at playing Overman’s “otherness” and in bringing him back down to earth in later scenes. Jessi Gotta is excellent as Tigress. Forced into the superhero racket by a pushy stage mother, Tigress wants to be a force for good when all the press wants is an adorable sex kitten. Gotta lets this disillusionment subtly tint most of the early scenes, and when Tigress is offered the chance to don her uniform and fight crime one more time, she lets that earlier disillusionment melt away and replaces it with an almost ferocious excitement. In addition, she does an outstanding job with Qui Nguyen and Alexis Black’s fight choreography. Abe Goldfarb gets to do some excellent work, especially as Jeffrey Michaels struggles with his inner demons.

Director Pete Boisvert does a solid job with the production; the only things that slow the production down are the numerous scene changes. While much of this is covered with faux news reports that help the audience with exposition, at times the changes are still too slow. Much of this is due to the extremely small stage at the 78th Street Theatre Lab which makes it hard to keep any permanent set pieces onstage. One wonders what this imaginative production team would be capable of in a larger space.

If you are the kind of person who would avoid a play about superheroes because you have been burned by the recent spate of horrible superhero movies or because you think of them as being for children, have no fear. Colorful World is a well-written, well-acted, and complex play.

Written by James Comtois
Directed by Pete Boisvert
Stage Manager: Stephanie Williams
Fight Choreographers: Qui Nguyen and Alexis Black
Lighting Designer: Phil Shearer
Makeup Designer: Leslie Hughes
Costume Designer: Meredith Magoun
Set Design: Pete Boisvert and Stephanie Williams
Projection Coordinator: Rebecca Comtois
Projection Graphic Designer: Pete Boisvert
Projection Video Designer: Marc Landers
Projection Asst Video Designer: Ben VandenBoom
Board Op: Sandy Yaklin
Producers: Pete Boisvert, James Comtois, Rebecca Comtois, Marc Landers, Patrick Shearer, Stephanie Williams

Featuring: Patrick Shearer (Overman -Tom Shanley), Jessi Gotta (Tigress – Karen Fisher), Abe Goldfarb (Ramses – Jeffrey Michaels), Mac Rogers (Guy Madison), Zack Calhoon (John), Marc Landers (The Void), Christopher Yustin (Johnny Patriot). Colorful World also featured voiceover work by Pete Boisvert, Isaac Butler, Rebecca Comtois, Stephanie Cox-Williams, Desmond Dutcher, Brian Enk, Shay Gines, Matt Johnston, Marsha Martinez, and Brian Silliman.

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

Thurs.-Sat. 8 PM
May 8-10, 15-17, 22-24, 29-31

Friday, May 16, 2008

Review - The Aspern Papers (Turtle Shell Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Photo by Jeremy Handelman

I will admit that my knowledge of Henry James is limited to 'Washington Square,' and only then by way of its stage adaptation, The Heiress. The Aspern Papers, adapted by Martin Zuckerman from Henry James’s novella, is a pleasant surprise. Although very similar in tone and story to The Heiress, it is an interesting play about an unscrupulous man who will do almost anything to get what he wants.

Walter Scampo (Kelly King) is an academic, a writer with a particular interest in a classical poet named Jeffrey Aspern (think of someone like Lord Byron). He has traveled to Venice to find Juliana Bordereau (Carol Lambert), now an ancient woman living in the care of her spinster niece, Tita (Elisabeth Grace Rothan), but once the muse and lover of Aspern. Scampo believes that she holds Aspern’s heretofore unpublished early works and letters. Quickly realizing that he will never be able to fool Juliana into giving him the papers, he works on bringing Tita under his influence, thrilling her with opportunities to escape her drab, confined life. What follows is a play about exploitation, but just who is exploiting whom is hard to tell.

The cast is strong, in fact, one of the strongest of the recent Turtle Shell productions. Lambert is excellent as the old lady. At times playing frail and faltering for the unctuous Scampo, she’ll explode in passion the moment he leaves the scene. A difficult change to pull off, but Lambert does it well. Rothan is exceptional in her role, going from timid and unsure to jaded and vindictive by the end of the play. King does a good job playing the oh-so-slick Scampo, but his Scampo comes across as mildly sleazy and untrustworthy from the beginning. Unlike the character of Townsend in The Heiress, the audience is never given the chance to wonder if this character might actually be on the up and up. This takes some of the dramatic tension and complexity out of the play.

The production values of the Turtle Shell presentations get better with each new play. Kyle Dixon’s set is excellent, showing the former luxury and decay in the Venetian villa and in the family that inhabits it. His use of a folding screen to create Juliana’s bedroom is a particularly clever use of the small stage. While at times it makes the scene changes a little awkward, it is nevertheless unique and interesting. Lighting designer Shaun Suchan helps create a lush Mediterranean feel onstage.

Director Shawn Rozsa shows that he is as deft with drama as he is with the wild comedy of the recent production of Scapin. Turtle Shell’s production on Martin M. Zuckerman’s adaptation of The Aspern Papers is well worth a look.

Adapted from Henry James’s novella by Martin M. Zuckerman
Producer/Artistic Director: John W. Cooper
Directed by Shawn Rozsa
Scenic Designer: Kyle Dixon
Costume Designer: A. Christina Giannini
Sound Designer: Patrick Grant
Lighting Designer: Shaun Suchan
Production Manager and Marketing: Jeremy Handelman
Stage Manager: Marina Steinberg
House Manager/ASM: Ava Eisenson
Carpenter: Peter Estella
Group Sales: Mona Weisberg
Graphic Designer: Karen Shambley

Featuring Kelly King (Walter Scampo), Elisabeth Grace Rothan (Tita Bordereau), Carol Lambert (Juliana Bordereau), Nico Evers-Swindell (Voice of Young Aspern).

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

May 2-24Mon. at 7 PM, Thurs.-Sat. at 8 PM (except May 22nd). Special matinee May 24th at 3 PM.

Visit Theatermania for tickets.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

News - 64th Annual Theatre World Award Winners Announced


New York City (May 15, 2008)
The 64th Annual Theatre World Award winners for Outstanding Broadway or Off-Broadway Debut performances during the 2007-2008 theatrical season are:

de’Adre Aziza, Passing Strange
Cassie Beck, Drunken City
Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange
Ben Daniels, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County
Hoon Lee, Yellow Face
Alli Mauzey, Cry-Baby
Jenna Russell, Sunday in the Park with George
Mark Rylance, Boeing-Boeing
Loretta Ables Sayre, South Pacific
Jimmi Simpson, The Farnsworth Invention
Paulo Szot, South Pacific

The Theatre World Awards presentation will be held at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th Street, in an invitation-only ceremony, Tuesday, June 10, 2008 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Peter Filichia will host, Barry Keating will direct, and Scott Denny, Kati Meister and Erin Oestreich are the event’s producers. John Willis, founder of the Theatre World Awards, will be in attendance.

First presented in 1945, the prestigious Theatre World Awards are the oldest awards given for Broadway and Off-Broadway debut performances, and are among the oldest honors given to stage performers. The Theatre World Award winners have been chosen by the Theatre World Awards committee, currently comprised of Peter Filichia (TheaterMania), Harry Haun (Playbill), Matthew Murray (Talkin’ Broadway), Frank Scheck (New York Post), Michael Sommers (Newhouse Newspapers), Doug Watt (Critic Emeritus, New York Daily News), and Linda Winer (New York Newsday).

Theatre World is the authoritative annual pictorial and statistical record of the American theatre, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, and regional theatre. Theatre World is published by Applause Books.

The Theatre World Award Board of Directors is: Leigh Giroux (President), Kati Meister (Vice President), Erin Oestreich (Secretary), Scott Denny (Treasurer), Tom Lynch (Founding Board member), and Barry Keating. For more information about the Theatre World Awards (including a list of past recipients) please visit: