Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review - The Talk (John Chatterton Presents, Inc.)

By Byrne Harrison

Presented as part of the Short Subjects (continued) project at Where Eagles Dare, an outgrowth of the Short Subjects in the Midtown International Theatre Festival, Gabrielle Fox tackles some weighty topics in her play The Talk.

The play centers on a couple, David (Paul Geiger) and Michelle (Pilar Witherspoon), their son, Jake (Evan Robert Smith), and David's best friend, Marty (Michael Boothroyd). David and Michelle are merely going through the motions of their marriage, and each blames the other - David no longer seems interested in Michelle, Michelle is too busy with her job. Of course, the truth is deeper than that, which Jake discovers when he catches David and Marty during a tryst at the house.

Michelle is devastated and vows to keep Jake away from David by any means necessary. She also forbids Marty from seeing her son, although he has been like a third parent to Jake, filling in for Michelle and David when they've been too busy for their son. In order to make this happen, she embarks on a scorched earth campaign against David, making vile public accusations against him.

As would be expected from an incubator series called Short Subjects, The Talk is a very short piece, however playwright Gabrielle Fox has written a surprisingly tight play. Although she ties up all the loose ends into a satisfying ending that provides a strong message about individual needs versus the needs of a family, the play seems rushed. Fox has taken on a number of challenging topics - sexuality, infidelity, revenge, and childhood trauma, to name but a few - that seem somewhat too tightly packed in her short play. While I often lament the number of plays where the playwrights seem to drag out topics that don't justify full-length treatment, Fox's play could easily be expanded and some of the topics explored in depth. In addition, a longer format would allow better development of the relationships between the characters, specifically the triangle involving David, Michelle, and Marty. Of the three, Michelle is the most fully realized character; a little fleshing out would benefit David and Marty.

Troy Miller's direction is adequate, though not up to his usual high standards. He seems to have given his actors more rein than normal, and though Witherspoon is up to the challenge, the others at times falter, not allowing certain scenes to have the full emotional impact that they should. Overall, however, the production has more strengths than weaknesses, and I'm sure we will be seeing The Talk again in the future.

It's encouraging to see the types of work that John Chatterton Presents, Inc., is bringing to stage. The Talk is exactly the type of timely and though-provoking work that should be getting produced.

The Talk
Written by Gabrielle Fox
Directed by Troy Miller
Stage Manager: Jason Xaysittiphone

Featuring: Paul Geiger (David), Pilar Witherspoon (Michelle), Michael Boothroyd (Marty), Evan Robert Smith (Jake), Rich Flight (Ray)

Where Eagles Dare Studios
347 W. 36th St., 13th Floor

Friday, November 13 - 9 PM
Saturday, November 14 - 7 PM
Sunday, November 15 - 3 PM
Friday, November 20 - 7 PM
Saturday, November 21 - 7 PM

Review - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (T. Schreiber Studio)

By Byrne Harrison
Photo by Gili Getz

Two minor characters playing a small, albeit important part in the story of Hamlet - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We know them as schoolmates of Hamlet, somewhat interchangeable courtiers, and spies brought to court by Hamlet's uncle Claudius. Tom Stoppard brings them front and center in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and while it's easy to describe the play as the story of Hamlet as told from the point of view of these two minor characters, it is so much more than that. Stoppard's play is a meditation on the nature of life and each person's place in it. Is there a purpose to our daily struggle? Are we merely minor players whose lives are guided by others? Or is it all chance, with no rhyme or reason?

Eric Percival (Rosencrantz) and Julian Elfer (Guildenstern) make a winning team as the bemused courtiers. Percival's Rosencrantz seem constantly bewildered as he tries to comprehend the situation he finds himself in. Elfer's Guildenstern wants to make sense of what is happening around him, but finds himself unable to do so. Rounding out the major players is Erik Jonsun, who does a terrific turn as The Player, the leader of the band of tragedians who will eventually perform "The Murder of Gonzago" for Claudius and the court - the play wherein Hamlet catches the conscience of the king. While the rest of the cast does an excellent job, the play truly crackles when Jonsun's Player is involved.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead features strong direction by Cat Parker, who makes great use of George Allison's elegantly understated set. Played in the round, Parker utilizes the entire space, often surrounding the audience with players, effectively incorporating them into the production.

Other production elements are well done, including Eric Cope's lighting design, Andy Cohen's sound, and especially Karen Ledger's excellent costume design.

T. Schreiber Studio once again does what it does best - producing outstanding performances of challenging and entertaining plays.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Cat Parker
Scenic Designer: George Allison
Costume Designer: Karen Ledger
Lighting Designer: Eric Cope
Sounds Designer: Andy Cohen
Dialect/Vocal Coach: Page Clements
Fight Choreographer: Michael Hagins
Technical Director: Mark Chieda
Dramaturge/Assistant Director: Cristina Lundy
Stage Manager: Michael Denis
Production Coordinator: Barbara Kielhofer
Production Assistant: Oliver Sterlacci
Publicist: Lanie Zipoy

Featuring: Eric Percival (Rosencrantz), Julian Elfer (Guildenstern), Erik Jonsun (The Player), Tim Weinert (Hamlet), Doug Williford (Claudius), Tootie Larios (Gertrude), Marguerite Forrest (Ophelia), Tom Lawson, Jr. (Polonius), Esteban Benito (Tragedian), Meghan Brown (Tragedian), Horacio Lazo (Tragedian), James O'Brien (Tragedian), Janine L. Pangburn (Tragedian), Diane Terrusa (Tragedian), Aki Tsuchimoto (Tragedian), Therese Tucker (Tragedian), Rodney Allen Umble (Tragedian)

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

October 15 - November 22, 2009
Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM
Sunday matinees at 3 PM

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review - The Blood Brothers Present . . . The New Guignol (Nosdive Productions)

By Byrne Harrison

Just in time for Halloween, the Blood Brothers are back with a new evening of horror. After their most recent two shows featuring their take on pulp/noir and the works of Stephen King, their 2009 show returns to the Grand Guignol roots of the original 2006 production that started off this series. The New Guignol rips its terror from the headlines and reminds us that the scariest thing that we can encounter is other people, not the supernatural horrors and bogeymen that are the creations of our own imaginations.

Using real stories as their jumping off point, and proving it by showing copies of the newspaper articles from which they are drawn, The New Guignol presents tales of incest, beheadings (two, in fact), obsession, jealousy . . . well, all the things the Blood Brothers thrive on.

Featuring short plays by Danny Bowes, James Comtois, and Mac Rogers, The New Guignol returns to its Grand Guignol roots by focusing on the gore and savagery of the stories. This takes the form of incestuous rape, the aforementioned beheadings, cannibalism, and the usual brain spatters and gory knifings that we've come to expect from these shows. I will admit, though, that despite the subject matter, this year's production seemed rather less bloody than the previous ones. Ghoulish as it sounds, I wanted a lot more blood, not merely for the shock value, but for the opportunity to admire the special effects. That's not to say that Stephanie Cox-Williams skimped in her special effects design work this year (for the record, the effects were very well done - especially a rather gruesome C-section), it's just that there could have been a lot more of it.

The strongest play of the evening is Biological Mother by Mac Rogers. This tight, well-acted play about a young man seeking his birth mother, and the terrible secrets he unearths, is the most solid of the evening's shows. It features taut direction by Pete Boisvert and some strong performances, particularly Cotton Wright, Jessi Gotta and Marsha Martinez. Among the other strong performances are Becky Byers and Robert Leeds in James Comtois' A Room With No View and Jessi Gotta again in Comtois' creepy The Itch.

Overall, some of the best moments of the show (and this is true of the previous Blood Brothers productions, as well) are those featuring Pete Boisvert and Patrick Shearer as the ghoulish Blood Brothers. Shearer excels as the erudite and well-spoken sociopath, oozing charm and menace. Boisvert's strength is in playing the more bestial brother in a way that inspires both laughs and fear.

As with the best horror, there has to be a little bit of a twist to shake things up a bit. In The New Guignol, the twist involves incorporating the audience into the show. It's not something so mundane as audience interaction; that's not really the Blood Brothers' style. But this clever and chilling "There but for the grace of God go I" moment, ends the evening on a decidedly creepy note.

The Blood Brothers Present . . . The New Guignol
Written by: Danny Bowes (Steve, Nothing We Can Do), James Comtois (A Room With No View, The Itch, Dominique), Mac Rogers (An Introduction to the New Guignol, On This Bus Forever, Biological Mother)
Directed by: Pete Boisvert (An Introduction to the New Guignol, Biological Mother), Patrick Shearer (An Introduction to the New Guignol, Nothing We Can Do, On This Bus Forever), Abe Goldfarb (A Room With No View), Matt Johnston (The Itch), Stephanie Cox-Williams (Steve), Rebecca Comtois (Dominique)
Stage Managers: Stephanie Cox-Williams and Dana Rossi
Costume Designer: Sarah Riffle
Costume Designer (A Room With No View): Madame Rosebud
Lighting Designer: Daniel Winters
Makeup Designer: Leslie Hughes
Scenic Designer: Arnold Bueso
Sound Designer: Patrick Shearer
Special Effects Designer: Stephanie Cox-Williams
Fight Choreography: Stephanie Cox-Williams and Patrick Shearer
Original Music: Larry Lees
Press Agent: James Comtois
Graphic Production: Pete Boisvert
Video Production: Marc Landers
Program Editor: Dana Rossi
Producers: Pete Boisvert, James Comtois, Rebecca Comtois, Stephanie Cox-Williams, Patrick Shearer

Featuring: Ryan Andes (Lee, Young Man), Becky Byers (Elisabeth, Passenger 2), Rebecca Comtois (Joyce, Woman), Jessi Gotta (Gail Woman), Stephen Hesket (Toby, Nurse 1), Robert Leeds (Josef, Voice, Passenger 2), Marsha Martinez (Shannon, Young Woman, Nurse), Ben VandenBoom (Solider, Nurse, Cop), Cotton Wright (Andrea, Doctor)

The Brick Theater
575 Metropolitan Avenue
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

October 28-31, 8 PM

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review - Laika Dog in Space (New York Neo-Futurists)

By Byrne Harrison

There is a reason that the New York Neo-Futurists keep winning NY Innovative Theater Awards. To find out what that reason is, one only needs to attend a performance of their latest offering, Laika Dog in Space.

A breathtakingly original piece, Laika Dog in Space has at its core the story of Laika, a dog sent into space on Sputnik 2 in 1957 to find out if a living creature could survive launch. She was the first animal in space, and Earth's first space fatality. Added to this true story are elements from the late '60s television show "The Prisoner," and Antoine de Saint Exupéry's "The Little Prince." Featuring music, choreography, puppetry, audience interaction, cooking, a game show, an interactive set, and so much more, Laika isn't so much a play as it is a self-contained universe that the audience inhabits, not unlike Laika in her spaceship.

From the moment doors open at the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, the audience members find themselves onstage. Encouraged by the three performers, Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough and Jill Beckman, they can explore Lauren Parrish's interactive set. They can read about other famous dogs, learn a little Russian, send postcards, watch videos, and any number of other things. It's like being a kid on a really cool field trip.

Unlike plays that have a story that from point A to point B, Laika is hard to describe. It is more of a meditation about Laika, the space race, loneliness and community, and the fears and joys of modern life. That said, it is better simply to experience the show. Suffice it to say that the acting is strong, Dave Dalton's direction is outstanding, and the show is immediate and engaging. Featuring some great tunes from the Cake Monkeys (Carl Riehl - composer/accordian/keyboards, Gene Caprioglio - lead guitar, Devlin Goldberg - drums, and Scot Selig - bass), Laika will engage all your senses.

Laika Dog in Space is New York theatre at its best - engaging, creative and entertaining. Not to mention the fact that the actors make some pretty good borscht that they share with the audience at the end of the show.

Laika Dog in Space
Director: Dave Dalton
Writer/Performers: Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough, Jill Beckman
Composer/Performer: Carl Riehl
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Christopher Diercksen
Technical Director/Set Design: Lauren Parrish
Calm Voice/Sound Operator: Kara Ayn Napolitano
Costumer/Props: Meg Bashwiner
Choreography: Lauren Sharpe
Video Technician: Timothy Caldwell

Band (Cake Monkeys)
Lead Guitar: Gene Caprioglio
Accordion/Keyboards: Carl Riehl
Drums: Devlin Goldberg
Bass: Scot Selig

Laika Day - Adam Smith
The Visit -Travis Whitty and Erik Holman
Poem - Kyle Anderson
Poem: "Dog in Space" © Michael Waters
Short Film Director/Editor: Chris Stocksmith

Dioramas: Alicia Harding, Jen Leavitt, Lauren Sharpe, Adam Smith, Connor Kalista

Managing Director Intern: Charline Tetiyevsky
Marketing: Jen Leavitt
Marketing: Erica Livingston
Graphic Designer: Justin Tolley

Ontological Theater
St. Mark's Church
131 E. 10th Street at 2nd Ave.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review - Next Year in Jerusalem (WorkShop Theater Company)

By Byrne Harrison

There are any number of plays out there about families with a strong patriarch and the children that forever seem to be causing him grief. Perhaps the emphasis is on the father, perhaps one of the children. Perhaps it's a comedy, perhaps a drama. But either way, it has been covered numerous times.

That's what makes Dana Leslie Goldstein's latest incarnation of Next Year in Jerusalem, her prize-winning play about three generations of a Jewish family in New York, a pleasant surprise. It feels at once new and exciting, but there is also something comfortable about it. These are not characters you have seen before, but they are familiar nonetheless, and that familiarity makes it easy to slip on this play like a favorite shirt. With Goldstein's strong writing and the cast's remarkable work, it would be hard not to care for the Mendels and the story that spins out over the course of the play.

Abraham Mendel (Burt Edwards and Jake Robards as the old and young versions, respectively) has lost many things over the course of his life. He fled Europe at the start of WWII with his brothers, taking Anna (Elyse Mirto), his young wife. to Palestine. After the birth of Israel, the event he had most longed for, he left it behind at the insistence of his pregnant wife who wanted the safety of America for her children. In America he lived for those children, building lives for them that he thought would be safe and permanent.

Though his children, bohemian Faustine (Jodie Bentley) and housewife Rachel (Dee Dee Friedman), love him, the lives he has created for them seem stifling. Rachel, trying to please her father, marries Lee (Timothy Scott Harris) and has a daughter (Sara Romanello). Faustine, not one to be told what to do, rebels against her father, becoming a lingerie model living in the East Village. Abraham is shamed by her life, only grudgingly admitting that independent and hardheaded Faustine is more than a little like him.

Things come to a head at Abraham's Passover dinner, leading to great changes for the entire family.

Next Year in Jerusalem features Dana Leslie Goldstein's strong writing and a well-told story. Production values are good, particularly Duane Pagano's versatile set and lighting, and Anne E. Grosz's costumes. Acting is strong across the board, with particularly good performances given by Burt Edwards as Abraham, Dee Dee Friedman as the tightly wound Rachel, and Jodie Bentley as Faustine. Jake Robards, in dual roles as Young Abraham and Ari, an Israeli lawyer with whom Abraham sets Faustine up on a date, is outstanding. His scenes, especially as Ari debating with Abraham or flirting with Faustine, are some of the best in the play.

An excellent production of a very good play, Next Year in Jerusalem is well worth a look.

Next Year in Jerusalem
Written by Dana Leslie Goldstein
Directed by Robert Bruce McIntosh
Scenic and Lighting Design: Duane Pagano
Costume Design: Anne E. Grosz
Sound Design: David Schulder
Production Stage Manager: Michael Palmer
Coordinating Producer: Anne Fizzard
Assistant Producer/Prop Master: Laura Hirschberg
Run Crew: Jeff Berg, Dan Patrick Brady, David Palmer Brown, Shaun Bennett Wilson
Marketing Assistants: Stacey Tavor, Anna Wood
Group Sales: Christine Verleny
Postcard/Poster Design: Todd A. Johnson Design
Press and Production Photography: Gerry Goodstein

Featuring: Jodie Bentley (Faustine Mendel), Burt Edwards (Abraham Mendel), Jake Robards (Young Abraham/Ari), Elyse Mirto (Anna Mendel), Sara Romanello (Anna Netter), Dee Dee Friedman (Rachel Mendel Netter), Timothy Scott Harris (Lee Netter)

WorkShop Theater Company
Main Stage
312 W. 36th St., 4th Floor East

October 8-31
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 PM
Sundays at 3 PM
Wednesday October 28th at 8 PM

For reservations, call 212-695-4173 x5#

Friday, October 9, 2009

Jonny Porkpie's Bad Ideas Presents Shocks & C*cks

"They said it couldn't be done... they said it shouldn't be done... so we're doing it!"

For the first time ever in the history of bump and grind at 70 North 6th Street, burlesque gets cocky when the boys take over Jonny Porkpie's Bad Ideas. For those who have always loved everything about burlesque except the attractive naked women, this is the show for you, because on Monday, October 12 at 10pm, Bad Ideas goes 100% beefcake with Shocks & C*cks all nude all dude revue.

"Don't get me wrong," said Porkpie, "Like all of the events in the 'Bad Ideas' series, this is going to be a fantastic show starring some of the most talented performers in burlesque. It's just that none of them are, you know, women."

"And variety!" Porkpie continued, waving his hands in the air. "This show has magic... hula hooping... freaks from the sideshow... performers imported from overseas... gay men, straight men, and everything in between... the only aspect in which there's no variety whatsoever is the gender of the performers."

On October 12, come for the talent and stay for the full frontal nudity as you witness burlesque skills that only boys can do -- like the tri-tassel twirl and the "windmill" -- in a show that promises to be fun for all genders. Featuring host Jonny Porkpie; the man magic of Albert Cadabra; hunky hoopstar Ferro; bravado boylesque by Hard Corey; the original Mr. Exotic World Tigger!; and two fine blokes imported from the UK: the heartfelt British Heart; and "Sealboy" Mat Fraser.

Jonny Porkpie's Bad Ideas:
Shocks & C*cks all nude all dude revue
Monday, October 12 @ 10:00pm
Public Assembly
70 North 6th Street

Admission: $10 - tickets available at the door

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review - Hughie (Ditto Productions)

By Byrne Harrison

At his best, Erie Smith, the protagonist of Eugene O'Neill's Hughie, is a small-time, wannabe wise guy living on the shadowy fringes of the glamorous life in Manhattan. At his worst, he's a washed up nobody spending what little money he can hustle on booze, women and gambling.

Most nights as he drags himself home to his fleabag hotel, he's at his worst.

Rather than seeing himself as the loser he is in the harsh light of the shabby lobby, he's lucky enough to see himself reflected in the eyes of Hughie, the night clerk. As he spins tales of his adventures - throwing dice and winning the jackpots, bringing home the Follies girls, being in on the big deals - he basks in Hughie's admiration, and for a little while, he can believe that he is the high-roller he wants to be.

But now Hughie is dead.

Coming in from a three-day bender, Erie wants nothing more than to stave off a little of the loneliness and frustration. Unable to fully engage the new night clerk, Erie starts talking. Effectively a long monologue, this one-act play slowly spins out the tale of a dissolute life and its effects, and a friendship that made it almost bearable.

For Hughie to be effective, the actor playing the lead must be engaging at all times. David Tawil succeeds admirably. Cocky and sure one moment, lost in a bitter place the next, Tawil shows a great understanding of the ebb and flow of this character, and gives an outstanding performance.

The role of Charlie, the new night clerk is more problematic. He is primarily a sounding board, and most of his few moments of dialogue are his thoughts about Erie, rather than actual engagement with Erie. Director Aaron Gonzalez helps the audience follow this by using projections on a wall behind Charlie to indicate that he is having "internal monologue" moments. While these projections are used to great effect in the beginning of the play to set the mood and time period for the audience, they seem a little intrusive in these introspective moments. When combined with Dean Negri's overly forceful acting during these internal monologues, the result is unsettling.

Hughie features a minimal set by Claire Karoff, which includes some cleverly crafted set pieces - an elevator and a revolving door. Rus Snelling's moody lighting design is effective.

A touching play about profound isolation and crushed dreams, O'Neill's Hughie is brought to life admirably in this production.

Written by Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Aaron Gonzalez
Set Design: Clair Karoff
Lighting Design: Rus Snelling
Projection Design: Aaron Gonzalez
Stage Manager: Kiersten Armstrong

Featuring: David Tawil (Erie Smith) and Dean Negri (Charlie Hughes)

American Theatre of Actors
Sergeant Theatre
314 W. 54th Street, 4th Floor

Thurs.-Sat., October 1-3, 8-10
8 PM

Tickets available through SmartTix

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Interview - Rob Neill of Laika Dog in Space

By Byrne Harrison
Photo and Videos by the NY Neo-Futurists

Laika Dog in Space, the latest full-length production from the New York Neo-Futurists, opens this evening at the Ontological Theater at St. Mark’s Church (131 E. 10th St.).

Intrigued by the concept of a show about the first dog in space, and one performed in the Neo-Futurist style, I reached out to New York Neo-Futurist Managing Director (and one of the co-creators/performers in Laika) to find out a little more about the show.

The NY Neo-Futurists are best known for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the twice-weekly performance that strives to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes, but you've only done a handful of full-length productions. What led you to branch out into these longer productions, and do you plan on continuing?

Rob Neill: Many New York Neo-Futurists have sought out longer-form performance options once we had settled into cranking out TML every night. So we branched out somewhat gradually from 30 plays in 60 minutes to six 10-minutes plays to three 20-minutes plays to one 60+ minute play. And we even were awarded Outstanding Ensemble Performance by the New York Innovative Theatre Awards for our last mainstage (Not) Just A Day Like Any Other. Next year we're looking to do an extra show both in the spring and in the fall as we continue to grow our season beyond TML.

The story of Laika, the first animal sent into orbit, and the first space fatality, seems like an unusual subject for a play. What inspired you and co-writers Eevin Hartsough and Jill Beckman to tackle this subject, and what were your other inspirations?

A couple of years back the Vampire Cowboys invited me to write a short play for Re:Vamped that combined the genres of science fiction and fairy tale. I recalled Laika’s story and tossed in some Russian fairytales, parts of "The Little Prince" and elements from the TV show "The Prisoner," rounding it out with some original songs by Carl Reihl, direction and calder-esque sculpture from Eevin plus other neo-futurists elements. Once we looked to expand the piece to a longer format for the Ontological-Hysteric Theater Incubator, Jill, Eevin and I did more research on all of those elements and the space race, and then thought about how all this applied to our lives. Carl wrote more songs and we kept building it.

The Neo-Futurists are known for infusing their work with their own stories, life experiences, and reality, as opposed to playing characters. Will Laika be as much about you, Eevin, and Jill as it is about the dog? If so, what are you each bringing to the production?

Yes. For Laika we actually developed three tracks for the show: Space, Prince and Prisoner. And at first they were just place holders to funnel and focus all of the info we had, but the tracks evolved to be more specific to which performer was the lead on each one. We collaborated on much of the creation of the whole play; we had a google document for the script (for ease of sharing and seeing changes), and all did writing apart and then got together hashed things out. We made assignments for certain sections, and kept digging and writing more, finally finding what much of it meant to us - each of us now. Our director, Dave Dalton and AD, Chris Diercksen, helped hone and re-focus what we were delving into and Laika began to represent something different to each of us, I think, and that shows in the performance. For example, my Prisoner (& science) track lead me to deal with isolation versus community, and got me to think about how I have traditionally reached out to and connected with others through food and mealtimes, so among other things I make borscht in the show . . .

While many of the Neo-Futurists plays in TML incorporate music, this is the first play I can remember that has music performed by a non-Neo-Futurist (Carl Riehl and the Cake Monkeys). How did that come about?

We wanted more influences and options musically. Carl is not only a talented musician, but brought such solid and expansive work to the project. He was involved from the early stages as we knew he played a wicked accordion and was a composer. He, with the Cake Monkeys, make the show rock. By the way the Cake Monkeys are only a band for Laika Dog In Space; they all play in other bands outside the show, and have come together just for these few weeks to jam with us.

Laika is being produced as part of the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator. How did you get involved with the Ontological-Hysteric Theater?

We love the OHT. Thanks to Shannon and Brendan, we have performed for several of the Tiny Theater weekends, and filled in a week last year with Short Term Directions. It is a great space, in a great location with such a amazing history. So many vital performances happen in that space.

Do you feel a particular affinity for Richard Foreman's vision of theatre, or more to the point, do you feel that his "total theater" and Greg Allen's Neo-Futurism are complementary?

Yes and yes. Okay let’s see . . . we love the ritual, precision and layering of Richard Foreman’s work, and how rich the world he creates/manipulates is. His combining of audio, visual, text and movement are right in step with what Neo-Futurists do. I feel his work is very personal, yet disorienting at times. So is ours. We are not creating at his level, but we take some from him, some from other historical and independent theater styles, add the basic tenants of Neo-Futurism: ‘you are who you are; you are where you are; you are doing what you are doing’, toss in some audience involvement and there is our show. With song and vodka and borscht . . .

What is next for the Neo-Futurists?

2009 is a busy year for us. Our company has grown exponentially since 2004. It is pretty spectacular. After Laika, we have our 5 year anniversary benefit on November 9th, and of course we have our end of the year Best of 2009 shows Dec. 11, 12, 18, 19 at the Kraine. Then onto 2010 and producing TML, of course, two new main stage shows and expanding our touring and workshops.

Laika Dog in Space runs October 1-17. For a taste of what you'll get at Laika, please take a look at these videos from the NY Neo-Futurists.

Laika Dog in Space
Directed by Dave Dalton
Created and performed by Eevin Hartsough, Jill Beckman and Rob Neill
Additional performance by Jacquelyn Landgraf
Composer and Musician: Carl Riehl
Assistant Director and Dramaturg: Christopher Diercksen
Technical Director: Lauren Parrish

Ontological Theater at St. Mark’s Church
131 E. 10th St.
October 1-4, 6, 8-11, 13, 15-17 at 8p.m.

For tickets, call 212-352-3101

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Announcement has been on a brief hiatus due to the death of my father. For those publicists who are waiting for reviews from the NY International Fringe Festival and other shows, I will be posting the remaining reviews this week.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review – La Ronde (New York International Fringe Festival, Big Signature Productions)

Review by Erin Winebark

The Director’s Note in the playbill for La Ronde states, “If La Ronde were just a play about sex, you’d all be watching Showtime right now and not watching a play written in the time of Freud and syphilis. In fact, if there’s one noticeable omission from this play, it’s the sex.” Given that, I would agree that Larry Biederman’s version was not at all about sex, however, it didn’t really seem to be even remotely about the story. Biederman’s vision of La Ronde, was all about experimental directorial choices.

I don’t mean the above statement to be as derogatory as it sounds. The production values in La Ronde were incredible. Biederman clearly had so many cutting-edge artistic ideas that he needed to try all out in one show, and they were successful much of the time. He employed everything from voiceovers with the actors speaking over filmed scenes to voiceunders, where the actors mouthed words that were prerecorded. He used the stunningly simple set, a large drape of white cloth with stitching resembling a spider’s web with a hole in the middle and a few chairs, in a number of creative and interesting ways. The aforementioned drape served as a backdrop for projections, as clothing, and even as bed sheets. In one particularly interesting scene, characters switched roles, even costume pieces, and each took turns in the other’s shoes.

While these were all truly innovative ideas, most of which I’d never seen before, I wasn’t always sure what purpose they served, other than to be interesting (though if that was the goal, then, goal achieved!). I like to see directorial choices enlighten the text or show the story in some new way, and some of Biederman’s direction did not accomplish that. In one case, namely, the first scene, the actors constantly moved chairs to create an ever-evolving set. While it was a great idea for the first two minutes, it quickly wore thin and even turned into a distraction. In the same scene, the actors frenetically walked around in circles, or back and forth across the stage, presumably to show the passage of time. As with the chairs, in moderation, this was a great idea, however after the 20th circle, I wondered what the point was other than to exhaust the poor actors.

John Eckert’s lighting was truly stunning, and was the highlight of the show. He did a fantastic job of making it both functional and artistic, and the special lighting effects were superb (one that jumps to mind is when an actor mimed lighting a match, a warm orange glow flooded the backdrop). The use of neon signs (controlled by the actors via foot pedals) to show which characters were in any given scene was both helpful and amazingly creative.

As actors, Alyson Weaver and Ken Barnett are clearly talented, however my impression is that most of the director’s energy in this production was spent on production values, not on noticing their acting. Both gave stylized performances, but they seemed to be of two different styles; Weaver seemed to be in 2009 Vienna, while Barnett was in 1900 Vienna--both valid, but it would have been nice to see a more unified cast. It’s a good thing that this was not a play about sex, because there was no chemistry between the two of them. That said, both had individual moments of greatness. Barnett’s performance felt truthful and convincing, especially in the Husband/Young Wife scene, and Weaver showed real vulnerability as the Parlor Maid. And both actors need to be applauded for the sheer physical demands of their roles — the energy they were able to sustain throughout the evening in a theater where the air conditioning wasn’t working up to par was incredible.

All said and done, this show is really more of an avant-garde adaptation of Schnitzler’s La Ronde than anything else. Even though I feel that the true intent of the story - showing the dark, seedy side of gilded fin-de-siècle society in Vienna - was lost, the show is worth seeing purely for the interesting direction and absolutely amazing lighting.

La Ronde
Written by Arthur Schnitzler
Translated by Carl R. Mueller
Directed by Larry Biederman
Associate Producers: Linda Toliver and Gary Guidinger
Lighting Designer: John Eckert
Sound Designer, Original Score Composer: John Zalewski
Costume Designer: Soojin Lee
Stage Manager: Ashley K. Singh
Graphic Designer: Szimple Design
General Press Rep: Penny Landau/Maya PR

Featuring: Alyson Weaver (The Woman) and Ken Barnett (The Man)

HERE Arts Center
145 6th Ave.
Saturday, August 15th at 5:45 PM
Sunday, August 16th at 9:15 PM
Tuesday, August 18th at 4:45 PM
Thursday, August 20th at 6:15 PM
Friday, August 21st at 7:00 PM

Visit FringeNYC for more information.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Who Had the . . . Guts

The boys of Puppetry of the Penis issued their Fringe Festival challenge - come to the show and get naked with them, and in return, you get to paper their audience with flyers for your Fringe show.

Luckily, some of the Fringe actors are just daring enough to do it. Last night's Puppetry of the Penis performance featured two Fringe shows - 666 and MoM: A Rock Concert Musical. Three of the four actors from 666, plus the son of one of their producers, not only took the challenge, but stayed around to entertain the audience during intermission. While the cast of MoM: A Rock Concert Musical lack the . . . necessary equipment to join in the challenge, they did provide a "surrogate" to take their place onstage.

All in all, the show provided some daring and fun publicity for the Fringe Festival.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review - For the Love of Christ! (New York International Fringe Festival, Knoxious Productions and imPULSE Theatre)

Review by Byrne Harrison

La Cage meets The Ritz. Well, not exactly, but that is the vibe that comes from Ben Knox's new musical For the Love of Christ!. A frothy, silly, funny show, it may not leave a permanent impression, but you will leave the theatre smiling.

Upon reflection, I should say that most people will leave the theatre smiling. If you have a thin skin about religious matters, this is not the show for you. If you regularly read things sent to you from James Dobson or Bill Donohue, this is not the show for you. If you think "South Park" is blasphemous, this is not the show for you.

Then again, if any of the above were true, I seriously doubt you'd be reading this review to begin with.

For the Love of Christ! follows Charlie (Ben Knox), a good, upstanding Christian man with a lovely wife, Angela (Kristy Cates), and two . . . well, let's say interesting children. His daughter Mary (Eryn Murman) is a hellion waiting to be let loose. His son Mikey (Jamaal Wilson) is fabulous, with a glittery capital F.

Charlie knows he is different than other men. That he has longings that his wife can't fulfil. These evil longings lead him to the Bottoms Up Bathhouse, owned by Pauly (Steven Strafford), the world-weary proprietor (and wannabe chanteuse), and his mustachioed Latin boyfriend, Dante (Eric Rubbe). Spotting Charlie's expensive suit and closeted demeanor, they see a chance to save the financially troubled bathhouse by robbing Charlie blind. All they need is a distraction. That comes in the form of the beautiful airline steward, Jésus (Dan Amboyer). And no, the name is not a coincidence. Turns out Jésus is more than what he appears to be.

But Angela won't let Charlie be seduced by sodomy without a fight. Assisted by the fiery Father Reverend (Marty Thomas), she's ready to do whatever it takes to whomever she must to save his soul.

What follows is the stuff of classic farce, with some terrific songs thrown in. Plots are hatched, people are chased, high heels are worn, songs are sung, and monkeys are let loose on the terrified denizens of the bathhouse. I'm not even going to try to explain the last one. Suffice it to say, the show is a riot.

The acting is terrific, with particular praise going to Marty Thomas, Kristy Cates, Steven Strafford, and Jamaal Wilson. Thomas and Cates work together especially well; their scenes are a high point.

Holly-Anne Ruggiero's direction is outstanding, keeping the play moving at a hilarious gallop, and Music Director Alexander Rovang does a great job with Knox's songs. Holly Cruz's choreography is great as well.

On the down side, Amboyer, who uses a nasal French-Canadian accent for this play, is often hard to understand in his songs, especially in those with loud accompaniment (the song "1, 2, 3" is a prime example; his voice simply doesn't carry). Also, there is an unnecessary and overused story line about pedophile priests. This has been done to death in recent years, and undercuts some of Father Reverend's growth at the end of the play. It's good for a cheap laugh, but nothing more.

Knox proves himself an adept songwriter and lyricist, and while the book could be fleshed out more (probably not possible given the time constraints of the Fringe Festival), For the Love of Christ! is a fun, campy show.

For the Love of Christ!
Book, Music and Lyrics by Ben Knox
Directed by Holly-Anne Ruggiero
Scenic Designer: Michael P. Kramer
Lead Carpenter: Ashanti Coombs-Ziths
Costume Designer: Emily DeAngelis
Lighting Designer: Christian M. DeAngelis
Lighting Programmer: Chris Connolly
Sound Designer: Alex Hawthorn
Sound Engineer: Chip Barrow
Props Designer: Christopher Ford
Stage Manager: Paul Brewster
Stage Manager: Bryan Rountree
Production Assistants: Rachel Claire, Olivia Gemelli
Program: Eric Scwartz
Choreographer: Holly Cruz
Music Director: Alexander Rovang
Co-Line Producers: Noah Himmelstein and Joey Oliva

Featuring: Marty Thomas (Father Reverend), Eric Rubbe (Dante), Steven Strafford (Pauly), Ben Knox (Charlie), Kristy Cates (Angela), Eryn Murman (Mary), Jamaal Wilson (Mikey), Dan Amboyer (Jésus), Zachary Denison (Ensemble), Jason Michael Miller (Ensemble), Jay Reynolds, Jr. (Ensemble), A.J. Wilson (Ensemble), Kale Clauson (Dream Charlie)

The Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street

Sat 15 - 2:15 PM
Wed 19 - 10 PM
Fri 21 - 5 PM
Mon 24 - 3 PM
Fri 28 - 7 PM

Review - Forest Maiden (New York International Fringe Festival)

Review by Byrne Harrison

Forest Maiden should be a much better production than it is. Nina Morrison's play about the adventures of a Maiden (Sharla Meese) captured by a Knight (Brenda Crawley) who is forcing her to attend an annual Marriage Ball hosted by a gay Reality Show Host (Jamie Pizzorno) where the Prince may or may not choose a bride is quirky and whimsical, but also manages to provide thoughtful discussion on race, gender, and sexuality issues, and any number of other philosophical topics. Divorcing these issues from everyday life and putting them in a story that seems more suited to children's theatre (or mythology, since much of it takes place in the Underworld) only makes it that much more effective.

The main problem lies in Morrison's direction. She directs loosely, allowing the actors to set the pace of the piece. While these actors are good, left to their own devices this way, they have a tendency to insert too many pauses in their dialogue - not Pinteresque pauses that bubble with unspoken text, but pauses that interrupt the natural flow of the dialogue and sound like the actors are unsure of the next line, making the play seem longer than it is. This is most noticable when the main three actors (Crawley, Meese and Pizzorno) are conversing. It happens less when just two actors are interacting. It doesn't happen at all when Caroline Oster (playing Queen Mary May, the Prince's mother) is onstage. An actor with an amazing ability to be totally in the moment, her scenes with Crawley, Meese and Pizzorno are the most immediate and enjoyable of the play.

Meese is charming and funny in her role as the Maiden with the elf-dyke girlfriend. She has a fresh-faced charm that is undeniable. Crawley is good as the earthy, working-mother Knight. Pizzorno gets the most laughs of the evening as the Host of the Reality Show. Bitchier than Carson Kressley and Stacy London combined, he never strays into stereotype.

Rounding out the cast are Katherine Wessling and Melanie Girton Hewett as Scroll Turners 1 and 2, two puckish sprites who vex the other characters throughout the play. Their roles seem to consist almost entirely of improvisation and prop play (wax lips, candy cigarettes, and celery play a large part). While some of their improvisation is good, a little bit goes a long way, and a lot of it pulls focus from the other actors. It's worth noting that their improvisation ceased during Caroline Oster's monologue, and though they were still present in this scene, they allowed the focus to stay where it should. A little more of that, especially during expository scenes, would have been appreciated.

All that said, there are some excellent moments in Forest Maiden. Zöe Woodworth's video design for the animated/filmed sections of the play are terrific. Jimmy Helvin's costumes, especially Queen Mary May's gown, are outstanding, and assuming this production has the general financial issues that most festival/Off-Off Broadway productions have, he did amazing things on a shoestring budget. And speaking of Queen Mary May, Caroline Oster is making her NY debut in this production. I hope we will see her again.

Forest Maiden
Written and Directed by Nina Morrison
Art Direction and Video Design by Zöe Woodworth
Costume Designer: Jimmy Helvin
Lighting Designer: Paul Jones
Lyre Design & Construction: Nina Kyle
Lightboard Operator: Mark Hodgman
Fight Choreographer: Brian Morvant
Casting: Jamie Askew
Authorized Company Representative: Erin D. Coffey
Iowa Production Team: Carrol & George Woodworth

Featuring: Katherine Wessling (Scroll Turner 1), Melanie Girton Hewett (Scroll Turner 2), Brenda Crawley (Knight), Sharla Meese (Maiden), Jamie Pizzorno (Host of Reality Show), Caroline Oster (Queen Mary May)

HERE Arts Center - Mainstage Theater
145 6th Avenue

Sat 15 - 3 PM
Sun 16 - 6:30 PM
Wed 19 - 7:45 PM
Thu 20 - 4 PM
Sat 22 - 8:30 PM

Review - Flight (New York International Fringe Festival and No Hope Productions)

Review by Byrne Harrison

They say that confession is good for the soul. Clearly, they mean the soul of the person confessing. For the person who has to hear it, however, the confession could be a harrowing experience.

At first, Flight, Tim Aumiller's entry in this year's Fringe Festival, appears to be a harmless little play about two people thrown together by fate. Paula (Brandy Burre) is a woman who is reaching her breaking point. Two relationships tearing at her, stuck at O'Hare Airport due to bad weather, nowhere to sit, she is the epitome of stress. Hank (Todd Lawson) is the opposite. A country accent, comfortable clothes, and a charming smile that says butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, he promises good times and fun.

So naturally, this must be a romantic comedy, and the crowded airport provides the meet-cute where these two opposites can initially repel each another before realizing that they are perfect together, right? Not even close. For though on the surface, this looks like a friendly chat, the charming Hank slowly drops little hints of menace, usually laughing them off immediately. Constantly thrown off balance, Paula is unable to cope as Hank gets more and more intense, finally revealing something that Paula wishes she had never heard.

Both Burre and Lawson are fascinating to watch as their characters slowly morph - Paula from haughtiness and bluster to confusion and fear, Hank from "aw shucks" charm to burning malice. Aumiller's direction keeps the play moving at a good pace, slow enough to reel the audience in, but always interesting. He also manages to build the tension between the two characters naturally, with good ebb and flow. Though the ending of the play is a little ambiguous - I left wondering what happened next to the two characters - I'm sure this was Aumiller's intent. Sometimes nothing will be as satisfying as what the audience is left to imagine.

Written and Directed by Tim Aumiller
Resident Producer: James McNeel
Stage Manager: Audra Roberson
Casting: John Ort
Original Music: Scott Schneider
Costume Designer/Stylist: Deb Burton
Sound Design: Byron Estep
Graphic & Web Design: Robert Hébert/

Featuring: Brandy Burre (Paula) and Todd Lawson (Hank)

The Studio at Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street

Fri 14 - 7 PM
Tue 18 - 9:30 PM
Wed 19 - 10:30 PM
Thu 20 - 2 PM
Sat 22 - 6:15 PM
Thu 27 - 5:15 PM

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hey Fringers, Are You Man Enough?

By Byrne Harrison

Puppetry of the Penis has a special challenge for all the Fringe Festival shows. If you want to promote your Fringe show at tomorrow night's performance of Puppetry of the Penis at the Bleecker Street Theatre (45 Bleecker Street), they will give you the opportunity to hand out your postcards and flyers to their entire audience.

The catch - you have to join the boys onstage, get naked, and join them in one of their "dick tricks." They've invited the press, so who knows what kind of publicity you could get.

Here's how it works. Send them an e-mail ( with the name of the cast member or members who want to promote your show (for shows with all female casts, writers, producers and/or husbands and boyfriends are welcome to promote the show instead). On Tuesday the 25th, be at the theatre before the 7:00 PM curtain, find the person with the Fringe sign held high, and get on the list. When called, strip naked, do a dick trick with the boys, then hand out your postcards and flyers to the entire audience as they exit the theatre.

Starting and end times vary so if you can't make it by 7:00 PM let them know your schedule and they will try to work with you.

Will anyone take them up on this offer? Rumor has it one of the more recognizable names from Far Out: The New Sci-Fi Musical Comedy has already agreed to be there, but we'll see.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nearly Naked Neos Part Deux

Review by Byrne Harrison

They promised gratuitous semi-nudity, and by God, they delivered. The seven Neo-Futurists presenting this weekend's Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Half-Nekkid Plays in 60 Half-Nekkid Minutes (Cara Francis, Adam Smith, Ryan Good, Rob Neill, Joey Rizzolo, Jill Beckman, and Erica Livingston) strip off when the show starts (or before, as the case may be) and stay that way until the end, unless a particular play calls for them being dressed.

As always, the plays run the gamut - comic, dramatic, confessional, dance, musical, creepy, silly. You name it, it was there.

My personal favorites of the evening: 5. MTV Generation Redux: Smells Like Layering Experiment; 7. waste not, want not; 10. Dueling Clichés; 17. Aluminum Foil (Choose Your Weapon); and 30. Hokey Pokey in Hell. There was a heavy dose of audience participation in this week's plays, more so than in weeks past, so go ready to be part of the show.

The surprise of the evening was how many audience members took advantage of the "strip to your underwear, get $10 off the ticket" deal. While a few tried to put their clothes back on surreptitiously in the theatre, most stayed in the skivvies the whole night.

Despite the weather, the show sold out (pizza for everyone!). Tonight's show promises to be even more popular due to last night's word of mouth, so if you want to see it, get your tickets online now, or get to the show early.

Finally, a word of advice. Beware of flying cheese. And no, I'm not going to explain that.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Review - Viral (New York International Fringe Festival and Gideon Productions)

Review by Byrne Harrison

Colin (Kent Meister) has a vision. He wants to create a work of art, something truly beautiful that can only be appreciated by people with his particular view of life and death. All he needs is someone like Meredith (Amy Lynn Stewart), a beautiful woman who is planning to kill herself.

Colin, along with his girlfriend Geena (Rebecca Comtois) and her brother Jarvis (Matthew Trumbull), has a particular fetish - he gets aroused by watching someone die. Not a violent or messy death like one would find in a snuff film, but that gentle transition from life to death - the relaxing of the facial muscles, a sigh, a chest that rises and falls, never to rise again. For this odd trio, nothing can be more erotic.

To feed their fetish, and in hopes of creating a film that will sell well enough to support them, they create a website that hints that they run a group that facilitates suicide. Meredith finds them while searching for "painless suicide," and starts chatting with Geena, who monitors the site.

She agrees to meet the trio and is offered a trade - they will provide her what she needs for a quick and painless death, if she will let them choreograph and film it.

Roger's dark comedy is eye-opening and thought-provoking. The most amazing thing about the production is all the laughter it provokes. Granted, there are some truly humorous lines and situations (most of which center around Trumbull's Jarvis). But so much of the laughter seems ripped from your throat by the shock of what has happened onstage. It's less a reaction to humor than a defense mechanism. That it can provoke that sort of reaction in an audience speaks very well of Rogers' abilities as a playwright and of the overall production values of this piece.

The acting is excellent, with particular praise going to the haunting Amy Lynn Stewart as Meredith, who seems fragile and deeply, deeply sad, but has a vein of iron running through her. This comes out in her almost protective treatment of Geena, who is more often than not treated badly by Colin. As Geena, Rebecca Comtois has an almost child-like quality, and a persistant need to please everyone around her. Comtois shines in this role. Meister does an excellent job as the obsessed Colin, and Trumbull gives depth to a character who in a lesser actor's hands could have been nothing more than comic relief. Jonathan Pereira, as the film distributor Snow, oozes violation and creepiness. An outstanding cast all around.

Jordana Williams' direction is taut and effective. From its opening moments, Viral pulls the audience in and doesn't let go. It is an immediate and fascinating production.

Having now seen several of Mac Rogers' plays, I think he is destined for great things. Catch this show if you want to be able to say you knew him when.

Written by Mac Rogers
Directed by Jordana Williams
Stage Manager/Sound Design: Dana Rossi
Set Design: Sandy Yaklin
Lighting Design: Dan Gallagher
Lead Producer/ACR: Sean Williams
Photographer/Publicity Design: Deborah Alexander Photography
Videographer - Viral Trailer: Brandon Cuicchi
Board Operator: Lex Friedman
Social Marketing Consultants: Tammy Oler & Ehren Gresehover
Web Designer: Pete Boisvert

Featuring: Rebecca Comtois (Geena), Amy Lynn Stewart (Meredith), Matthew Trumbull (Jarvis), Kent Meister (Colin), Jonathan Pereira (Snow)

The SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street

August 15th at 7:30 PM
August 16th at 6 PM
August 19th at 3 PM
August 23rd at 10 PM
August 26th at 9:45 PM

Visit FringeNYC for more information.

Review - Maddy: A Modern Day Medea and The Swan Song (Redd Tale Theatre Company)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photos courtesy of

Medea in a trailer park. Among certain theatre-going crowds, this phrase alone would elicit a negative reaction akin to saying Romeo and Juliet in space or a musical comedy version of Oedipus. And yet, playwright Will Le Vasseur's one-act Maddy: A Modern Day Medea is so much more than that dismissive phrase implies.

Le Vasseur has stayed remarkably true to the original. Maddy (Lynn Kenny) is an outsider, brought to this Southern trailer park by her love for Billy-Jay (Blaine Pennington). For seven years they've lived together, raising children and having a good, though poor life. But Billy-Jay wants better for his children (and himself). He leaves Maddy to marry the porcine daughter of a wealthy businessman, Cleetus (Ben Strothmann). He promises to care for Maddy, but he wants the kids to live with him.

Stripped of her husband, children, and thanks to Cleetus' interference, her home, Maddy has no idea what to do next. But this is only part of her problem. Where Medea was a sorceress, Maddy is something even more supernatural. To explain more would give away too much of Le Vasseur's clever plot. Suffice it to say, she is a force to be reckoned with. The play ends, as the original does, with the death of the new bride and the children. But the reason for the deaths of these characters (and a lot of other people) is different. While Maddy's crime is great, it is no longer as vindictive as Medea's, and this adds an interesting new twist to the classic tale. Billy-Jay lives, but he learns that there are some forces of nature not to be toyed with.

Le Vasseur wears many hats in this production. In addition to writing and directing, he designed the set. Maddy's trailer is spot on (even given the budget constraints that most Off-Off Broadway companies face), from the sad looking patio to the planter made from an old toilet. The production makes good use of sound and effects. Taped dialogue between Flo (Heather Shields), Maddy's only friend in the park, and Edna (Rainbow Dickerson), the local busybody, is used to advance the plot, to show how looked down upon Maddy is, and give a sense of the claustrophobic nature of this park. Everyone can hear everyone else, and privacy is a luxury few have. Another clever element of the show is the use of fans that blow on the audience during a particularly bad storm. This small touch helps incorporate the audience into the show, and, along with a taped newscast, covers a scene change.

Lynn Kenny shines as the other-worldly Maddy. At first stilted delivery is disconcerting, but as we learn more about Maddy's background, it makes perfect sense for her character. Heather Shields shines as the earthy and sympathetic Flo. Blaine Pennington does a good job as the handsome and charming Billy-Jay. It's easy to see why Maddy would fall for him, but just as easy to see why he would leave. Ben Strothmann does well as the father of Billy-Jay's new bride. And as the mysterious Alan, about whom little can be said without giving away some interesting plot twists, James Stewart acquits himself well, though given the character's sangfroid, a little more vocal range could add a bit of interest to what is, by necessity, a rather cold delivery.

The second play of the evening is a short one-act by Anton Chekhov, The Swan Song. Vasili (Will Le Vasseur), an aging clown, awakens from a drunken stupor to find himself locked in his dark, empty theatre. The darkness turns his gaze inward as he examines lost time, lost loves, and lost opportunities. With Nikita (Ben Strothmann), the company's prompter, watching and helping him, he attempts to regain some of the fire and talent of his youth. The play is wonderfully acted by both Strothmann and Le Vasseur. Le Vasseur in particular excels playing a character who is easily more than double his age, no small feat from an actor still in his 20s.

This short play, written rather surprisingly in Chekhov's youth (he was about Le Vasseur's age when he wrote it), is a marvellous find.

Though different in theme and style, Maddy: A Modern Day Medea and The Swan Song make for an entertaining evening of theatre.

Maddy: A Modern Day Medea
Written and directed by Will Le Vasseur
Adapted from Euripedes' Medea

Featuring: Lynn Kenny (Maddy), Blaine Pennington (Billy-Jay), Heather Shields (Flo), James Stewart (Alan), Ben Strothmann (Cleetus), Rainbow Dickerson (Edna), Will Le Vasseur (Newscaster)

The Swan Song
Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Lynn Kenny

Featuring: Will Le Vasseur (Vasili Svietlovidoff), Ben Strothmann (Nikita Ivanitch)

Set Design: Will Le Vasseur
Stage Manager: Danny Morales
Poster Design: Graeme Offord
Sound Design & Recording: Matthew Pritchard
Production Photos & Website Design: Ben Strothmann
Set materials donated by Rebuilders Source
Artistic Director: Will Le Vasseur
Co-Artistic Director: James Stewart

Nicu's Spoon Theater
38 W. 38th Street, 5th Floor

Thursday-Saturday at 8 PM
Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM
Through August 29th

For information, visit the Redd Tale Theatre Company website.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fringe Q&A With Kristyn Pomranz and Katherine Steinberg of I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!

By Byrne Harrison

Name: Kristyn Pomranz & Katherine Steinberg
Show: I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!

How did you first get involved in theatre?
Pomranz: My first performance was in The Three Forgotten Words, which taught my elementary school peers how to use the card catalog and Dewey Decimal system. I played "The." Ahh, pre-internets.

Steinberg: My first shot at the page for the stage is in this festival. I saw a lot of theater with my mom and grandmother, who are avid fans.

Who are your biggest influences?
P: Creatively, Kate Steinberg and The Internets. Theatrically, I wouldn't say he's an influence, but I do love Jason Robert Brown.

S: Creatively, Kristyn (obvs!) because every time we speak we come up with a million new ideas. Literally. I also admire and aspire to be more like "Robot Chicken," "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," "Arrested Development" and "30 Rock." If I can ever write something as witty as "City of Angels" I will die happy.

What is your show about?
P: Well, the obvious answer is "a cat who wants a cheezburger." But really, our show is about making people laugh. This is not high art. It is 78 minutes of silly song and dance, coupled with the Lolcats meme. All it requires is a suspension of disbelief and a willingness to not take it seriously.

S: A cat pursuing his cheezburger! It's really about having good time, getting in a few LOLs and chasing a dream. We billed it as a fun, musical romp through the site and I think that's what it is.

What inspired you to write it?
P: I sang a song about a Lolcat and Kate was all, "Genius, let's make this a musical." Honestly, it was a lark, so it's truly amazing that it's come this far.

S: I knew that Kristyn and I wanted to write something together and when I heard this idea, my heart leaped for joy.

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?
P: We've known Mike Gillespie (our arranger and musical collaborator) since the beginning of the year, and we found our director, Karina Bennett (co-founder of Magic Bullet Media), through Mandy a few months ago. Magically, we all just gelled. While it hasn't been long, we've grown into a very solid, collaborative, and
fun-loving team and we want nothing more than to work with them in the future.

S: Mike Gillespie has very closely collaborated with us on music. He's arranged and composed for us and is now an indispensable member of our team. Our director, Karina Bennett we met through an ad on Mandy (like Kristyn says above) and even though she was the first person we met, we clicked immediately. She's brought so much to this musical and has made it so much stronger than I could have imagined. Our Choreographer, Erin Stutland, I met in a class at the PIT and she's quite multi-talented -- a dancer, writer and actress with great comic timing. Lastly, Caroline O'Connor, our stage manager and assistant director has been an organization pillar. I would work with them all again in a heartbeat. It's been a great, supportive group.

Fringe shows are notorious for their short rehearsal schedule. How has the rehearsal process been?
P: Surprisingly painless. The show is short and we don't really have a set, so it was all song, dance, and scene work. Our cast was extremely dedicated and really delved into the minds of their macros -- everyone involved takes the show very seriously, which, honestly, makes it funnier.

S: Fun, hectic, hilarious. I think we picked an amazing cast who made the process really easy and smooth.

What's next for you after Fringe?
P: Grad school (in a program that involves neither musicals nor Lolcats), but I plan to also work on a new show with Kate and Mike. We can't disclose what it's about, but we can reveal this much: it won't be based on an Internet meme. Our next show won't have such a hard expiration date (although it is yet again about food).

S: Working with Mike and Kristyn on our new musical, writing an original TV pilot with my friend Heidi and also keeping up with the blog that Heidi, Kristyn and I run: Rob Pattinson Loves Me. We like to keep busy :)

And finally, if a genie were to grant you one wish, what would you wish for?
Pomranz: A cheeseburger lunch with Ben Huh.

Steinberg: I would say dinner -- Ben Huh, Burgers, Pomz and cloth napkins. (oooh, keeping it classy).

I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!
Sauce and Co.
Written by Kristyn Pomranz and Katherine Steinberg
Additional Music by Mike Gillespie
Director: Karina Bennett

The Cherry Lane Theatre
Fri 14 - 9:30 PM
Sat 15 - 12 PM
Tue 18 - 6:15 PM
Wed 26 - 9:15 PM
Fri 28 - 4:45 PM

Review – Jack and the Soy Beanstalk (New York International Fringe Festival, Wide Eyed Productions)

Review by Erin Winebark
Photos by Matt Bresler

Once upon a time, in a land not that far away, a young man named Jack was charged with selling “Old Smoky,” the family pickup truck, in order to get some money, because the cost of a gas was “a hundred gabillion dollars” a gallon. He tried to sell it to a big corporate farm, but it turned out that they already had a clunker truck to fit their every need. Luckily the next farm he went to was a small organic farm, and the kindly farmer traded Jack’s truck for seventeen magical soybeans. Not realizing how truly magical the soybeans were, Jack flushed them down the toilet, and awoke to find a magical soy beanstalk growing out of the bowl. Naturally, he climbed up the beanstalk and met Mrs. Big, Mr. Big (who had a giant job), and his golden iHarp, but when Mr. Big tried to turn Jack into his favorite food, “canned servant,” he quickly climbed back down the beanstalk and chopped it down with a conveniently-located axe.

Such is the stuff of Jack and the Soy Beanstalk, a modern-day adaptation of the classic children’s tale. Jerrod Bogard (Book, Lyrics, Direction, Set, and Puppets) is just a tad too artistically brilliant for my tastes. His clear abundance of creativity, talent, and fantastic humor makes the rest of us look like we’re not really trying. Throughout the whole show, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that the same person wrote the book/lyrics, directed, AND came up with the terrifically simple-yet-creative set, complete with shadow puppets.

Similar sentiments come to mind in regards to Sky Seals, the Composer/Guitarist/Actor/Musical Director. The absolutely delightful music goes far beyond traditional kid’s fare, incorporating many styles from melodramatic show-tunes to rap. I truly admire people who can “do it all,” with regards to the theater, and the pair of Bogard/Seals certainly fit the bill. I’m not sure which one came up with the vocal sound effects to accompany the shadow puppets, but they are one of the most original ideas I’ve ever seen (or heard).

The cast bursts with energy and amazing voices. While no member was weak, Laura Hall’s (Momma) performance stands out, as does Jake Paque (Golden i-Harp), whose white-guy rapping made me laugh uncontrollably' and his costume, designed by Sabrina Khan, made it that much better. Even the dancing was great, thanks to Nam Holtz’s choreography, and one of the funniest moments was an homage to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” music video.

What makes this kid’s show unique is that it was wonderfully entertaining for both the kids and the adults who came with them. Having seen children’s shows as an adult in the past, I came into it expecting very little (how enjoyable can a children’s musical be, after all?), and came out wildly impressed. And even more than the entertainment factor, it’s message of environmental awareness is one that we can all appreciate. As Momma says, “Imagination is a renewable resource,” and this show’s got plenty to spare.

Jack and the Soy Beanstalk
Book and Lyrics by Jerrod Bogard
Music by Sky Seals
Directed by Jerrod Bogard
Stage Manager: Matt Bresler
Musical Direction by Sky Seals
Musical Arrangements, Additional Composition & Assistant Music Director: Emily Fellner
Choreography by Nam Holtz
Scene Painting by Jen Mcabee
i-Harp and Goose design by Sabrina Kahn
Set and Puppets by Jerrod Bogard

Featuring: Carlos Avilas (Jack), Laura Hall (Momma), Brianne Mai (Mrs. Big), Okieriete Onaodowan (The Guard/Mr. Big), Jake Paque (Golden i-Harp), Sky Seals (the Minstrel/Farmer)

Dixon Place
161 Chrystie Street
Saturday, August 15 at 12 PM
Sunday, August 16 at 4:15 PM
Tuesday, August 18 at 5:30 PM
Wednesday, August 19 at 7:15 PM
Friday, August 21 at 7:30 PM

Visit FringeNYC for more information.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review – I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! (New York International Fringe Festival and Sauce and Co.)

Review by Erin Winebark


If the above paragraph doesn’t make sense to you, then you might be a bit confused by I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! now playing at the Cherry Lane Theater as part of FringeNYC 2009. If, however, you are a gigantic nerd like me (and most of the audience, it seemed), you should run to get tickets--and I do mean run, because a large crowd of latecomers were turned away at the door. That said, even those unfamiliar with lolspeak can enjoy the campy entertainment Cheezburger provides, and with a handy gLOLssary included in the program, n00bs will quickly learn the difference between Ceiling Cat and Basement Cat.

Full of non-sequitors, the show itself feels a bit like an episode of "Family Guy." The only scenery is a white drop onto which images are projected. These images consist of well-timed lolcats straight from the website or scenic visuals to suggest setting. The book, written by Kristyn Pomranz and Katherine Steinberg, is exceptionally witty, laden with pop-culture references and jokes which irreverently parody modern musical theater. The simple orchestrations, also by Pomranz and Steinberg, allow the talented voices of the cast and the hilarious lyrics to shine. A few memorable tunes include "Someone to Eat Cheese With," "Bucket of Love," "Ur Doin’ It Wrong" and "Tasty Taste of Love." Karina Bennett’s direction is presentational, with moments of audience interaction and plenty of sight gags (if you’re simply listening, you’ll miss a lot of the humor). She brings the best out of the cast and fully uses the space to create interesting focal points despite the lack of set. Though the entire ensemble is strong, Carter (as Mr. Wrong) and Bryan Welnicki (Drop) give especially entertaining performances, and Welnicki, in particular is a scene-stealer, waiting for “the cheese to drop.” Erin Strutland’s choreography is the stuff of stereotypical high school musicals (and thus, perfect for this show’s humor); jazz hands, grapevines, and box steps abound.

All said and done, I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! is incredibly entertaining, and has real potential to be a stand-alone off-Broadway musical (with a few tweaks and reworks, of course). The final musical number and accompanying photo montage had me literally laughing out loud…er, LOL-ing…and by the end, I had to wipe tears of laughter from my face. DIS HOOMAN THINKZ DAT Cheezburger IS FTW!!! KTHXBAI.

I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!
Book, Music and Lyrics by Kristyn Pomranz and Katherine Steinberg
Directed by Karina Bennett
Additional Music by Mike Gillespie
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Caroline O’Connor
Choreography by Erin Strutland
Produced by Kristyn Pomranz and Katherine Steinberg
Costume Design by Matthew Wilson and Cathy Carrey-Aquino
Lighting Design by Paul Sawyier

Featuring: Seth Grugle (Lolcat), Vincent DiGeronimo (Lolrus), Clint Carter (Mr. Wrong), Carly Zein (Jodie), Lauren Kampf (Sumz), Danielle Ryan (Epic Win), Melissa Bayern (Epic Fail), Bryan Welnicki (Drop), and Liana Jessop (Orly Owl)

Cherry Lane Theater
38 Commerce St.
Friday, August 14 at 9:30 PM
Saturday, August 15 at 12:00 PM
Tuesday, August 18 at 6:15 PM
Wednesday, August 26 at 9:15 PM
Friday, August 28 at 4:45 PM

Visit FringeNYC for more information.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review - The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side (The Amoralists and Performance Space 122)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photo by Larry Cobra

"I really care about these characters. I hope you really care about them too." - Derek Ahonen

The thing that strikes me, several days after having seen The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side, is that I do still care about the characters that Derek Ahonen has created and that The Amoralists have brought to life at P.S. 122. This small tribe of outsiders - Wyatt (Mathew Pilieci), full of bluster and simmering anger, but crippled by a fear of death; Dear (Sarah Lemp), the pro bono attorney turned vegan entrepreneur and mother-figure; Billy (James Kautz), the drug-addicted editor of a revolutionary newspaper, who is too scared to join the revolution when it happens; and Dawn (Mandy Nicole Moore), the fragile runaway - live together in a spacious apartment on the Lower East Side, above their vegan restaurant (the titular Pied Piper). Free love, anti-establishment prose, and meatless meals abound. It is, at least to Wyatt, Billy, Dear and Dawn, utopia.

Their peace is jeopardized when Billy finds out his younger brother, Evan (Nick Lawson), is coming for a visit. All frat boy bravado and condescension, it seems that his arrival, and Dawn's subsequent interest in him, will be what threatens to tear this unusual family apart. But that is just one of Ahonen's red herrings. The real threat comes with a visit from Donovan, their landlord and benefactor (played with a smarmy intensity by Charles Meola). He arrives bearing gifts . . . never a good sign.

The acting in The Pied Pipers is outstanding, though Kautz has a tendency to go into a Shanter-as-Kirk cadence when his character gets serious. This can be forgiven in that, even at its choppiest, Kautz is fully committed to his role, and unlike Shatner, he never appears to be "acting"; he is simply being Billy. The same is true of the rest of the actors. Despite the nearly three-hour run time, there is rarely a false note, and the time flies by. These actors clearly know their characters so well that you will likely forget that you are watching actors on a stage; at times, it feels more like being a guest in their living room.

Set designer Alfred Schatz does an amazing job of creating a home for this unusual foursome. His design features so many little details - graffiti, posters, masks - the flotsam and jetsam of four unusual lives, all of which give subtle depth to the characters and create a truly lived-in home.

Ahonen's excellent ear for dialogue, his realistic script, and the phenomenal work on the part of the actors make this a production not to be missed.

The play features nudity . . . very shocking, but wildly amusing nudity, so no one under 17 will be admitted.

The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side has once again been extended (through Sunday, August 23rd). Perhaps it will be again, but just in case, you should see as soon as you can.

The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side
Written by Derek Ahonen
Directed by Derek Ahonen
Produced by Meghan Ritchie
The Pipers Crew Spiritual Advisor: Larry Cobra
Stage Manager: Judy Merrick
Assistant Director: Matthew Fraley
Lighting Designer: Jeremy Pape
Sound Engineer: Bart Lucas
Set Designer: Alfred Schatz
Costume Designer: Ricky Lang

Featuring: Mathew Pilieci (Wyatt), James Kautz (Billy), Mandy Nicole Moore (Dawn), Sarah Lemp (Dear), Nick Lawson (Evan), Charles Meola (Donovan)

P.S. 122
150 1st Avenue (at East 9th Street)

Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday at 7:30 PM
Sunday at 5:30 PM
Extended through August 23rd

Nearly Naked Neos

By Byrne Harrison

Billing the event as 30 Half-Nekkid Plays in 60 Half-Nekkid Minutes, the New York Neo-Futurists, the collective of wildly productive performers who create art that fuses sport, poetry, and personal experience, will be performing their popular Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind with slightly more skin than normal. Let's face it, it's hot. It's humid. And even in an air-conditioned theatre like the Kraine, it can be a bit too much. So who can blame the Neos for letting it all hang out? And if the audience wants to join in, why not?

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Half-Nekkid Plays in 60 Half-Nekkid Minutes will be performed on August 21st and 22nd at 10:30 p.m. at the Kraine Theater (85 E. 4thSt., btw. 2nd & Bowery). As an added bonus (or perhaps a really good dare that they think no audience member will take them up on), the Neos are offering a $10 discount (off a ticket normally priced from $11-16) to anyone who shows up at the show in only their underwear. Given the crowd that normally attends TMLMTBGB, this could be a really good weekend to see the show.

TMLMTBGB often plays to sold-out houses. Make your plans early.

Review - The Boys Upstairs (New York International Fringe Festival and Justin Allen Pifer, in association with The Present Company)

Review by Bryan Stryker
Photo by Samantha Souza

"Sex, dating, friendship, and all the blurry lines in between."

You have to love when plays can be summed up in ten words or less. It's even better when it's true and when the production is well-done. Jason Mitchell's world premiere of The Boys Upstairs presented as part of the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival is both true and well-done.

Welcome to the world of Seth, Josh, and Ashley - three friends who have definitely gone through the roller coaster ride of life together. Seth (Joel T. Bauer) and Josh (Nic Cory) reside together in a stylish Hell's Kitchen apartment. Their friend, Ashley (Kristen-Alexander Griffith) and his many one-night stands (all played by David A. Rudd) are frequent overnight guests. Throw in the sexually ambiguous, but nonetheless incredibly hot new neighbor downstairs, Eric (Josh Segarra), and the new "Boys in the Band" morphs into "Friends" to "Sex in the City" and back again.

In eleven tightly-crafted, well-written scenes, we are allowed into these characters lives. Josh is a budding writer for the Village Voice who longs to be a gay Carrie Bradshaw. Seth is entering the "serious" stage of his relationship with his new boyfriend Matt. Ashley is returning from Paris to reunite with his two best friends . . . and every man he has yet to bed in the Big Apple.

Nic Cory gives a great performance as the neurotic, high strung, intense Josh. Joel T. Bauer's Seth is definitely the boy next door type, one that's not easily flustered, though that may due to his pot smoking. Cory and Bauer play off of each other very well, and Josh and Seth's friendship is very believable as a result. One slight criticism is that Josh, although only an intern at the Village Voice, appears too old to hold such a position, even if we do learn within the course of the show that he is a trust fund baby.

Josh Segarra's Eric is portrayed as the ripped muscle guy you're more likely to find working out on the bench press and drinking beer at the sports bar, than dancing on the bar at Splash. The ambiguity that Segarra infuses in Eric makes the characters (and, of course, the audience) wonder "is he, or isn't he?". You'll have to watch the show to find out.

The scene stealers of The Boys Upstairs are David A. Rudd with his multiple personas and Kristen-Alexzander Griffith as Ashley. They take full advantage of their stage time and make each moment shine. Rudd has the more difficult task of making each of his six characters unique and distinguishable - a New Jersey "guido" type, the doting boyfriend of Seth, a leather daddy from the Eagle, an aspiring chorus boy, and more. As he's paired with Griffith in several scenes, their chemistry must be solid through the various incarnations that Rudd must portray. And, thankfully, it is.

Any moment Griffith is on the stage assures a laugh. From his dramatic entrance, to the random sexual situations he wakes up to in the morning, he makes the most of his time on stage. Even when a stray fly threatened to interrupt his performance, he stayed fully in character as he swatted it away. Ashley has a way of taking any other character's moment away from them, and bringing the attention full circle back to him - Griffith stays absolutely true to Ashley's self-absorbed nature.

Jason Mitchell has crafted a fine script that is very tight with very little fat. The characters are well developed and not cookie cutter representations of the LGBT community. The script requires an intense amount of pacing and timing that can only be successful with a good director and cast. Thankfully, he has both. Some scenes would not achieve the laughs they received if it weren't for the solid direction from Matthew Corozine. The only production criticism is that a few light cues were missed in this performance leaving Nic Cory to delivery his transition scene monologue on Justin Couchara's well-appointed, but dimly lit stage.

The Boys Upstairs is definitely one of the highlights of this year's festival and should not be missed.

The Boys Upstairs
Written by Jason Mitchell
Directed by Matthew Corozine
Lighting/Sound Designer: Nick Gonsman
Scenic/Costume Designer: Justin Couchara

Featuring: Nic Cory (Josh), Joel T. Bauer (Seth), Josh Segarra (Eric), Kristen-Alexander Griffith (Ashley), David A. Rudd (All their boyfriends, dates, & tricks)

SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street
Saturday, August 15 at 2:30 PM
Sunday, August 16 at 12:30 PM
Tuesday, August 18 at 7 PM
Thursday August 27 at 5 PM
Friday, August 28 at 7 PM