Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review - To Whom It May Concern (The Entertainment Agora)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photos by Sanford Kaplan

No one is quite who he appears to be in Aurin Squire's Internet romance, To Whom It May Concern. Lillian, a sexy 17 year old cheerleader, is really just Lorenzo (Israel Gutierrez), a shy, gay 15-year-old living in the middle of Kansas. Maurice Creely (Matt Alford), a Marine lionized in the media for saving an Afghani mother and her small child after an ambush, is just a scared kid who was saved from doing something horrible by being in the right place at the right time. The one thing they share is a crushing loneliness.

When Lorenzo reads about the heroic young Marine, he recognizes, or possibly just hopes he sees, in Maurice a kindred spirit. In the fit of boyish crush, Lorenzo writes a gushing fan letter to Maurice and sends him some homemade cookies. Not quite ready to risk humiliation, he signs the letter L.L. Maurice is touched by the gift and the attention, and assuming that L.L. is a girl, he writes back. This begins a romance between Lillian, Lorenzo's alter-ego, and Maurice. As the letters turn to e-mails, and the e-mails to instant messaging, Maurice begins to fall in love with his mysterious dream girl. He falls so hard that he takes two weeks' leave and travels to Abilene, Kansas to surprise Lillian by sneaking naked into her bed in the middle of the night.

Needless to say, both Lorenzo and Maurice are in for a surprise.

It is at this point, when the two characters come face to face, that the play requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief. Lorenzo pretends to be Lillian's brother in order to keep Maurice in his room, but Maurice puts two and two together and realizes that he's been had. After the obligatory threats of violence and near discovery by Lorenzo's parents, the two begin talking about themselves. Lorenzo tells of abuse at the hands of his homophobic father. Maurice talks about the infamous newspaper story. In fits and starts, a friendship of sorts replaces the fantasy of the online relationship. From the audience's standpoint however, this new relationship is the one that feels artificial. It allows playwright Aurin Squire a chance to tackle some weighty subjects - homophobia, the war, loneliness, being who others want to you be, but it just never rings quite true.

Both Matt Alford and Israel Gutierrez do well in their roles, more so during their online romance. Alford's Maurice is equal parts horndog and romantic, with an extra helping of boyish charm. Gutierrez is good as the shy and bullied Lorenzo, especially as he begins to blossom during the unaccustomed freedom given to him by his alter-ego. During his bedroom scenes with Maurice, however, Lorenzo seems too mature and knowing for a 15-year-old boy. While some of this may be how the character is written and certainly is due to his dialogue, Gutierrez and director David Gaard could have done more to mitigate it.

Gaard does good work during the epistolary sections of the play, allowing a realistic ebb and flow to the scenes. Hemmed in by the necessity of having both characters writing on their computers, he nonetheless allows Gutierrez opportunites to act like a rambunctious teenager. It would have been nice to see more freedom of motion from Maurice. The later face-to-face scenes have a tentativeness to them that is at odds with the script. Anger, whether the anger of being made a fool of or the anger at being handed a life that seems completely unfair, can't be tentative and still be effective.

Although it has its faults, To Whom It May Concern is a thoughtful and thought-provoking play.

To Whom It May Concern
Written by Aurin Squire
Directed by David Gaard
Setting by Bruce Eyster
Lighting by Erich Loetterle
Costumes by Michele Reisch
Military Advisor for Costumes: CWO-2 (Gunner) Michael Clark
Stage Manager: Pamela Gittlitz
Production Stage Manager: Pamela Gittlitz
Assistant Stage Managers: Carmelo Ferro, Nicholas Reilly
Press Relations: Scotti Rhodes
Marketing and Promotion: Hugh Hysell, HHC Communications
Staff Photographer: Sanford Kaplan
Graphics Director: Bruce Eyster
Technical Director: Erich Loetterle
Production Assistants: Danny Birks, Elias Serrano
House Manager: Anthony McMullen

Featuring: Matt Alford (Maurice A. Creely), Israel Gutierrez (Lorenzo Lafarhoff), Carmelo Ferro (u/s Maurice), Nicholas Reilly (u/s Lorenzo)

Arclight Theatre
152 W. 71st Street

For tickets call 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111

Wednesday-Saturday 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
March 25 - April 12

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review - Miss Evers' Boys (Red Fern Theatre Company)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photos by Nathan Johnson

In 1932, the US Government came to Tuskeegee with a promise of free medical attention for nearly four hundred African American sharecroppers who suffered from "bad blood." These men were unknowingly part of the Tuskeegee Study of Untreated Syphillis in the Negro Male, an attempt to understand the progression of the disease. For the forty years that the study was active, and despite the commonplace use of penicillin to treat syphillis in the late 1940s, these men went untreated, until a leak brought the story to national attention in the 1970s.

This shameful chapter of American history is the basis for David Feldshuh's Miss Evers' Boys. The Miss Evers of the title is Eunice Evers (Nedra McClyde), an African American nurse who comes to Tuskeegee with the good news that Uncle Sam is willing to pay for medical care of anyone who is willing to be part of a study on the treatment of "bad blood." Because she is not an outsider and is passionate about her mission to help, men who would normally not trust the government agree to be tested for the study. Among those are a group of song-and-dance men, Caleb Humphries (Garrett Lee Hendricks), Willie Johnson (Jason Donnell Bush), Hodman Bryan (Marty Austin Lamar), and Ben Washington (David Pendleton). Charmed by Miss Evers, whom they come to see as a good luck charm, the group christen themselves Miss Evers' Boys, and win several of their song-and-dance competitions.

Nurse Evers truly believes in what she is doing, and under the seemingly benign auspices of Drs. Douglas (Alex C. Ferrill) and Brodus (Evander Duck), she gives the men the best treatment available at that time, mercury rub and injections of arsenic. And the men do get better, helping to cement Nurse Evers' image as savior. But Douglas and Brodus have other plans. They want to mimic an earlier study, the Oslo Experiments, to see what the effects of the disease would be if left untreated. They order Nurse Evers to begin providing placebos.

Despite her misgivings, Nurse Evers agrees and takes the first step down a very slippery slope that leads to betrayal and death.

The cast of Miss Evers' Boys is outstanding. McClyde is particularly noteworthy as Nurse Evers. Watching as she makes compromise after compromise, until, in an extremely moving scene with Pendleton as the dying Ben Washington, she finally realizes just how far she's gone, is a highlight of the play. Bush, Hendricks, Lamar, and Pendleton do an exceptional job as Miss Evers' Boys. Not only are they remarkable actors, but they are pretty good musicians as well. Bush does a terrific job in the athletically challenging role of Willie Johnson, the dancer of the group. He captures Willie's wonder at the future that is laid out at his feet, and the anger over the crushed dreams that he is evetually left with. Hendricks is particuarly strong as the passionate Caleb Humphries, the one man who is able to save himself. His scenes with McClyde are very moving, as the two have wonderful chemistry. Rounding out the cast are Duck and Ferrill as the doctors running the experiment. No cartoon villians, these are men who truly believe that what they are doing will benefit mankind as a whole. Duck and Ferrill both create well-balanced characters, who have made peace with the ethical gray area they have chosen to inhabit.

Director Melanie Moyer Williams has made the most of Feldshuh's script, her talented cast, and the tiny space at the Shell Theater. Scenic designer Adrienne Kapalko takes a less-is-more approach to the scenery, and the results are very effective. Another nice touch is the live music provided by pianist Laura Anderson.

Miss Evers' Boys is a powerful play about a terrible event. Like the best art, it both teaches and entertains. The Red Fern Theatre Company has done a marvellous job with this production.

Miss Evers' Boys
Written by David Feldshuh
Directed by Melanie Moyer Williams
Choreographer: Michael Blevins
Muscial Director - Stephen Anthony Elkins
Scenic Designer - Adrienne Kapalko
Ryan Metzler – Lighting Design
Costume Design - Ryan J. Moller
Composer - Kristen Lee Rosenfeld
Pianist - Laura Anderson
Stage Manager - Laura Luciano
Assistant Director - Caroline von Kuhn
Image Artist - Ashley Yaraghi

Featuring: Jason Donnell Bush (Willie Johnson), Evander Duck (Dr.Eugene Brodus), Alex C. Ferrill (Dr. John Douglas), Garrett Lee Hendricks (Caleb Humphries), Marty Austin Lamar (Hodman Bryan), Nedra McClyde (Eunice Evers), David Pendleton (Ben Washington)

The Shell Theater
300 W. 43rd Street, 4th Floor

March 19-April 5

For tickets call 212-352-3101.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review - Who Am I (Cuchipinoy)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photo by Rodney E. Reyes

What would happen if you could meet your creator? Would it be God, or a parent you never knew? Or perhaps you'd rather meet your creation. Who or what would that person be?

In Rodney E. Reyes' Who Am I, there are several different pairings, all of which seem to be independent stories. God (Okieriete Onadowan) comes to Earth to meet one of his creations, a flawed drug addict (Patrick Annelli) who has a higher purpose. A young woman (Ginny Moore) meets the mother (Dian Mills) who disappeared when she was just a girl. A cartoonist (Brendan Naranjo) meets the character he created (Rachel Skrod), then was forced to abandon. And a young gay man (Rodney E. Reyes) meets the part of himself he fears most (Anna Payumo). The individual scenes are woven together in a way that generally works, especially in the end when the ties that bind each story to the rest are revealed. However, it is easy to tell that Reyes has an affinity toward particular stories - that of the cartoonist and his creation, and the gay man meeting his feminine self. He focuses much of his time and emotional effort on them. The story of God and the drug addict is used to unify the play and receives particular attention because of that, but the mother/daughter story, while necessary to the resolution of the play, never seems to be as fleshed out as the others.

Reyes and co-director Mario Corrales do an adequate job, though the play drags, and ultimately feels longer than it's relatively short running time. A little tightening would help immensely. Corrales' set, which is divided into four small playing areas, is a little awkward and doesn't give the actors much room to work. Rather than keeping each story in its own small playing area, hemmed in by Jerome Hoppe's lighting, Reyes and Corrales might have had better luck mingling the spaces, allowing his actors more room to work, while hinting at the connectedness yet to be revealed.

The acting is generally good, with particular praise going to Rachel Skrod as the cartoonist's creation and Patrick Annelli as the junkie. Onaodowan's interpretation of God tends toward the inscrutable, which works well. He calm and smiling, but is he truly benign?

Reyes provides an interesting premise and crafts a fascinating play around it. Though somewhat undone by the direction and production values, Who Am I is still worth a look.

Who Am I
Written by Rodney E. Reyes
Directed by Rodney E. Reyes and Mario Corrales
Set Designer: Mario Corrales
Lighting Designer: Jerome Hoppe
Sound Designer: Eric Johnson
Scenic Painter: Vanessa Ramalho
Press: Bunch of People Press & Publicity

Featuring: Brendan Naranjo (Marv), Rachel Skrod (May), Rodney E. Reyes (Guy), Anna Payumo (Girl), Dian Mills (Mother), Ginny Moore (Daughter), Okieriete Onaodowan (God), Patrick Annelli (Human)

Gene Frankel Theatre
24 Bond Street, between Lafayette and Bowery

Wednesday-Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 3 PM and 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Through March 28th

For tickets visit TheaterMania; for more information visit the Who Am I website.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Review - The Philanderer (Theater Ten Ten)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photos by LAB Photography

Leonard Charteris (Julian Stetkevych) is a young man on the make. A truly modern man by turn of the century standards, he refuses to give in to social conventions like marriage and plans to stay happily unattached forever. Having recently taken up with Grace (Anne Gill), a self-assured 'new' woman, who refuses to be the property of any man but is perfectly willing to form a 'charming friendship' with one, he finds himself drawn to her as a true equal, perhaps even his perfect, enlightened mate. Spending their days at the Ibsen Club, a social club for the enlightened, and their evenings at Grace's, Leonard can imagine them being together, in a complementary and equal way, of course, forever.

If only he can do something about Julia (Tatiana Gomberg), his on-again (her choice), off-again (his choice) girlfriend. Jealous and clingy, she watches his every move like a hawk and is prone to scream, cry, and pout until she gets her way. A petty little girl, she is the exact opposite of Grace.

Thus begins George Bernard Shaw's The Philanderer, a comedy about Leonard's attempts to free himself of Julia and win over Grace. Of course, Shaw uses this story as a frame on which he hangs vibrant discussions about the nature of love, the battle of the sexes, marriage, the generation gap, the medical profession, and any number of other topics. This thought-provoking and entertaining play is given a good home by Theater Ten Ten.

Despite being on a shoe-string budget, the company never scrimps when it come to Shaw's wonderful language. The actors excellently portray the unique cast of characters inhabiting this play. Julian Stetkevych is wonderful as the charming cad, Charteris. Tatiana Gomberg does an superb job as the petty and manipulative Julia. She also gets to show some range in the final scenes as Julia puts aside her petty ways and grows up. Anne Gill is charming as the self-assured, and aptly named, Grace.

Set designer David Fuller does a rather good job creating three different locations on the small stage by rearranging the furniture and changing the artwork and other bric-a-brac. He cleverly makes less look like more. The only major fault is that his design, which does not rely on curtains of any kind, does nothing to mitigate the echo caused by the cavernous auditorium at Theater Ten Ten. Each line is heard twice, first as spoken by the actor, and slightly behind that, as an echo from the far end of the chamber. While the ear does adapt, it ruins his attempt to recreate an intimate room in a Victorian house.

Other production values are strong, especially Mira Veikley's marvelous costumes. Rich and sumptuous, they capture the spirit of the times without breaking the bank.

Director Leah Bonvissuto directs with a gentle touch, allowing the language and the characters to dictate the pace of the play. The result is a play with natural ebbs and flows, moving quickly, but never feeling forced.

Though less known than some of his others, Shaw's The Philanderer is a fascinating and surprisingly relevant play.

The Philanderer
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Leah Bonvissuto
Assistant Director: Shauna Horn
Production Stage Manager: Anna Hemphill
Assistant Stage Manager: Britney McAden
Lighting Designer: Sherrice Kelly
Set Designer: David Fuller
Costume Design: Mira Veikley
Assistant Costume Design: Kate Friedberg

Featuring: Julian Stetkevych (Leonard Charteris), Anne Gill (Grace Tranfield), Tatiana Gomberg (Julia Craven), Duncan Hazard (Mr. Joseph Cuthbertson), Greg Horton (Colonel Daniel Craven), Shauna Horn (The Page), Mickey Ryan (Dr. Paramore), Barrie Kreinik (Sylvia Craven)

Theater Ten Ten
1010 Park Avenue

Closed March 15th

Monday, March 16, 2009

Review - The Shortened Attention Span Musical Festival - Week One

Review by Bryan Clark

This zany festival features four thirty-minute musicals back-to-back. The program changes weekly for a total of three weeks. (I attended Week One.)

Give My Regards to Reading
Written by Jay Cohen and Danny Gardner
Directed by Danny Gardner
Performed by Jay Cohen

Performer Jay Cohen begins the evening emcee-style, greeting the arriving audience and improvising conversations with them. (When I told him I was reviewing the show, he offered me refreshments and swept the floor under my feet.) His persona is fun and appealing, and suggests that a dazzling tour-de-force will follow.

However, Cohen is at his best in the one-on-one preshow mode. He is not so successful in his actual show, which purports to be his self-produced sendoff prior to escaping from the small-town confines of Reading, PA and heading for the Big Apple to make it big. This story is very slow to take off, weighted down with predictable sight gags and repeating itself to no useful effect.

There is also not enough music to call the piece a musical. In fact, there is no live music at all, and the taped music is infrequent and perfunctory. It is impossible to say whether Cohen can sing or dance, since he barely does any of either. The show ends with “New York, New York” playing magically from a supposedly “broken” sound system, and off he goes to achieve his dream – but in the wake of all of the pratfalls and deadpan silliness it is hard to discern the tone of his departure, or of the play as a whole.

Assistant Director: T.J. Clark


Pocket Change
Book and Lyrics by Anne Berlin
Music by Andy Cohen
Directed by Valentina Fratti

Anne Berlin has devised a mildly amusing conceit of three actors portraying rarely-used coins: the Kennedy half-dollar, the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the Sacagawea dollar are in a love-triangle, yet all three fear the worst as they are being phased out in favor of paper money.

Like many late-night television sketches, this set-up doesn’t sustain its own length. The songs are witty and fun, but the dialogue scenes become leaden and long as the coin puns pile up. Jokes about the replacement of change with bills feel outdated, as bills are already being replaced by debit cards.

The notion might have played out more effectively if the actors had actually been dressed as coins. Or, it might work as a claymation YouTube video in support of a MySpace concept album. But perhaps any form of humor about the worthlessness of money is simply unwelcome at this economic juncture.

John F. Kennedy: Tom Schubert
Susan B. Anthony: Jessica Reiner-Harris
Sacagawea: Kim Carpenter


Book & Music by Adriel Borshansky and Justin Leider
Directed by Justin Leider

The sluggish evening comes alive here at the half-way point, as a bunch of young actors hit the stage dressed as the ingredients of a stew. The meats and vegetables taunt each other like high school jocks and nerds, and both groups compete for possession of Parsilla the Spice. They eventually realize that they should all cooperate to share her fabulous flavor, since they will all be eaten soon enough.

The presentation of this straightforward metaphor (i.e. we can reconcile our differences by sharing our mutually desired resources) is exactly what the Shortened Attention Span Musical Festival should be – fast, funny, and packed with great songs. It may sound like complete nonsense, but it is actually a no-nonsense approach to taking a great idea and setting it to music onstage.

Parsilla: Allie Steinberg
Lammy: Daniil Krimer
Chicky: Sarah Willis
Rumpy: Justin Robertazzi
Vealy: Rachel Rosen
Carrot: Greg Resnick
Brocolli: Kayla Isabelle
Eggplant: Allie Fetner
Bean: Mark Kendrick
Onion: Kait Walsh

Guitars: Dave Benton, Justin Leider
Bass: Alkis Meimaris

Lighting Designer: Colin Alexander


A Park, A Policeman and a Pretty Girl
Written by Jack Moore
Directed by Jack Moore and Deanna Weiner
Music composed and performed by Kathie Hathaway

The evening ends with a true show-stopper. The remarkably talented Jack Moore presents a tribute to Charlie Chaplin which is so deftly executed, you would think Moore studied with the master himself. His pantomime is brilliant and true – and quite startling to experience live rather than on the silent-film screen.

Although Moore’s performance as A Tramp is exquisite, he is well-matched with Melanie Rothman as A Pretty Girl and Will Snider as A Policeman. This is that rarest of plays in which there is an ensemble at work, despite a standout lead performance.

Kathie Hathaway’s silent-film music is spot on, and it is especially thrilling to watch her play it on the piano while keeping an eye to the action onstage. Together with the sparingly used title card projections, this is a fully integrated production, and is easily the best musical of the evening although not a word is sung or spoken.

A Tramp: Jack Moore
A Policeman: Will Snider
A Pretty Girl: Melanie Rothman

Stage Manager: Howie Tilkin


The remaining schedule is:

Week Three (March 19 – March 22):
Reptility by Scott Voloshin
Six O'Clock by Tom Bruett and David Dabbon
Acceptance by Stephen Elkins
The Voices in Your Head by Anjali Abraham

The Shortened Attention Span Musical Festival
Producers: Carlo Rivieccio and Christy Benanti
Festival Lighting Designer: Jason Baumueller
Publicity: Mike Martinez

Players Theater Loft
115 MacDougal Street

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Review - The Question House (Breadbasket Productions and FRIGID New York)

Review by Byrne Harrison

Could you imagine working in a house where you have to phrase everything as a question? Could it be done? Would you go crazy? Would people think you were crazy even if you weren't? How would you answer the phone? And more to the point, why on earth would anyone put up with it?

The final question is the one that ultimately needs to be answered when viewing Tara Dairman's The Question House, now being produced as part of the FRIGID New York Festival. What starts as a fun and clever concept for a sketch or short one-act quickly is buried under its conceit leaving the audience to wonder, "Why did this go on so long?"

Harvey Krytz (Howard Green) runs a research company out of a brownstone in Brooklyn, in which, thanks to rules given to some rabbis by the Almighty in the 17th century, no declarative statements must ever be uttered. To do so will result in the death of the speaker (or, in one very amusing moment, a boombox).

What follows is a delicate high-wire act played by Harvey and his employees, Bingham (Snezhana Chernova) and Margaret (Cam Kornman), as they twists their statements into questions, leading to some inspired, if somewhat mangled, interrogatories. Harvey and Margaret know the truth about the brownstone, but the audience doesn't until Bingham finally uses a declarative statement - "I quit!"

Dairman's play is full of funny moments and clever turns of phrase. Unfortunately, she tries to make too much out of a lightweight concept. This leads to a long and lumbering skit, which, like many a Saturday Night Live sketch, needs someone to bring it to an end. The end, when it does come, is very unsatisfying. Sadly, director Catherine Siracusa only compounds the problem by letting certain comic bits go on too long - a scene in which two paramedics remove Bingham's body was handled in a particularly ham-handed manner - and not reining in some of the actors when they started to chew the scenery a little too vigorously. Several actors appear to be performing in a slapstick farce, others in a plain old comedy. Siracusa needs to take a stronger hand in the production so everyone is on the same page.

Nearly all the shining moments in the play are thanks to the excellent work of Howard Green as Harvey. Playing with a world-weariness at one moment and a vivacious twinkle in his eye at another, Green steals the show. Snezhana Chernova also displays a deft touch with Dairman's language, especially as Bingham plays the cat and mouse game with Harvey that eventually leads to her death. Nick DeSimone does a good job as the bemused Charlie Peat, a man called in to replace Bingham. Completely game to try speaking in questions, even if he has no idea why, Peat is the most realistic person in the play.

Despite its flaws, The Question House shows not only Tara Dairman's interest in and abilities with language, but her willingness to take some risks. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with next.

The Question House
Written by Tara Dairman
Directed by Catherine Siracusa
Sounds Design: Jen Danby
Assistant Director: Charlotte Bence
Stage Manager: Golda Carrico
Lighting Design: Corrie Beth Shotwell
Special Effects Electrician: Michael Broughton
Production Intern: Meredith Druss
Costumes: Catherine Siracusa
Cubes: Andis Gjoni
Consultant on all aspects: Sid Levitt
Graphic Design: Shaun Bennet Wilson

The Kraine Theater
85 East Fourth Street

Through Saturday, March 7th
See www.FRIGIDnewyork.info for details.

Review - The Expatriates (The Beggars Group and FRIGID New York)

Review by Byrne Harrison

There is a certain propensity to glamorize the Jazz Age, especially the lives of its larger-than-life denizens. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Parker - all invoke the image of something grand, yet all led fairly tragic lives. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at 44. Zelda died in a fire eight years later. Hemingway shot himself. Dorothy Parker outlived them all, but dealt with suicide attempts and alcoholism.

This is the Jazz Age that The Beggars Group presents in The Expatriates, in its latest incarnation as part of this year's FRIGID New York Festival. First produced in 2000 at the New York Fringe Festival, the play has been rewritten and performed at various times. The latest version is described by The Beggars Group as the first movement in a four-part cycle exploring the nature of artistic creation by focusing on the lives of the artists of the Lost Generation. This 'first movement' uses the highs and lows of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life as its framework.

Told in a hallucinatory and nonlinear way, The Expatriates is not for those who like to be told a story, start to finish, in a way that elucidates the intention of the playwright. Instead, it's like archeology - viewing a few broken shards of a life and trying to recreate the civilization it came from. It's an exciting and fascinating process.

Justin Sturges' simple, spare set and dark, moody lighting accentuate the dream-like qualities of the play, as do the quick jumps in time and place. Under the watchful eyes of directors Randy Anderson and Harrison Williams, the play progresses in fits and starts - revealing slowly the lessons to be learned from Fitzgerald's life and work.

The cast seems perfectly at ease with this unusual style of theatre. Excellent work is done all around, especially by Harrison Williams as Fitzgerald and Jenny Bennett, who shows excellent range as Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein, and Isadora Duncan. Morgan Lindsey Tachco does an excellent job as Zelda, especially in her more desperate moments. Preston Copley is very good as Ernest Hemingway, a bulwark compared to the disintegrating Fitzgerald. It would be interesting to see him do more with that role in future parts of The Expatriates' cycle.

The Expatriates is an exciting and interesting piece of theatre. I look forward to seeing what The Beggars Group has in store as it continues to explore the darker moments of the Jazz Age, and the amazing art that came from the turmoil.

Developed by The Company
Written by Randy Anderson, Harrison Williams, Jenny Bennett
Directed by Randy Anderson, Harrison Williams
Lighting, Set, Sound Design: Justin Sturges
Costume Design: Meredith Mosely-Bennett

Featuring: Harrison Williams (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Morgan Lindsey Tachco (Zelda Fitzgerald), Preston Copley (Ernest Hemingway), Jenny Bennett (Dorothy Parker/Gertrude Stein/Isadora Duncan), Daniela Dakic (Sheila Graham/Lotti), Sarah Anderson (Sara Murphy), Randy Anderson (Gerald Murphy)

The Kraine Theater
85 East Fourth Street

Through Sunday, March 8th
See www.FRIGIDnewyork.info for details.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Review - Spring EATFest '09 - The Chiselers (Emerging Artists Theatre)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photo by Ned Thorne

When you are the highest of high society (in Sacramento, that is), it's no surprise that your name is going to appear in the gossip columns, even if you own the paper. But when your family is at the center of the most sensational murder trial of the century (in Sacramento, that is), there is nothing you can do but buckle your seat belt and get ready for a wild ride.

Mark Finley's comic romp through Sacramento high society, follows Margo Carstairs (Karen Stanion), scion of the Carstairs dynasty and famous ice sculptress, as she fights for her freedom after her husband, the dashing newspaperman Chuck Hutchison (Thomas Poarch), is stabbed to death with Margo's ice pick in her frigid studio - a murder that Margo claims not to have committed. Complicating matters is the domineering matriarch of the family, Beverly Carstairs (Marie Wallace), boy toy Julian (Nick Mathews), the lover of both Beverly and Margo, and young Connie (Andrea Alton), a little pitcher with big ears and a diary full of secrets.

The Chiselers is a terrific send up of the excesses of the 1980s that were so lavishly presented on 'Dynasty' and 'Dallas.' But more than that, it is an homage to the wisecracking murder movies of the '30s and '40s. Alexis and Krystle meet Nick and Nora - full of shoulder pads, quips, and martinis.

Finley's play has plenty of twists and turns, and director Melissa Attebery handles them all with aplomb. The Chiselers moves at a fast clip with Attebery finessing every ounce of humor that she can out of script. Laughs come so quickly that the audience often has a hard time catching its breath. Much of this is due to the spectacular performances. Veteran actress Marie Wallace, known for her Broadway roles and work on TV's "Dark Shadows," is excellent as the wily family matriarch - a woman who thinks she can get the best of anyone. Poarch does a marvelous job as the handsome ex-soldier overcome by wealth and power under Beverly corrupting influence. Andrea Alton does well as the naive teenager desperate for attention, especially Julian's attention. And as Julian the gigolo, Nick Mathews proves that his talents are not merely physical, though the physical is certainly nice. The play, however, belongs to Karen Stanion as the mercurial Margo. With razor sharp comic timing, she performs with gusto; her Margo is a tour de force.

Featuring a crackerjack cast capable of pulling off Finley's marvelous dialogue and lightning-fast wisecracks, The Chiselers is an absolute delight from its opening moments to its wonderful twist of an ending.

Written by Mark Finley
Directed by Melissa Attebery
Featuring: Marie Wallace (Beverly Carstairs), Karen Stanion (Margo Carstairs), Andrea Alton (Connie Carstairs), Thomas Poarch (Chuck Hutchinson), Nick Mathews (Julian Kerr)

Production Team
Executive Producer/Artistic Director: Paul Adams
Production Manager: Andrew Ronan
Stage Manager (Series A&B): Alison Carroll
Stage Manager (The Chiselers and Memory River): Terra Vetter
Assistant Stage Manager: Julie Feltman
Set Designer: Tim McMath
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Granrud
Sound Designer (Series A&B): Ned Thorne
Sound Designer (The Chiselers and Memory River): Kristyn R. Smith
Costume Designer: Meredith Neal
Props Master: Sash Gibo
United Stages Liaison: David Bishop

The Chiselers is performed Thursday - Saturday at 9:30 PM, through March 7th

TADA! Youth Theater
15 W. 28th Street

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Review - Spring EATFest '09 - Memory River (Emerging Artists Theatre)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photo by Ned Thorne

Inspired by the true story of a man who lost his ability to form and store new memories after brain surgery to cure his epilepsy, Memory River by Vanda is a touching and complex story that explores both what happens to a man who can no longer remember more than a minute or two in the past, and a woman who is so driven by the need to be successful that she passes up the moments of joy in her life and is left with few happy memories of her own.

H.M. (Paul Caiola) is a happy teenager nearing graduation and a limitless future when his first seizure hits. Losing his dignity, his ability to marry his girlfriend (thanks to some 1950's state-sponsored eugenics), and all his plans for his life, H.M. enters a spiral of anger and depression. His Mom (Diane Tyler) prays for a cure, as his Dad (Gary Cowling) withdraws into his work and books. After years of ineffective treatment, a doctor holds out a bit of hope - an experimental surgery that will remove some 'unused' parts of H.M.'s brain, and cure, or at least lessen, his seizures. Unknown to the doctors at that time, the part of the brain being removed, the hippocampus, controls the brain's ability to form and store new memories. Stripped of this small but vital piece of his brain, H.M. lives forever in the moment, unable to remember for more than a few seconds anything since the operation. On the outside he is an old man (played at this point by Gary Cowling), but inside, he is still the young man who desperately wants his life to be meaningful.

Though Memory River follows H.M.'s journey and struggles, it is equally about Dr. Laura Nebbens (played by Michele Fulves and Lian-Marie Holmes, as her younger self), the doctor studying H.M. Despite having a loving girlfriend, Claire (Janelle Mims), Laura's fascination for H.M. and her ambition to make a name for herself lead her to immerse herself in her work, eventually squeezing Claire out entirely. About to be awarded for lifetime achievement based on H.M.'s case, she realizes that she has nothing else left in her life.

Vanda's play is extremely well-crafted. Jumping from time to time like the fleeting memories it seeks to recreate, the play has the feel of a dream. Characters in one time interact with those in another. Scenes from the past are replayed, but they don't match the memories of the characters reliving them. Complex and challenging, it's a fascinating play.

The acting is extremely strong, especially Diane Tyler as Mom and Gary Cowling as Old H.M. Tyler's transformation from a young mother dreaming of her son's future to a woman who has lost her family and her hope is exceptional and heart-breaking. Though Colwing's working class Dad doesn't quite ring true, he does a marvelous job creating an older version of Paul Caiola's H.M., picking up not only the physical and vocal style used by Caiola, but also the shy sense of humor, the facial expressions, and other less obvious cues. Caiola and Cowling make an amazing team as H.M., as do Fulves and Holmes as the older and younger Dr. Nebbens.

Troy Miller once again proves himself to be an exceptional director, and though not all of his choices work (his decision to have the actors create all the sound effects often leads to unintended laughter), the production is extremely strong.

Emerging Artists' Memory River is a well done production of an interesting play. They are to be congratulated for their work.

Written by Vanda
Directed by Troy Miller
Assistant Directed by Christoph Friedrich
Featuring: Michele Fulves (Dr. Nebbens), Diane Tyler (Mom), Paul Caiola (Young H.M.), Lian-Marie Holmes (Bev/Laura), Gary Cowling (Dad/Old H.M.), Janelle Mims (Claire), Matt Hussong (Doctor in Clinic/Dr. Thomas Scutter)

Production Team
Executive Producer/Artistic Director: Paul Adams
Production Manager: Andrew Ronan
Stage Manager (Series A&B): Alison Carroll
Stage Manager (The Chiselers and Memory River): Terra Vetter
Assistant Stage Manager: Julie Feltman
Set Designer: Tim McMath
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Granrud
Sound Designer (Series A&B): Ned Thorne
Sound Designer (The Chiselers and Memory River): Kristyn R. Smith
Costume Designer: Meredith Neal
Props Master: Sash Gibo
United Stages Liaison: David Bishop

Memory River is performed Wednesday & Saturday at 7 PM, Sunday at 1:00 PM

TADA! Youth Theater
15 W. 28th Street

Review - Spring EATFest '09 - Series B (Emerging Artists Theatre)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photo by Ned Thorne

Spring EATFest Series B is built around relationships. They may be unconventional (Mrs. Jansen Isn't Here Now), doomed (Moon Night), almost over (The Five Worst Words), or just downright creepy (Family Comes First), but they are entertaining.

It's a scene that has been played out time and time again. An alcoholic barfly looking to score. The shy, awkward man who is not in her league. Pretty conventional stuff. But in Steven Korbar's clever play, Mrs. Jansen Isn't Here Now, things are not what they seem. What starts as a chance encounter between two opposites quickly turns erotic as forbidden fantasies are revealed and explored. Played with gusto by Dan Barnhill and Elizabeth A. Bell and well directed by Vivian Meisner, Mrs. Jansen is a fun, comic play that is full of surprises.

Moon Night takes a different tack, slowly uncovering a relationship between two men who haven't seen each other in twenty years. Turner (Bernard Burlew) is a married man settled into a comfortable life in the town where he grew up. A chance encounter with Maddock (Chuck Saculla), an old friend from twenty years ago, challenges his status quo. Over a grudge match of raquetball, their history is revealed, along with the reason for Maddock's sudden return. Told in spare, grudging dialogue, filled with anger and remorse, Moon Night is effective, though director Ian Streicher blunts much of the dramatic tension by allowing the actors to reveal the nature of Turner and Maddock's relationship too soon, dropping too many hints before the climatic racquetball match. Burlew and Saculla are excellent in roles, especially Burlew as the reticent Turner. Both display a natural physicality, and communicate volumes through economical gestures and looks. Although the play is perhaps overly long, Ian Streicher's strong direction keeps it interesting.

The tag line for The Five Worst Words says that the scariest sentence in the English language is, "Honey, we need to talk." Scary or not, in playwright Jason Matthews' hands, it is very amusing. The play features Matt Boethin as Pat, a man who desperately wants out of his relationship. Terry (Tommy Day Carey) isn't going to make it easy for him. What follows is a thrust and parry breakup, full of laugh lines, fascinating reasons for two people to stay together, and an unexpected and amusing twist at the end. Directed with comic flair by Dan Dinero and excellently acted by Boethin and Carey, The Five Worst Words is a funny little play.

The final piece of the evening, and one of the most disturbingly amusing I've seen in a while, is Jon Spano's Family Comes First. Featuring a cast of characters that makes the Addams Family seem like the Osmonds, the tagline for the play is, "The family that lays together, stays together." Living on an isolated vineyard, Clarissa (Lawrence M. Bullock), her brother/husband Elfin (Blake Walton) and their children Hammer (Dusty Alvarado), Rubinesque (Vinnie Costa) and Troy-Toy (Adam Schneider) are coming up with a plan to keep the family matriarch from giving all their fortune to the church. To describe much more will give away much of the nasty and funny secrets in this over-the-top play. The all-male cast does an excellent job, especially the outstanding Vinnie Costa as Rubinesque. Also worth mentioning are J. Stephen Brantley, as the long-suffering and sassy Caterpiller, and Dusty Alvarado who gleams with a feral sexiness as Hammer. This John Waters meets Charles Addams play will not be for everyone, but those who like their comedy on the absurd side will have fun.

Mrs. Jansen Isn't Here Now
Written by Steven Korbar
Directed by Vivian Meisner
Featuring: Dan Barnhill (He), Elizabeth A. Bell (She)

Moon Night
Written by Ted LoRusso
Directed by Ian Streicher
Assistant Directed by Ellys R. Abrams
Featuring: Bernard Burlew (Turner), Chuck Saculla (Maddock)

The Five Worst Words
Written by Jason Matthews
Directed by Dan Dinero
Featuring: Matt Boethin (Pat), Tommy Day Carey (Terry)

Family Comes First
Written by Jon Spano
Directed by Dan Dinero
Featuring: Lawrence M. Bullock (Clarissa), J. Stephen Brantley (Caterpiller), Blake Walton (Elfin/Father Duncan), Adam Schneider (Troy-Toy), Vinnie Costa (Rubinesque), Dusty Alvarado (Hammer)

Production Team
Executive Producer/Artistic Director: Paul Adams
Production Manager: Andrew Ronan
Stage Manager (Series A&B): Alison Carroll
Stage Manager (The Chiselers and Memory River): Terra Vetter
Assistant Stage Manager: Julie Feltman
Set Designer: Tim McMath
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Granrud
Sound Designer (Series A&B): Ned Thorne
Sound Designer (The Chiselers and Memory River): Kristyn R. Smith
Costume Designer: Meredith Neal
Props Master: Sash Gibo
United Stages Liaison: David Bishop

Series B is performed Tuesday & Friday at 7 PM, Sunday at 7:30 PM

TADA! Youth Theater
15 W. 28th Street

Review - Spring EATFest '09 - Series A (Emerging Artists Theatre)

Through March 8th, Emerging Artists Theatre returns with its semiannual EATFest, showcasing nine new works by emerging playwrights. Housed in the TADA! Youth Theater, the Spring '09 EATFest is split into four series: Series A featuring plays by Eugenia Woods (Better Dresses), Alex Broun (Gift of the Gun), and Matt Fotis (Burying Mom); Series B featuring plays by Steven Korbar (Mrs. Jansen Isn't Here Now), Ted LoRusso (Moon Night), Jason Matthews (The Five Worst Words), and Jon Spano (Family Comes First); and Series C and D featuring two standalone plays by Vanda (Memory Play) and Mark Finley (The Chiselers).

Review by Byrne Harrison

Emerging Artists' Spring EATFest '09 Series A features three plays completely different in tone and style, yet connected in their questions about how well people know themselves. Are the clothes you wear governed by who you are, or are you what you wear? What would you be willing to give up in order to have a new start? How can you move beyond grief and begin living again?

Better Dresses by Eugenia Woods addresses the question of who we are underneath the clothes. Marcel (Jerry Marsini), a snooty, but insightful couture salesman, can see beyond what his customers want to what they need. The wife (Sarah Miriam Aziz) of a much, much older man doesn't need a skimpy designer dress that she has to starve herself to wear - she needs attention . . . and maybe some carbs. The minimalist (Jacquelyn Poplar) hiding behind her plain lines and muted colors needs to overcome her fear of life and paint the town, and herself, red. Better Dresses has its share of laughs, but some of the comedy is muted by choppy and uneven timing. What should be snappy and razor sharp dialogue doesn't always flow. Though directors Ron Bopst and Ryan Hilliard try to keep the play visually stimulating, this is one of those plays where less is more, and the focus should be placed on the dialogue.

Alex Broun's Gift of the Gun is the second play of the evening. In it, a young rent boy, Ben (Tim Seib), thinks he's meeting a new customer for a trick. But William (Peter Levine) isn't interested in sex. Buffeted by a life in which he feels he has no control, he is orchestrating the one thing he can control, his demise. He has chosen Ben to be his angel of death, and will not take no for an answer. Broun's play is fascinating and has a bit of a twist at the end. Seib does an excellent job as Ben, and Levine acquits himself well, though he lacks a certain tension that would seem to be present given the stakes.

The final play of the evening is Burying Mom by Matt Fotis. The play deals with Paul (Scott Raker), a young man expecting his first child, whose life become stuck after the death of his mother. For six years he's unable to work, other than having a paper route. He can't bury his mother; he keeps her ashes in the attic. He can't relate to his wife, even when she announces her pregnancy. Jumping through time to tell Paul's story, Burying Mom is fascinating in that it only shows scenes between Paul and the women in his life - his wife, sister, old guidance counselor, grandmother, ex-fiancee, and in the final scene, his mother and unborn daughter. It is a well-written play, filled with melancholy and humor. Featuring solid direction by Deb Guston and some of marvelous performances by Raker, Janelle Lannan as his wife, Alexandra Zabriskie as his guidance counselor, and Jacqueline Sydney as his mom, Burying Mom is the standout of the evening.

Better Dresses
Written by Eugenia Woods
Directed by Ron Bopst and Ryan Hilliard
Featuring: Jerry Marsini (Marcel), Sarah Miriam Aziz (Customer #1), Chelsea Rodriguez (Customer #2), Jacquelyn Poplar (Customer #3)

Gift of the Gun
Written by Alex Broun
Directed by Molly Marinik
Featuring: Tim Seib (Ben), Peter Levin (William)

Burying Mom
Written by Matt Fotis
Directed by Deb Guston
Featuring: Scott Raker (Paul Morgan), Janelle Lannan (Jane Morgan), Kelly Dynan (Patty), Hershey Miller (Casket Sales Woman), Alexandra Zabriskie (Counselor), Deb Armelino (Waitress), Jane Altman (Grandma), Laura Beth Wells (Maggie), Jacqueline Sydney (Paul's Mom)

Production Team
Executive Producer/Artistic Director: Paul Adams
Production Manager: Andrew Ronan
Stage Manager (Series A&B): Alison Carroll
Stage Manager (The Chiselers and Memory River): Terra Vetter
Assistant Stage Manager: Julie Feltman
Set Designer: Tim McMath
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Granrud
Sound Designer (Series A&B): Ned Thorne
Sound Designer (The Chiselers and Memory River): Kristyn R. Smith
Costume Designer: Meredith Neal
Props Master: Sash Gibo
United Stages Liaison: David Bishop

Series A is performed Monday & Thursday at 7 PM, Sunday at 4:30 PM

TADA! Youth Theater
15 W. 28th Street