Monday, June 29, 2009

Avenue Q to End Broadway Run on September 13th

By Byrne Harrison

After six years of songs, laughs, and puppet-on-puppet action, Broadway's Avenue Q is set to close on September 13th. At the time of its closing, it will have played 22 previews and 2,534 performances to become the 20th longest-running show in Broadway history, surpassing Annie, Oklahoma!, and The Producers.

A musical about a group of 20-somethings living in New York City with big dreams and tiny bank accounts, Avenue Q features music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty, and is directed by Jason Moore. Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, with puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon, Avenue Q has musical supervision by Stephen Oremus, choreography by Ken Roberson, scenic design by Anna Louizos, costume design by Mirena Rada, lighting design by Howell Binkley, and sound design by Acme Sound Partners.

The musical is produced on Broadway by Kevin McCollum, Robyn Goodman, Jeffrey Seller, The Vineyard Theatre and The New Group.

"We will miss our furry friends on 45th street, but are very proud of their longevity," stated Avenue Q producer Robyn Goodman. Ms. Goodman adds "a disappointed Rod was hoping for an Obama bailout and swore he would turn Democrat if it happened."

Beginning on Monday, July 6th, Avenue Q will welcome back original cast member Ann Harada in the role of Christmas Eve. Also joining the Broadway cast on July 6th, direct from the national tour are Robert McClure in the roles of Princeton and Rod, Anika Larsen in the roles of Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, and Danielle K. Thomas in the role of Gary Coleman. Harada, McClure, Larsen and Thomas will join Christian Anderson, Nicholas Kohn and Jennifer Barnhart to comprise the final Broadway cast of Avenue Q.

Avenue Q will mark its 6th anniversary on Broadway on July 31, 2009. The musical began previews on Broadway on July 11, 2003, opened on July 31, 2003, and went on to win three 2004 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book of a Musical.

In addition to its long run on Broadway, Avenue Q spawned a 2005 Las Vegas production; a 2006 West End production - which concluded its run at the Noël Coward Theatre in March 2009 only to re-open at the Gielgud Theatre in June 2009; and a U.S. national tour - which recently concluded a successful two year run in May 2009.

Avenue Q continues Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm & 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm &7:00pm (with added performances on Wednesday, July 1 at 2:00pm and 8:00pm).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Review - From Russia With Angst (WorkShop Theater Company)

Review by Byrne Harrison

From Russia With Angst sounds like a familiar concept - an evening of Chekhov's one-act plays. The twist? These aren't Chekhov's plays; they are adaptations of five of his short stories. So if you're expecting The Bear, A Marriage Proposal, or The Wedding, you won't get it. Instead you'll peer into the mind of one of the world's greatest writers, through the filter of some of the WorkShop Theatre Company's talented writers. The results are mixed, but for fans of Chekhov's writing, are worth exploring.

The first act contains the least successful adaptations, in part due to Chekhov's stories themselves. A perfect example is the second adaptation of the evening, We'll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet, which was adapted by Scott C. Sickles from "Misery." The play deals with a hansom cab driver (Michael Gnat) in Central Park on New Year's Eve. Having just lost his child, he sees other's joy in the evening only through the prism of his loss and sadness. The main problem of the story is that not much happens, and the play has to fight to keep the audience's attention and involvement. Despite some lovely dialogue and good acting on the part of the cast, there is little dramatic tension, just one man's grief laid bare.

Death of a Government Worker by Jonathan Pereira has the look and feel of an absurdist play. A hen-pecked clerk (James Davies) with a shrewish wife and enormous newborn, tries to ask his boss for a raise, but only ends up sneezing on him each time he works up the nerve to ask. The boss (the wonderfully shady Stephen Girasuolo) may be having an affair with the wife. While the nonsensical and absurd aspects of the play work well, a reference to government sponsored torture seems shoe-horned in. Death is an odd little piece, but if you like absurdist comedy, it might be just your thing.

The final play in the first act, Joy by Robert Strozier, succeeds in that it touches on a timely subject, the pursuit of fame at all cost, and that it takes on a more modern feel. A young girl (Sutton Crawford) is having her moment. A YouTube video that she posted is climbing in popularity. Her parents are dismayed to discover that this is due in no small part to her singing a racy song while half-nude and drunk. Like the previous pieces, Joy is a slight play (Chekhov's short story is very short indeed), but it makes it's point - some people are happy to be famous no matter how it happens. Crawford does a good job as the teen, and director Elena Araoz excels.

The second act brings the strongest play of the evening. In Country, written and directed by Timothy Scott Harris, is well-written and extremely moving. This play about an awkward dinner date between Laurie (Dee Dee Friedman) and Steve (Jed Dickson) set up by Laurie's father (Noah Keen), at first seems like it will just be a light play about two mismatched people. Instead, Harris slowly spins a tale about shattered beliefs, the pain of self-discovery, and the fear faced by older people as they begin to realize the world that they knew is gone. Tightly written and directed and featuring an exceptional cast, In Country is reason enough to attend From Russia With Angst.

The final play of the evening, a parody of Chekhov's plays entitled Misery, Apathy and Despair: A Chekhovian Comedy in Four Mercifully Short Acts, by John McKinney, will provide laughs to anyone who is familiar with Chekhov's cannon. The play tends to take potshots at the easiest of Chekhovian targets - the bored upper class, the characters that talk constantly but do nothing, the vacuous lovelies - and leaves subtlety at the door, but it is humorous and a pleasant way to end the evening.

From Russia With Angst
Supervising Director: Timothy Scott Harris
Set Designer: John Scheffler
Lighting Designer: Duane Pagano
Costume Designer: Lexie Devin
Sound and Projection Designer: David Schulder
Production Stage Manager: Jason Healy
Assistant Stage Manager: Eric Luers
Coordinating Producers: Carrie Edel Isaacman, Christina Romanello
Press Representative: Scotti Rhodes Publicity
Promotional Art/Logo: Todd Alan Johnson

Death of a Government Worker
Written by Jonathan Pereira
Based on "Death of a Government Clerk"
Directed by Katrin Hilbe
Featuring: James Davies (Ivan), Stephen Girasuolo (Mr. Breeze), Tracy Shar (Mary)

We'll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet
Written by Scott Sickles
Based on "Misery"
Directed by David Gautschy
Assistant Director: Cecily Benjamin
Featuring: Michael Gnat (Driver), Sean Singer (New Husband/Smooth Talker/Stablehand), Amanda Sayle (New Wife/Debutante/Female Driver), Mike Mihm (Provocateur/Beat Cop/Other Male Driver)

Written by Robert Strozier
Based on "Joy"
Directed by Elena Araoz
Featuring: Carrie Edel Isaacman (Marci), Joseph Franchini (Ted), Sutton Crawford (Ginger)

In Country
Written and Directed by Timothy Scott Harris
Based on "At a Country House"
Featuring: Dee Dee Friedman (Laurie), Noah Keen (Dad), Jed Dickson (Steve)

Misery, Apathy and Despair: A Chekhovian Comedy in Four Mercifully Short Acts
Written by John McKinney
Based on "An Artist's Story"
Directed by Richard Kent Green
Featuring: Liz Frost (Elena), David M. Pincus (Peter), Sutton Crawford (Masha), Caroline Messihi (Lydia)

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

June 11-27
Wednesday - Saturday at 8 PM
Monday, June 15th at 7 PM

For reservations contact 212-695-4173 x5#

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review - Meredith's Ring and Anonymous (White Rabbit Theatre and Cuchipinoy Productions, and the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity)

Review by Byrne Harrison

Presented together as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, Meredith's Ring and Anonymous both have one common plot point, a baby given up for adoption. Other than this, they tell completely different stories in very different ways.

Meredith's Ring by Andrew Rothkin is a coming-of-age tale in which an awkward teen, A.J. (Alexander Scally), experiences the first blush of love and sexual awakening with the new girl at his school. Meredith (Shelly Work) seems to be everything that A.J. isn't - brash, an outsider, angry, and more than anything else, mysterious. It's the mystery that surrounds her that makes her irresistible to him. As he draws closer to her, she at turns pulls him in and pushes him away, all the while nursing a hidden past, and trying to cover her vulnerabilities with bluster.

A.J., not used to women, and certainly not someone as complex as Meredith, constantly says and does the wrong thing. When the two find out that Meredith is pregnant, they make desperate plans to run away together. And while the resolution of the play really comes as no surprise to the audience, it is saved from cliche by A.J.'s touching monologue about his hope for the future, and two very earnest performances by Scally and Work.

As a director, Rothkin has a tendency to overcomplicate things. The production features a number of set changes and lighting and sound cues which due to technical problems, most noticeably with the sound, didn't work well at the performance I attended. Given that this is a festival, he could easily have pared down the technical aspects to the bare minimum and still have had an interesting production. Hopefully these issues merely opening day glitches and were ironed out in later performances.

Meredith's Ring features terrific set decoration by designer Yveyi Yi - two large hanging pieces that look like the type of collage created by teenagers in their school notebook. Featuring picture of places that are to play a part in the show, not to mention holding props that are Velcroed to its surface, the pieces are a very nice and effective addition to the play.

Rodney E. Reyes' Anonymous has a completely different tone. Where Meredith's Ring covers its message with a wide-eyed earnestness, Anonymous tends to mask its in vulgar humor and sullen anger. The results are decidedly mixed.

Anonymous is set in a police station, late shift. While it's just another night for Sarge (Tom Blewitt) to try to keep his rookie partner (Jian Huang) out of trouble, for the Rook, it's the end of a nice Father's Day weekend. By drawing out his taciturn partner, Rook finds out that Sarge once had a family, but that they have been estranged for years. He hasn't even seen his daughter in since she was a child. This revelation leads Rook to locate Sarge's teenage daughter (Vanessa Ramalho). The resulting meeting does not go at all well, and leads to the revelation of a number of hidden truths about Sarge's past, and an interesting look at what it means to take responsibility for a life that you've brought into the world.

The main story in Anonymous hinges on a series of hard to swallow coincidences, but theatre is often build on such stuff. In this case, the important thing is the examination of the relationship between Sarge and his daughter, and between both Sarge and his daughter and her newborn baby. Unfortunately, the deeper message is often lost in poor production values. Director Taylor Keith has too light of a touch for this production, allowing the pace to drag, even in what should be some incredibly intense moments . Blewitt exacerbates this slow-down by letting long pauses infiltrate his dialogue. Instead of indicating Sarge's reticence to display emotion in front of Rook and his daughter, it often has the feel of not being sure what the next line is because of a lack of intensity underneath his silences. Huang makes up for this by making Rook a manic character, but he comes dangerously close to clowning. Ramalho hits a middle ground between the two. Her character's silences carry hidden weight, and her explosions of activity seem grounded in actual frustration for the situation she finds herself in.

Mario Corrales has designed an interesting set, especially given other plays' tendency to strip down to next to nothing in this festival, and Keith has made good use of it, including an interesting set flip toward the end of the play that changes the audience's point-of-view. It's a nice touch in an otherwise very uneven production.

Meredith's Ring
Written and Directed by Andrew Rothkin
Assistant Director and Stage Manager: Tina Rogalski
Assistant Stage Manager: Chaz Muth
Lighting Designer and Sound Designer: Jeremy Pape
Set Designer: Yveyi Yi
Produced by White Rabbit Theatre

Featuring: Alexander Scally (A.J.) and Shelly Work (Meredith)

Written by Rodney E. Reyes
Director: Taylor Keith
Managing Director: Anna Payumo
Stage Manager: Eileen Gaughan
Set Designer and Technical Director: Mario Corrales
Produced by Cuchipinoy Productions

Featuring: Tom Blewitt (Sarge), Jian Huang (Rook), Vanessa Ramalho (Alanis)

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor

June 13 1:00 PM
June 13 7:00 PM
June 14 3:00 PM
June 20 11:00 AM
June 20 5:00 PM
June 21 5:00 PM

Review - Monetizing Emma (Thackeray Walsh, LLC and the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity)

Review by Bryan Stryker

Investing in the future.

It’s a phrase that we are all very familiar with, having heard it from everyone from parents to politicians. There’s an entire sector of the financial industry devoted to investing in the future of various commodities. But what if you could invest your money in the future of America’s youth. Felipe Ossa’s thoroughly enchanting, mesmerizing, and engrossing new work, Monetizing Emma, takes on this premise and fully delivers.

Meet Emma Dorfman (Nitya Vidyasagar), a shy, sweet, unassuming though highly gifted 15-year-old girl enthralled by the works of Jane Austen. As the play opens, she’s being interviewed as a prospective “commodity” that will be included as part of a new offering – “The Genius Trust.” Her background, interests, studies, and indeed her whole life are being scrutinized by Colleen (Janice Mann) and Tony (James Arden), commodity brokers overseeing the Trust, to see whether or not she would be a valuable addition. Colleen swears by her due diligence, while Tony hedges on whether or not Emma is the right candidate. Ultimately, Colleen wins out and encourages Emma’s mother Caroline (Dawn Jamieson) to do what it takes to get her daughter to join in.

While pondering whether or not to join the trust, Emma slips into her Jane Austen inspired make-believe world, penning a letter to her online friend, whom she calls Miss Elizabeth Woodbury, while signing her letters as “Kitty Gordon.” While Emma is shy and a bit timid in person, it is in this Austen world where she truly comes alive. The words here come effortlessly for Emma but in the presence of her mother she is silent. With her mother pushing all the right buttons, Emma finally relents and agrees to be the newest commodity of the Genius Trust.

No decision comes without a price. When word leaks that Emma was selected for one of the coveted positions, her school’s resident mean girls, Vanessa (Daniella Rabbani) and Annie (Tovah Rose) begin to terrorize her in the bathroom. Annie was wait-listed for the trust but if Emma gives up her position, she may be able to take part. Faced with threats of their spreading horrible rumors about her, Emma’s decision to continue her involvement with the venture wavers again. Over lunch with Colleen, Emma expresses her decision to drop out and is only spared when Tony mentions the essay she submitted with her application. Outing himself as a closet Jane Austen fan, Tony uses Emma’s words against her and convinces her to remain a part of the project. A friendship forms between the two, and Tony begins to bring Emma out of her shell. The only problem – Tony’s love of Jane Austen is a lie, a lie that has sparked romantic feelings in the adolescent Emma.

When the Genius Trust needs a face to promote the product to investors, Tony is more than willing to use Emma again. When sweet, innocent Emma is splashed across advertisements, the bond’s growth rate reaches exponential proportions, and Emma is now thrust into celebrity spotlight. Tony’s star is on the rise at his firm with a bonus and sizable promotion in his future. The Mean Girls court Emma for companionship while the Mean Girl at the firm plans to bring Tony down. The letters that Emma’s Kitty Gordon penned to Elizabeth Woodbury were being received by Colleen, proving her due diligence skills to be spot on. Hurt by the deception on both Colleen and Tony’s parts, Emma retreats back into her shell dismissing the pleas of her mother and friends. Only in reviewing the demands made upon her by the trust does Emma find the path to escape and truly stand on her own feet.

Felipe Ossa has written a powerful piece commenting on society’s desire to make money at almost any expense while simultaneously demonstrating our own personal desires to stay true to our own selves. Nitya Vidyasagar is the master of the dry sarcastic wit as she drolly delivers line after line, immediately demonstrating that Emma’s wisdom goes far beyond her years. Her body language is a careful study of teenage angst and awkwardness. When not on stage, her performance leaves the audience anticipating her return.

James Arden and Janice Mann are perfect foils for each other as the warring bankers determined not to get one-upped by the other. “Slimy” is the word that immediately comes to mind for Arden’s Tony, while “barracuda” seems appropriate for Mann’s Colleen. Their onstage chemistry is delightful to watch as they fight for control of Emma. The only note that doesn't ring true is costume designer Mira Veikley's choice of shoes for Colleen. Her gogo boots are an odd choice on a character who probably would feel much more at home in a pair of stilettos.

Ensemble members Dawn Jamieson, Tovah Rose, and Daniella Rabbani all shine in their moments on stage. Jamieson as the worrisome, if not manipulating mother, Caroline, arouses both sympathy and ire as she leads the audience to wonder if she loves her daughter or is more interested in the money she can generate. Rose and Rabbani delight as the Mean Girls who torment Emma, bringing a high school cruelty to life.

Leah Bonvissuto stages an extraordinary production that seamlessly transitions from scene to scene and still keeps the audience engaged. Her creative vision, Jane Austin meets "The Matrix," is fully realized and works sublimely. As the actors reset scenic designer Jasmine Vogue Pai’s set, they stay in character keeping the audience fully immersed in the story and never letting the tension that slowly builds throughout the show lapse. Never before has so much been done with just three chairs, a table, and a lamp. Pai’s set coupled with Laura Parrish’s excellent lighting takes Monetizing Emma from a simple festival play to fully staged production. This is a show that is not to be missed.

Monetizing Emma
Written by Felipe Ossa
Directed by Leah Bonvissuto
Scenic Designer: Jasmine Vogue Pai
Lighting Designer: Lauren Parrish
Costume Design: Mira Veikley

Featuring: James Arden (Tony), Dawn Jamieson (Caroline), Janice Mann (Colleen), Daniella Rabbani (Vanessa), Tovah Rose (Annie), Nitya Vidyasagar (Emma)

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor

Wednesday, June 17th at 8 PM
Friday, June 19th at 6 PM
Monday, June 22nd at 4 PM
Tuesday, June 23rd at 6 PM
Thursday, June 25th at 8 PM
Friday, June 26th at 8 PM

Review - Everybody Dies (EdibleBrains Productions and the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity)

Review by Bryan Stryker

Everybody Dies tells the story of a love triangle set during a world-wide suicide pact. Charlton Heston (yes, the actor) has gained control of the world, and has convinced everyone that the only way to achieve happiness is to prepare to transition to the afterlife. The moment of transition is preordained, and he will soon announce its coming. His power is so prevalent that DJ Don (Levi Morger) and DJ Peggy (Carly Robbins) of station WCHR play nothing but Charlton Heston's favorite hits.

Eva (Jenna Doolittle) leads one of the local chapters that assists those in planning their transition - something they are reminded is not the end, it's just the beginning. Led by her gal pals Britanny (Miranda Child) and Carrie (the excellent Candice Palladino), they revel in their moment as they plan what they consider to be the most excellent day of their lives - the end of their lives. Her boyfriend Tom (Stephen Dexter) isn't sold on the idea of transitioning and seems more sold on trying to get into Eva's pants. In a subplot, Carrie reveals to Eva that she is pregnant - a severe no-no as she cannot be pregnant when the transitioning begins or it will be considered an abortion and she cannot enter the afterlife.

Meanwhile in New York City, Jane (Laura Perloe) and her band of renegades Bree (Leah Dash) and Taylor (Alley Scott) are trying to find a way to survive the upcoming transitioning and lead the resistance. Jane returns to her hometown intent of bringing her ex-boyfriend Tom into their fold and spirit him away to New York. When the "transitioning time" is announced we follow the cast as they make plans to either join in the mass suicide or challenge the notion that one person could control their lives and future.

On paper that doesn't sound like such a bad conceit: an alternate reality where a Jim Jones/Marshall Applewhite figure controlling the fate of the entire world announces that it's time to go. Get dressed up, head to your transitioning center, and off to the afterlife. In reality, the play is a jumbled mess with more questions than answers. How did Charlton Heston come to rule the world? Why was the decision made to "transition"? How did Jane get involved in the counter-revolution and why does it only have two other members? Why is Tom resisting transitioning? Following Maggie Rydzel's script simply takes too much work and provides too few answers.

Director Russell Dobular succeeds in highlighting the humorous moments of the piece and effectively transitioning from one scene to the next. The spare set consisting of a few modular boxes and chairs works effectively to keep the show moving. However, the lack of lighting design and low production values give the show a community theatre feel.

Jenna Doolittle's Eva comes off as a post-apocalyptic Heidi Montag - and no, that's not a compliment. While one could say that the over-the-top dramatics are required for such an outrageous play, they could be toned down significantly and still get the necessary response.

Laura Perloe's Jane is a modern day Patty Hearst type, complete with beret. While still extremely theatrical, her portrayal is far more believable as the rogue counter-revolutionary. Her intent and desires are real - she does want to reshape the world when the transitioning is done. Perloe is one of the best parts of Everybody Dies. Each moment she is on the stage is a pleasure.

Stephen Dexter's Tom, the love interest of the two female leads, does yeoman's work in this piece, but sometimes seems to be used more like set dressing - merely a pair of tight jeans and a wife beater. But he amuses playing the horny teenager who sees nothing wrong with grabbing his girlfriend's breasts and making contorted faces as he wavers from joining the transitioning to joining Jane in the resistance.

Notable standouts in the ensemble include Miranda Child as the creepy Brittany, who takes delight in announcing the transitioning with the wide-eyed, happy grin of a fully dedicated cult member. Candice Palladino as pregnant Carrie leaves one of the greatest impressions in a key scene as she decides to deal with her pregnancy. With the audience noticeably fidgeting in their seats and giving an ear-piercing scream, Palladino cements her spot as the person the audience is most likely to talk about when the lights come up.

Finally, Carly Robbins and Levi Morger, as the two DJ's counting down the time to transitioning provide a touching scene. DJ Don clearly longs for his radio partner and as they share a final kiss right before they are to transition, they both admit that it was something that they had wanted to do for some time. When DJ Don leans in to kiss again, he is stopped by Peggy and told that "it wasn't that great."

Sadly, neither was Everybody Dies.

Everybody Dies
Written by Molly Rydzel
Directed by Russell Dobular
Sound Design: Jeremy Pape

Featuring: Anthony Mead (Tom's Mom/Man 2/CHer), Alley Scott (Taylor), Candice Palladino (Carrie), Carly Robbins (DJ Peggy), Jenna Doolittle (Eva), Laura Perloe (Jane), Leah Dashe (Bree), Levi Morger (DJ Don), Marek Sapieyevski (Jane's Mom/Man 1/CHer), Miranda Child (Brittany), Stephen Dexter (Tom)

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor

Closed June 21st

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Review - Dickinson (American International Theater, Inc. and the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity)

Review by Byrne Harrison

The Emily Dickinson presented in William Roetzheim's Dickinson is nothing like the woman they teach about in school, and thank goodness for that. While that Emily is interesting, in a literary way, this one fascinates in front of our eyes. Dickinson bills itself as a "well-researched" story about the poet. What it uncovers is mostly conjecture - how does one prove that which is merely hinted at in poems and letters? - but what Roetzheim imagines brings an interesting new angle to Dickinson's story and a great jumping off point for further discussion.

Part of the beauty of Roetzheim's play is that it spins out Emily's secrets bit by bit, and always with pieces of her work backing up the hypotheses. He does so in a very theatrical style that keeps the audience interested in the way that a lecture never would. Dickinson imagines a playwright (Greg Wittman) who is finishing a five-play cycle on the poets that most influenced 20th Century poetry. Having had no problems with the other four plays, he is confounded by Emily Dickinson - unable to get a sense of who this mysterious person was. After another drunken, fruitless evening, he finds himself in the same room with Emily Dickinson. She may be a ghost, a vision, or a delusion, but whatever she is he yearns to hear her story from her point of view. Emily (Rhianna Basore) has other plans. She is coy and cagey, and does not want to be understood. More importantly, there are things in her life she wants to hide even from herself. Painful memories that she will hint at, but doesn't want to examine.

Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game between Emily and the playwright that ultimately leads to more questions than answers.

While the play has an interesting premise, it would be stronger were the two characters more evenly matched. The playwright never really has a chance against Emily. Any points he scores during their interactions, almost always seem to be given to him by Emily out of grace or perhaps pity.

Much of this is due to the playwright being a somewhat underwritten role, but it also comes from the actors themselves. Basore throws herself into her role with an almost scary intensity. Her Emily is mercurial, leaping powerfully from emotion to emotion, scene to scene, moment to moment. Wittman's playwright is not that strong. He provides exposition, a sounding board for Emily, but he never comes across as her equal, or as a man who wants to master her so he can truly bring her to life in his play.

Director Al Germani shows his strength as a director and his background in dance and music. The direction in Dickinson often has the feel of choreography, and I mean that in a good way. The action is fluid, the stage pictures interesting, and Germani creates a flow in the production that complements the rhythm of both Dickinson's poetry and Roetzheim's dialogue.

While Dickinson is not without flaws, it offers a fascinating look at the 'warts and all' life of the poet. It is definitely a standout production in the Planet Connections festival.

Written by William Roetzheim
Directed by Al Germani
Vocals: Diana Sparta
Sound Design: Al Germani, Bill Kehayias
Costumes by the cast

Featuring: Rhianna Basore (Emily), Greg Wittman (The Playwright), Diana Sparta (All Other Female Roles), Charlie Riendeau (All Other Male Roles)

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor

June 13, 11 AM
June 14, 7 PM
June 15, 8:30 PM
June 17, 4 PM
June 19, 8:30 PM
June 20, 1 PM

Monday, June 15, 2009

Review - The Secretaries (Project: Theater & The 78th Street Theatre Lab)

Review by Byrne Harrison

"We don't kill them because they're bad. We kill them because we're bad."

What do you think of when you hear the word secretary? I'm willing to bet that the image that pops into your mind has nothing to do with the chainsaw-wielding, SlimFast-guzzling, sexually ambiguous ladies that populate The Five Lesbian Brothers' The Secretaries. It might be a little scary if it did. But once you experience these secretaries, you may never look at yours the same way again.

Patty (Jessi Blue Gormezano) is the new girl at Cooney Lumber Mills. Head of her class in secretarial school, she landed this plum assignment working with Peaches (Laura Dillman), Dawn (Karis Danish), Ashley (Jenny Schutzman), and their powerful and enigmatic boss, Susan (Tara Franklin). From the beginning, Patty senses something is a little off. Perhaps it's that the secretaries never eat solid food, only strawberry SlimFasts. Or the chastity pledge they all must sign. Or maybe it's the strange giggle and click language they speak to one another. Or it could be the strange way that a lumberjack dies a gruesome death every twenty-eight days or so. Patty's desire to get to the bottom of the mysteries she sees around her is blunted somewhat by her relationship with Buzz (Brian Frank), a shy lumberjack who catches Patty's eye. But eventually, the band's murderous designs are exposed, and Buzz winds up in the cross-hairs.

The ending of the play is pretty much a foregone conclusion, but the twists and turns along the way - lesbian Dawn's predatory stalking of Patty, Peaches' over-the-top binging, Ashley's dethronement from her long held "Secretary of the Month" position, and ice queen Susan's tampon inspection (don't ask, it simply has to be seen to be believed) - make for a wild, campy, and howlingly funny trip.

The acting in The Secretaries is outstanding, with each actor milking out as much humor as possible from the role, and leaving each character grounded in reality, even as the situations get wilder and wilder. Production values are strong as well, particularly J.J. Bernard and Francois Portier's flexible set and Gracie Law's lighting. Joe Jung's strong directing help make this an excellent production.

For a fun, campy, and laugh-out-loud good time, I heartily recommend The Secretaries.

The Secretaries
By The Five Lesbian Brothers (Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey, and Lisa Kron)
Directed by Joe Jung
Stage Manager: Jacob Seelbach
Scenic Artistry: J.J. Bernard and Francois Portier
Costume Design: Janaske von Sunrike
Sound Design: Joe Jung
Lighting Design: Gracie Law
Publicity: Seth Grugle

Featuring: Karis Danish (Dawn Midnight), Laura Dillman (Peaches Martin), Brian Frank (Buzz Benikee), Tara Franklin (Susan Curtis), Jessi Blue Gormezano (Patty Johnson), Andrew McLeod (Sandy/Mr. Kembunkscher), Jenny Schutzman (Ashley Elizabeth Fratangello)

78th Street Theatre Lab
236 W. 78th Street

Visit Project: Theater for information.

Closed June 6th

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review - Del Shores The Storyteller (Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman, Gayfest NYC, Jason Dottley as Part of Gayfest NYC 2009)

Review by Byrne Harrison

It's a unique opportunity to have a chance to hear a playwright talk about the inspiration for his works. When that playwright is Del Shores, the creator of Daddy's Dyin' (Who's Got the Will?), Southern Baptist Sissies, The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, and the wildly popular Sordid Lives (which has been a play, a film, and a TV series), you can be sure that there will be plenty of laughs. And while Shores admits that the stories he tells may be embellished just a little, that's okay, because they are hilarious and often very touching.

Part of a national tour, Del Shores The Storyteller played in New York on June 6th. As part of Gayfest NYC 2009, the two sold-out performances benefited the Harvey Milk High School.

Those who don't know Shores' work might have thought that they'd be left out of the jokes. Fortunately, Shores' one-man show is a delightful mix of show biz gossip (Want to know which celebrities have crossed Shores in his years in the business? He names names.), family anecdotes, and selections from his plays. In addition, Shores' partner, Jason Dottley (who plays Ty on "Sordid Lives: The Series") made a surprise appearance, as did the wonderful Caroline Rhea, who filled in for the ailing Rue McClanahan.

While the majority of the evening was light-hearted in nature, Shores scored a dramatic hit at the end of his show when he performed a monologue, originally part of Southern Baptist Sissies, about hypocrisy in the church. The piece was emotionally devastating and showed that his skills as a comic writer do not mean that he is a lightweight when it comes to serious topics.

Without a doubt, the high point of the evening was the presentation of the Gayfest NYC Community Service Award to Del Shores for his outstanding service to the LGBT community by celebrated actor and playwright Charles Busch, who also serves on the Advisory Board of Gayfest NYC.

The Del Shores The Storyteller national tour continues in DC and Philadelphia. Visit Del Shores' website for details.

Del Shores The Storyteller
Written and Performed by Del Shores
Produced by Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman, Gayfest NYC, and Jason Dottley

Gayfest NYC Festival Staff
Producers: Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman
Festival Associate Producer: Marvin Kahan
Associate Producers: Robert A. Sherrill, Jeffrey Shulman, Jerry Wade
General Manager: Barbara Vaccaro
Business Manager: Michelle Rodriguez
Directors: Martin Casella, Tony Stevens
Production Stage Manager: Andrea Wales
House Manager: C. Colby Sachs
Festival Staff Assistant: Rebecca Silverman
Casting: Michael Cassara, CSA
Marketing: Hugh Hysell, HHC Marketin
Press Representative: O&M Co.
Art Director: Scott Fowler, Acting Out Design
Legal Counsel: Peter Panaro, Esq.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review - Mare Cognitum (Theatre of the Small-Eyed Bear)

Review by Byrne Harrison

David McGee's Mare Cognitum, the final production in the Theatre of the Small-Eyed Bear's Get S.O.M. festival has several fine moments, but they tend to be mired in a script where everyone talks, but no one really seems to do much of anything. While there are plenty of plays that by nature of what is being discussed hold an audience rapt while little, if anything, occurs on stage, Mare Cognitum is not quite meaty enough to do so.

Mare Cognitum tells the story of Lena (Devon Caraway), Jeff (Kyle Walters), and Thomas (Justin Howard), a trio of young twenty-something roommates living in NYC on the cusp of a military campaign against an unnamed foreign country. Jeff wants to be part of the protest raging outside, but is torn between his desire to make a difference and fear that he won't. Lena attended the protest, but as an observer for one of her classes, not as an active participant. With a critical eye she dissects the rally and comes to the conclusion that there is no focus to the protest. It's ostensibly an anti-war rally, but everyone seems to be pushing his own agenda.

They decide to have a protest of their own, in their apartment. As ineffective as the rally outside, but at least they'll be comfortable.

When Thomas returns from a job interview, it leads to a discussion of the efficacy of protests, war, religion, and a couple of very theatrical moments where Thomas reenacts his interview, which in a really nice turn about, wasn't really an interview at all, and Lena reenacts her earlier class and the classmate whose insights made her feel inferior.

Later, the bombs start falling on the unnamed country, and Jeff and Lena decide enough is enough; it's time to leave the madness behind. They're going to the only place left where they can find peace - the moon. Turning their apartment into a rocketship just takes a little imagination, and even getting the doubting Thomas to join in doesn't take too much work. A few minutes of shaking as the apartment rises through the atmosphere, and then they're on the moon. Away from the war. Away from incipient adulthood. Nothing but a thin but breathable atmosphere, lower gravity, and a beautiful earthrise on the horizon.

All good things must come to an end, however, and the roomies find themselves thrown back to reality, the moon a distant dream once again.

Mare Cognitum's strength lies in it's most theatrical moments. As the play untethers itself from reality, it brings the audience along on an adventure. Did the roommates really go to the moon? Was it all a dream or delusion? Ultimately it doesn't really matter; it's the journey, not the destination that's important.

Acting is generally good in the play, particularly Walters as the beaten-down Jeff. Jesse Edward Rosbrow's direction is strong, though ultimately not enough to overcome the limitations of the script. Lighting and sound play a large part in Mare Cognitum, and Wilburn Bonnell and Jared M. Silver, respectively, are to be commended for their work.

Mare Cognitum
Written by David McGee
Directed by Jesse Edward Rosbrow
Stage Manager: Emily Gasser
Set Designer: Elisah Schaefer
Lighting Designer: Wilburn Bonnell
Costume Designer: Jennifer Raskopf
Sound Designer: Jared M. Silver
Props Designer: Jesse Louis Hathaway
Associate Lighting Designer: Victoria Miller
Sound Board Operator: Victoria Watson
Press Representative: Emily Owens PR
Industry Representative: Scotti Rhodes
Graphic Designer: Duncan Pflaster
Website Designer: Ashley Avis
Arts in Action Series Producer: Laura Moss
Associate Producers: Emily Simoness, Margie Kment
Production Manager: Norah Turnham
Producers: Alexander Koo, Arienne Pelletier, Duncan Pflaster, Michael Roderick, Jesse Edward Rosbrow

Featuring: Devon Caraway (Lena), Justin Howard (Thomas), Kyle Walters (Jeff)

The Workshop Theatre
312 W. 36th Street

Closed May 30th

Review - Ore, or Or (Theatre of the Small-Eyed Bear)

Review by Byrne Harrison

"Nothing gold can stay." - Robert Frost

Robert Frost's simple yet elegant eight line poem informs a great deal of Duncan Pflaster's Ore, or Or, presented as part of Theatre of the Small-Eyed Bear's Get S.O.M. festival. Like Frost's poem, Pflaster's play seems simpler than it is. On it's face, it's the story of a love triangle - boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy gets other girl, complications arise. Yet woven into this is a rumination on the nature of beauty and love, the longing for something that one never imagines getting, racial and sexual stereotypes, betrayal, and the price one pays for obsession. Finally, there is a frame on which the story is hung - the mystery of General Yamashita's lost gold. Yamashita, a Japanese general during WWII, is alleged to have looted stores of gold during the war and hidden it in a series of underground complexes in the Philippines. Treasure hunters have sought it ever since.

In Ore, or Or, Calvin Kanayama (E. Calvin Ahn), an art historian working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is trying to determine whether some gold statues found in the Philippines are part of Yamashita's fabled treasure. His obsession to solve the mystery leads him to have cryptic dreams in which Yamashita (Robert Torigoe) speaks to him. His messages seem to deal with the lost gold, but they are equally apt to the love triangle in which Calvin has become entangled.

After a St. Patrick's Day spent on the town, Calvin hooks up with Debbie (Elizabeth Erwin). They hit it off and begin dating. Through Sean (Shawn McLaughlin), Debbie's gay roommate and confidante, Calvin meets Tara (Clara Barton Green), a beautiful, blonde model - the sort of woman that Calvin has idealized for years, but never dared approach because of his insecurities about not being the kind of man that women like her would date.

When she admits an interest in him, Calvin begins a sexual relationship with her, justifying it by telling himself that he's not cheating on Debbie since they never really defined their relationship.

Despite jeopardizing his burgeoning friendship with Sean by letting him in on the secret, Calvin seems to have it all. But as the poem says, nothing gold can last, whether that gold is a relationship with a woman who could be a soulmate, or the gold of a fantasy come true. As everything crashes around him, Calvin is left to clean up the damage as best he can.

Even without the framing device of Yamashita's gold, Ore, or Or would be an excellent play. Pflaster has created complex and interesting characters, all with their own flaws and insecurities, and put them in a compelling story. Even as they hurt one another, intentionally or unintentionally, they remain remarkably human and sympathetic. While much of this is due to the excellent work done by all the actors in the play, Pflaster's ability to write complex and fully realized characters allows them to spend more time creating nuanced performances.

The addition of the dream sequences featuring Yamashita and a woman who at times seems to be his wife and at other times seems to serve as a chorus (Rachel Lin) allows Pflaster to comment on the action of the main story in a way that doesn't affect that action. Calvin interacts with Yamashita and the woman in the dreams, but doesn't make the connection between them and his real life, other than his quest to solve the mystery of the statues.

As mentioned before, the acting is outstanding in the production, with particular praise going to Erwin and Lin. Erwin does an excellent job with Debbie's tentative steps at opening herself up to love and with the crushing anger and pain at Calvin's betrayal. Lin is a chameleon, becoming whatever character is needed in a particular scene (Calvin's sister, a waitress, etc.), and excelling at each.

Elisha Schaefer's elegant Asian-inspired set and Jennifer Raskopf's costumes add depth to the outstanding production. Laura Moss's able direction makes this a production not to miss.

Ore, or Or
Written by Duncan Pflaster
Directed by Laura Moss
Stage Manager: Emily Gasser
Rehearsal SM: Julia LaVault
Dramaturg: Michelle Philippin
Movement Consultant: Sacha Iskra
Set Designer: Elisah Schaefer
Lighting Designer: Victoria Miller
Costume Designer: Jennifer Raskopf
Sound Designer: Jared M. Silver
Props Designer: Jesse Louis Hathaway
Associate Lighting Designer: Wilburn Bonnell
Sound Board Operator: Victoria Watson
Press Representative: Emily Owens PR
Industry Representative: Scotti Rhodes
Graphic Designer: Duncan Pflaster
Website Designer: Ashley Avis
Arts in Action Series Producer: Laura Moss
Associate Producers: Emily Simoness, Margie Kment
Production Manager: Norah Turnham
Producers: Alexander Koo, Arienne Pelletier, Duncan Pflaster, Michael Roderick, Jesse Edward Rosbrow

Featuring: E. Calvin Ahn (Calvin), Elizabeth Erwin (Debbie), Clara Barton Green (Tara), Rachel Lin (Geisha), Shawn McLaughlin (Sean), Robert Torigoe (Yamashita)

The Workshop Theatre
312 W. 36th Street

Closed May 30th

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Review - Squiggy and the Goldfish (Theatre of the Small-Eyed Bear)

Review by Byrne Harrison

You know you're having a bad day when you find out your goldfish, the one that's been telling you to break up with your fiancee, has the ultimate power over whether you live or die.

That is exactly the situation in which Squiggy Finkelstein (Josh Breslow) finds himself in Lenny Schwartz deceptively amusing Squiggy and the Goldfish. While he's pretty sure he loves his fiancee, Veronica (Katrina Ylimaki), despite her cheating, condescension and abuse, Goldie (Eric C. Bailey) wants him to break it off with her. When Squiggy meets a sweet young pet store employee, Blossom (Elyse Ault), whose background of abuse is similar to his own, he is tempted to follow Goldie's advice. But can he really throw off a lifetime of baggage, even for a shot a true love? And is everything in his bizarre life what it seems?

Things are bizarre indeed in Squiggy's world. He is emotionally scarred from his father's abuse and suicide (on Christmas, no less), from his fiancee's contempt, and from his best friend's (Joe Testa) betrayal. He is also literally scarred because he escapes from the pain in his life by cutting himself. Then of course there's the talking goldfish with godlike powers that is trying to get Squiggy to see something - something he doesn't want to see - that will allow him to move past the trauma that is keeping him stuck in his increasingly surreal life and move on - perhaps to true love, or perhaps to something even bigger - acceptance. To reveal too much more gives away the critical secret of the play, suffice it to say Squiggy and the Goldfish ends on a hopeful note.

The acting in Squiggy is superb, with praise to Josh Breslow as the hapless Squiggy, Elyse Ault as Blossom, and Katrina Ylimaki as Veronica. Breslow in particular does an outstanding job dealing with the subtle changes in character that come with each revelation about Squiggy's past. The nebishy Squiggy of the opening scenes is nothing like the raw and exposed Squiggy at the end of the play, and Breslow excels at both.

Directed with aplomb by Michael Roderick, who keeps the production visually stimulating and moving at a brisk clip, the production is able to gloss over some of the weaker moments of the script.

Set designer Elisha Schaefer, whose set has to work for the other two plays in the Get S.O.M.! series (Ore, or Or and Mare Cognitum), has created a versatile set that gives each play a unique feel. He is to be commended for his work.

Theatre of the Small-Eyed Bear (TotSEB) is a collaboration between Theatre of the Expendable, Small Pond Entertainment, and Cross-Eyed Bear Productions. This unique repertory merger allows the companies to share costs, so they can provide three times the entertainment without three times the cost.

Squiggy and the Goldfish
Written by Lenny Schwartz
Directed by Michael Roderick
Assistant Directors: Alexander Koo, Allison Mosier
Stage Manager: Josh Yocom
Set Designer: Elisha Schaefer
Lighting Designer: Wilburn Bonnell
Costume Designer: Jennifer Raskopf
Sound Designer: Jared M. Silver
Props Designer: Jesse Louis Hathaway
Associate Lighting Designer: Victoria Miller
Sound Board Operator: Victoria Watson
Press Representative: Emily Owens PR
Industry Representative: Scotti Rhodes
Graphic Designer: Duncan Pflaster
Website Designer: Ashley Avis
Arts in Action Series Producer: Laura Moss
Associate Producers: Emily Simoness, Margie Kment
Production Manager: Norah Turnham
Producers: Alexander Koo, Arienne Pelletier, Duncan Pflaster, Michael Roderick, Jesse Edward Rosbrow

Featuring: Dana Aber (Mother), Elyse Ault (Blossom), Eric C. Bailey (Goldie), Josh Breslow (Squiggy), Jonathan Miles (Dr. Kevorkian, Pappy), Sarah Novotny (Female Police Officer, Young Man, Geeky Girl), Joe Testa (Wally), Katrina Ylimaki (Veronica)

The Workshop Theatre
312 W. 36th Street

Closed May 30th.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Horse Trade Theater Group Announces 2009 Summer Season

By Byrne Harrison

Horse Trade Theater Group has announced its 2009 Summer Season. In addition to its monthly shows at Under St. Mark (Revealed Burlesque, Sci-Fi Screening Room, Sundays With Poe, The Matt Fried Show, Told, God Tastes Like Chicken, and Penny’s Open Mic), Horse Trade will feature eight productions from June to August - some new, some old favorites.

The season begins with Bigger Than I presented by the Counting Squares Theatre. With the popularity of confessional websites, blog culture, and the advent of the technology age, Counting Squares Theatre examines the cause and effect of our increasingly stark interpersonal relationships, asking the question, "Why can’t we deal with each other and really be ourselves out in the open." Bigger Than I runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 PM, June 4th through 20th, at UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A).

The season continues with Joseph Kesselring's classic comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace, presented by Dysfunctional Theatre Company. The play runs June 12th through 27th, Thursday through Saturday, at 7pm and Sunday, June 21, at 3 PM at The Kraine Theater (85 E. 4th Street between 2nd and Bowery).

The season continues with Boatloads of Shame by Rick Blunt and Robert J. Gibbs. Raised in a house full of Catholic women, Rick learned that good girls don't like sex. Hear how he learned otherwise while growing up and transitioning from blue-collar union worker to Shakespeare scholar and professional actor. Boatloads of Shame runs June 25th through 27th at 8 PM at UNDER St. Marks.

Paul David Young's Waking Up With Strangers runs June 29th through July 2nd at 8 PM at The Kraine Theater. Marc is an American scholar in Berlin, attempting to rewrite a failed dissertation on Kleist. Konrad offers Marc help in understanding his attraction to Kleist and opens up a disturbing confrontation with identity. The life of Kleist finds its eerie parallels in Marc’s awakening.

Twisted, the Rising Sun Performance Company's Annual One Act Series, features five short perverse and funny stories that will make you scratch your head in disbelief. Twisted runs from July 9th through 25th, Thursday through Saturday, at 8pm at UNDER St. Marks.

Human Group presents the next play, The Hunger Artist. In this explosive performance, one of Franz Kafka’s strangest characters comes to life and invites the audience to come and share his dark cage. Using song, dance, and circus tricks, Human Group explores starvation, the human body, and what it means to be a performing animal. The Hunger Artist runs from July 16th through 18th at 8 PM in The Red Room (85 E. 4th Street between 2nd and Bowery).

The season concludes with Shakespeare's Julius Caesar presented by Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company. Julius Caesar takes place in a world of male power and dominance, in which the female characters attempt to avert tragedy but find themselves powerless to do so. The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company takes on this testosterone-filled play with an entirely female cast, exploring the performance of gender and challenging preconceptions of male and female. Julius Caesar runs August 13th through 16th, Thursday through Saturday, at 8 PM and Sun at 2 PM at The Kraine Theater.

Tickets to all shows are $18 and are available from SmartTix (212-868-4444) or at Horse Trade's website.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Del Shores The Storyteller Special Two Performance Engagement Featuring Rue McClanahan to Benefit the Harvey Milk School

Bruce Robert Harris, Jack W. Batman, and Jason Dottley are pleased to announce two special New York City performances of Del Shores' one-man show Del Shores The Storyteller to benefit NYC's Harvey Milk High School. Legendary TV icon Rue McClanahan will make a special guest appearance on Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 7:30 PM and 10:30 PM.

The award-winning playwright, TV and film writer, director, and producer steps back on stage in his unscripted one-man show Del Shores The Storyteller for two performances only at the TBG Arts Center, 312 West 36th Street.

Shores is best known for his 1996 play Sordid Lives and the 2001 cult classic film based on it. Last year, the play-turned-film was adapted by Shores for the small screen and premiered to rave reviews on MTV/LOGO, becoming their biggest hit to date. The series is currently syndicated internationally in over a dozen countries.

Other plays by Shores include his GLAAD award-winning Southern Baptist Sissies; the Ovation and Los Angeles Drama Critic's Circle award-winning The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife; and the now classic Daddy's Dyin' (Who's Got The Will?) for which Shores executive produced and adapted the screenplay for the 1990 MGM film.

Shores will share the real life stories that have inspired his writing and more in Del Shores The Storyteller. Yes, there was a man with two wooden legs. But did his grandmother trip over them and die while having a sordid affair? And did his mother really ask, "What exactly do you do. when you're gay?" If so, what was the acclaimed writer's response? Yes, prayers were answered and a matching vein was found in a vein bank over in Baton Rogue to replace his Uncle Humpty's collapsed vein. But did Humpty lose the leg after all those prayers? And what relative really shot a policeman in the "saliva gland" and shoulder? Truth and fiction are finally separated in Del Shores The Storyteller.

"It's a dream come true to perform my new show in New York City, and I'm thrilled that the show is benefiting Harvey Milk High School," Shores said.

The first season of "Sordid Lives: The Series" premiered in the summer of 2008 garnering rave reviews for Shores and the all-star cast (Rue McClanahan, Olivia Newton-John, Caroline Rhea, Leslie Jordan and Beth Grant). Shores has also written and produced for many TV shows, most notably "Dharma & Greg" and "Queer as Folk."

Tickets for this special New York City engagement of Del Shores The Storyteller are priced at $35 and may be purchased by calling Del Shores Productions at 323-654-6083. More information about this and future performances nationwide can be found at

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review - The Children's Hour (Astoria Performing Arts Center)

There's Something About Mary
Review by Brian Stryker
Photo by Jen Maufrais Kelly

That lesbian play.

For years that has been my only point of reference for Lillian Hellman’s melodrama, The Children’s Hour. For many, that is the only point of reference that some have for Hellman’s work. Controversial since it’s 1934 debut, it was disqualified from Pulitzer Prize contention when the head of the committee refused to see a play involving an alleged love affair between two women. In reality, the play focuses more on the power of professional destruction it may bring. The Astoria Performing Arts Center’s production clearly brings forth Hellman’s true intent.

Karen Wright (Emily Dorsch) and Martha Dobie (Carmel Javaher) are the co-owners of a private boarding school for girls. Martha’s Aunt Lily (Jacqueline Sydney) is an aging actress who teaches drama and elocution to their pupils – including Mary Tilford (Lauren Marcus), a notorious troublemaker who takes pleasure in bullying her fellow classmates both physically and psychologically.

When Mary gets caught in a lie, Karen punishes her by not allowing her attend the weekend’s boat races. Believing that she is the continual victim of unfair treatment by her headmistresses, Mary runs away to her grandmother, Amelia Tilford (Charlotte Hampden), to whom she weaves a tale of Martha and Karen being involved in something more than a Boston marriage. Amelia begins calling the parents of Mary’s classmates which results in the school’s population being decimated in the course of a few hours. Of particular consequence to this accusation is Karen’s engagement to local doctor Joe Cardin (G.R. Johnson) who is related to Amelia and Mary. Desperate to keep the deception alive, Mary blackmails fellow student Rosalie to corroborate her version of events or she will reveal Rosalie’s theft of a classmate’s bracelet.

Martha and Karen, with Joe’s support, file suit against the Tilford's for slander, but lose their suit, and ultimately, their school and reputation within the community. Despite Joe’s insistence that he believes her to be innocent of the accusation, Karen opts to end their engagement as, in her words, things will never be the same between them. When Martha learns of their breakup, the guilt of her own feelings toward Karen overwhelms her; she is terrified that she may actually love Karen in more than a platonic way. Karen dismisses Martha's outburst as being brought on by stress and a lack of sleep, urging her to get some rest. the distraught Martha bids her goodnight and seconds later takes her own life. When Amelia Tilford arrives later that evening to announce that Mary has renounced her lies, it truly is a case of “too little, too late.” The lie has led to three lives being destroyed.

Director Jessi D. Hill immediately sets the tone of the play when the ensemble joyfully runs through the audience on their way to Aunt Lily’s elocution class. As the cast bounds onto the stage, Lauren Marcus’ Mary literally turns her nose up and marches back through the audience. Without saying a word, Marcus grabs your attention. Yes, there’s something about Mary and Marcus does not fail to deliver. The stern look, the clenched jaw, the well played histrionics – all combined leaves an indelible mark. The double casting of Marcus as a delivery boy in the third act only reinforces the lingering effects of Mary’s deception.

The pairing of Emily Dorsch’s Karen and Carmel Javaher’s Martha is a brilliant juxtaposition. While they maybe tempted to portray the women as hyper-intellectual or overly sophisticated for the era, both actors have clearly delved into their characters’ backgrounds – Dorsch’s Karen a delight of grace and eloquence even in the face of dishonor; Javaher’s Martha a mixture of sarcasm and emotions as she slowly comes to term with her true feelings as the events unfold around her. The yin and yang approach to the Wright-Dobie pairing both humanizes the women and makes their ultimate demise that much more heartbreaking to watch.

Charlotte Hampden’s Amelia Tilford perfectly embodies the narrow mindedness of the era. Such accusations were never spoken in public or whispered behind closed doors. The look of abject horror as Mary spins her tale combined with the confusion as she ponders what she should do with her new found information.

Amongst the ensemble cast, Emily Kratter, Katherine Folk-Sullivan, and Lydia Woods are particularly noteworthy as three of Mary’s terrorized classmates who subject themselves to Mary’s demands out of fear of her reprisals.

The only sour note of the production was the overly long and quite unnecessary scene change prior to intermission that took the power from the act’s closing moments. Why destroy the impact with a scene change when it could have been performed during the intermission?

The Children’s Hour concludes APAC's 8th season.

The Children's Hour
Written by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Jessi D. Hill
Set Design: Caleb Levengood
Costume Design: Emily Morgan DeAngelis
Lighting Design: Gina Scherr
Sound Design: David A. Thomas
Original Composition: Greg A. Hennigan
Choreography: Tiffany Rachelle Stewart
Casting Director: Scott Wojcik and Gayle Seay/Wojcik Seay Casting
Press Representative: Katie Rosin/Kampfire Films PR
Production Stage Manager: Bonnie Hilton
Props Master/Assistant Set Design: Courteney Drakos
Season Production Manager: Jen Soloway
Technical Director: Patrick T. Cecala II
Assistant Stage Manager: Greg LoProto
Assistant Costume Designer: Whitney Adams
Fight Choreographer: G.R. Johnson
Fight Captain: Greg LoProto
Assistant Production Manager: Anthony Argento
Program Designer: Sylvija Ozols
Graphic Designer: Dan McMahon
Production Photographer: Jen Maufrais Kelly
Box Office Manager: Taryn Drongowski
Casting Intern: Brooke Mori
Build Crew: Raphael Hurtado, Mark Kajtazi, Brian Rutigliano, Richard Todorov, Chris Vaca

Featuring: Lydia Woods (Peggy Rogers), Gwen Ellis (Catherine), Dani Cervone (Lois Fisher), Jacqueline Sydney (Mrs. Lily Mortar), Katherine Folk-Sullivan (Evelyn Munn), Elisa Pupko (Helen Burton), Emily Kratter (Rosalie Wells), Kristin Parker (Janet), Julia Leffler (Leslie), Lauren Marcus (Mary Tilford), Emily Dorsch (Karen Wright), Carmel Javaher (Martha Dobie), G.R. Johnson (Doctor Joseph Cardin), Getchie Argetsinger (Agatha), Charlotte Hampden (Mrs. Amelia Tilford)

Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
30-44 Crescent St.
Astoria, Queens

May 23–June 7
Thu.–Sat., 8 PM; Sun., 6 PM

For ticket information: (866) 811-4111 or