Sunday, October 25, 2009

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

By Byrne Harrison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review - Next Year in Jerusalem (WorkShop Theater Company)

By Byrne Harrison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For reservations, call 212-695-4173 x5#

Friday, October 9, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admission: $10 - tickets available at the door

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review - Hughie (Ditto Productions)

By Byrne Harrison

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

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

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

But now Hughie is dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets available through SmartTix

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Interview - Rob Neill of Laika Dog in Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is next for the Neo-Futurists?

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

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

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

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

For tickets, call 212-352-3101