Friday, March 30, 2012

"Painting Churches" - A Quiet Play That Touches The Heart

By Judd Hollander

The Keen Company presents a heart-tugging tale about the perils of growing old and the fear of having one's life literally pulled out from under them in a powerful and intimate revival of Tina Howe's Painting Churches at Theatre Row Studios.

The Churches in question are Fanny (Kathleen Chalfant) and Gardner (John Cunningham), a long-time married couple selling the family home in the Tony enclave of Beacon Hill, Massachusetts. Helping them in this endeavor is their daughter Mags (Kate Turnbull), a freelance artist and New York bohemian who's about to have a major show at a Big Apple gallery. Mags also has an ulterior motive in helping out her folks, that being obtaining their promise to finally let her paint their portrait, something Mags has wanted to do for years.

However it soon become apparent something is not right with Mags' parents. Fanny has the habit of changing the subject at the drop of a hat, going off on one verbal tangent after another, to the ever-increasing consternation of her daughter. At the same time Gardner, a noted poet by trade, seems prone to fits of forgetfulness and rage when staying on a topic for too long. Symptoms, it turns out, of a much deeper problem. He's also completely obsessed with finishing his upcoming book on literary criticism. It eventually becomes apparent that Fanny is making a desperate attempt to uphold an appearance of normalcy for the sake of her marriage and their relationship to the outside world. A world, one which includes Mags, that doesn't really want to know the truth of what is actually happening, even when faced with it head-on.

With Painting Churches, Howe has constructed the exterior of a seemingly perfect life only to slowly show the cracks from within. At the same time, her piece taps into the universal fear of not being in control of one's life, as well as wondering just who will be there to take care of you in your time of need. What makes the play so shattering is that the three people presented in this situation all feel frighteningly real. Credit for this must go not only to Howe's script and the various performers, all of whom do an absolutely superb job, but also to Carl Forsman's fluid yet meticulous direction, which introduces the characters and their situation in a manner akin to slowly unwrapping a massive package. In this way, the different elements of the production carefully pull the audience into the unveiling until the final piece of tissue paper falls away to reveal the tragic reality inside for all to see.

Chalfant does a fine job as Fanny, the lynchpin of the tale, holding the situation and her marriage together by doing whatever is necessary to ensure a future for both herself and her husband. Fanny's best moments come towards the end of the play when, even after all is revealed, she continues to deal with everything so matter-of-factly because she has become so completely resigned to the circumstances by that point. At the same time, she takes Mags witheringly to task for never being around her family unless she needs something from them; such as the portrait of her parents. It also helps that Fanny's love for her husband is quite evident throughout.

Turnbull is good as Mags, a young woman with her own life and career, who has put her parents on hold continually, so to speak, over the years. Also, like many grown children, she attempts to balance her own personal needs with those of her parents, but not always succeeding. While her love for Fanny and Gardiner is never in question, it is plain to see she has delayed returning to see them for far too long and one is left with the question as to what she will do after the full extent of their situation is revealed to her.

Cunningham has the hardest role in the play, Gardiner being more a reactive character than a proactive one, often battling situations of helplessness and denial, but always presented in a totally effective and three-dimensional way. Amiable as a sort of cut-up bon vivant when first seen, as the play progresses, the emotions he evokes change from that of comic congeniality to ones of pity and loss.

Costumes by Jennifer Parr are lovely - especially the outfits worn by Turnbull, which nicely show the contrast of someone living the artistic life in New York, as opposed to the more conservative dress of an elderly Beacon Hill couple. The gown Fanny wears for her portrait sitting is also quite fetching.

The scenic design by Beowulf Boritt also comes off well - the just-shy-of-ostentatious living room of the Churches working perfectly as an upper-crust setting, but the set also having enough of an intimate feel to allow the location to both feel welcoming to the audience and also be a part of the story.

Painting Churches offers a gentle and brutally honest portrait of growing old and being faced with the threat of losing all you once were inside, and a look at limited options that follow. This is a play and a production that should definitely be seen.

Painting Churches
Written by Tina Howe

Featuring: Kathleen Chalfant (Fanny), John Cunningham (Gardner), Kate Turnbull (Mags)

Directed by: Carl Forsman
Stage Manager: Jeff Meyers
Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Jennifer Paar
Lighting Design: Josh Bradford
Sound Design and Original Music: Ryan Rumery
Props Design: Ricola Wille
Technical Director: Marshall Miller
Assistant Stage Manager: Diane Healy
Casting Director: Calleri Casting
Assistant Set Designer: Jared Rutherford
Assistant Costume Designer: Amanda Jenks
Assistant Lighting Designer: Daisy Long
Assistant Sound Designer: Florian Staab
Assistant Production Manager: Michael Lapinsky
House Manager: Caleb Eigsti
Wardrobe Supervisor: Jamie Bertoluzzi
Master Electrician: Jeffrey Toombs
Assistant Director: Dorit Katzenelenbogen
Fight Choreography: Paul Molnar
Draper: Marie Stair
Hair Design: Antonio Soddu
Crew: Cressa Amundsen, Jen Brinker, Lee C. Bush, Kia Rogers, Samuel Payne, Demetrius Jacks, Geoffrey Barnes, Jesse Wilson, Joe Truman, Mary Stazewski, Chris Haag, Kevin Strano, Adam Mark Bishop, Scott Basten, Laura Schoch

Presented by the Keen Company
Clurman Theatre
Theatre Row Studios
410 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or
Running Time: Two Hours
Closes: April 22, 2012

"Beyond the Horizon" - Horizon Slips Away

By Judd Hollander

Eugene O'Neill's words touch the heart in his Pulitzer Prize-winning work Beyond the Horizon, a terribly haunting tale of three people battered and torn apart by the winds of love. Sadly, the current revival of the play at the Irish Repertory Theatre offers a somewhat stilted approach to the material.

In 1907 Massachusetts, Robert Mayo (Lucas Hall) is spending his last night at the family farm before shipping out to sea with his uncle, Captain Dick Scott (John Tomas Waite). Sickly as a lad and always with his nose in a book, Robert would much rather quote poetry than till the soil, and is looking forward to his upcoming adventure and the chance to see new lands. In this, he is quite the opposite from his older brother Andrew (Robert Brogan), a farmer through and through, and someone quite content to stay in his own backyard. Andrew's ties to his home is the main reason their father James (David Sitler) is content to allow Robert to go on his voyage, despite the misgiving of the boys' mother Kate (Johanna Leister).

Everyone's plans are set asunder by the actions of Ruth Atkins (Wrenn Schmidt), the childhood friend of Robert and Andrew when, after Robert reveals the true depths of his feelings to her in a burst of youthful impetuousness, she announces she feels exactly the same about him. Overcome with joy, Robert puts his dreams of travel on hold, opting instead to stay at home, marry Ruth and learn to be a proper farmer. Meanwhile, the now-shattered Andrew who, like Robert, has secretly loved Ruth for years, decides to take Robert's place on board ship, a decision leading to a violent alteration with James, and a harsh reality check with Robert.

It soon becomes apparent Robert is not cut out for the farming life. Although his intentions are honorable and his efforts valiant, everything he touches seemingly starts to fall apart. While the family holds on as best they can, they eventually look to Andrew for salvation; hoping he can pull them out of their increasingly desperate situation upon his return. However Andrew may have other plans in mind now that he has seen the world and the opportunities it offers.

Beyond the Horizon is a play that has all the makings of a terribly tragic tale of choices made and their resulting consequences. The story wonderfully embellished by the brilliantly nuanced lighting by Brian Nason, and original music and sound design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab respectively. Yet the passion of the story is partially strangled by the so-so direction and lackluster performances of several of the main actors.

The first flaw is Brogan's interpretation of Andrew, a simple fellow whose conversations tend to be on the short side and who doesn't believe in descriptive passages in his letters. Yet there still needs to be a depth of passion in the character, which is not the case here, his words all too often sounding monotone and flat. True, Brogan does get into a fierce confrontation with his father in Act One, but he never reaches that level of intensity again, offering instead a sort of by-the-numbers performance, one which rarely allows the audience see any trace of excitement, pain, loss or anger as the story progresses.

Schmidt displays similar problems as Ruth. Her performance is good in the beginning as a young woman in the bloom of first love and the wonder it brings, but her later actions as someone beaten down by life come off more dull than world-weary, and lifeless rather than tinged with bitterness or resentment. This is especially true in the final moments of the play where she repeats one line over and over again, but in a manner so completely devoid of feeling or inflection, it loses all meaning.

Hall on the other hand is quite powerful as Robert, allowing the character to see the endless promise the world has to offer while longing to venture away from the only home he has ever known. Even when times get hard and he's almost crushed by his numerous burdens, he never completely loses touch with his inner child, although his wonder is replaced at times by a terrible sense of pain and loss. Robert is also the only one of the three main characters the audience can continually emphasize with; the failure to do so with the others cutting the potential emotional depth of the work by more than half.

The supporting characters all work very well. Waite is fun as the uncle, a sea-going rouge, if a bit stereotypical; Patricia Conolly is excellent as Mrs. Atkins, Ruth's wheelchair-bound mother, a malicious sort who can't resists one verbal dig after enough against those she disapproves of. Indeed, her venom is so pointed, one feels the urge to throttle her at times or at least run as far away from her as humanly possible - an option Ruth, as the dutiful daughter, does not have. Leister is nicely earthy as Kate, a woman who just wants to keep her family together at any cost; while Sitler lends a stern patriarchal air as the boys caring but somewhat obstinate father. Aimèe Laurence is very appealing as Mary, the daughter of Ruth and Robert, though she looks to be a bit older than the approximately three year-old girl she is supposed to be playing.

Direction by Ciarán O'Reilly is not nearly as strong as it could be, it being unable to bring out strong enough performances from two of the lead players. Just as glaring is the weak delivery of much of the text, O'Neill's powerful descriptions failing to leap off the page, though the ultimate power of his words is still quite evident. Look for some of Robert's early speeches to really show the multi-faceted tone of the writing.

The set by Hugh Landwehr works well, offering an alternatively open and confined atmosphere, thus helping to set the mood which matches the overall tone of the piece.

A valiant effort by the Irish Repertory Theatre, this production of Beyond the Horizon falls rather short in its efforts, and not measuring up to the potential the play has to offer.

Beyond the Horizon
by Eugene O'Neill

Featuring: Lucas Hall (Robert Mayo), Rod Brogan (Andrew Mayo), Wrenn Schmidt (Ruth Atkins), John Thomas Waite (Captain Dick Scott/Dr. Fawcett), Johanna Leister (Kate Mayo), David Sitler (James Mayo), Patricia Conolly (Mrs. Atkins), Aimèe Laurence (Mary), Jonathan Judge-Russo (Ben)

Directed by Ciarán O' Reilly
Set Design: Hugh Landwehr
Co-Costume Design: Linda Fisher and Jessica Barrios
Lighting Design: Brian Nason
Original Music: Ryan Rumery
Sound Design: M. Florian Staab
Hair and Wig Design: Robert-Charles Vallance
Props: Deirdre Brennan
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Casting: Deborah Brown
Production Stage Manager: April Ann Kline
Assistant Stage Manager: Rebecca C. Monroe
Press Representative: Shirley Herz Associates

The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Tickets: 212-727-2737 or
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Closes: April 15, 2012

"‘Tis Pity She's a Whore" - An interesting twist on a classic work

By Judd Hollander

The acclaimed acting troupe Cheek by Jowl tries a delicate balancing act, and for the most part succeeding, with their latest effort, a staging of John Ford's controversial 1633 work ‘Tis Pity She's A Whore, a somewhat uncomfortable tale of forbidden love, its obsession and ultimately tragic aftermath.

In 17th century Italy, Giovanni (Jack Gordon), son of the widowed Florio (David Collings), is terribly despondent, for he is madly in love with his sister, the beautiful Annabella (Lydia Wilson), the most desired woman in the land. It is not a sibling love Giovanni feels for her, but rather an overpowering heartfelt, and somewhat lustful, carnal need. Though he is urged repeatedly to fight these feelings by his confessor, Friar Bonaventura (Ryan Ellsworth), Giovanni finds he cannot do so. More importantly, he fails to see why such a pure and powerful love should be seen as wrong. He finally confesses all to Annabella, who admits to having the same desires toward him. Joyously, the two swear eternal love. However Annabella finds herself with child soon after, leading to a hastily arranged marriage with Soranzo (Jack Hawkins), who may actually be someone whom Annabella can turn to share her burden. Yet Giovanni may not be willing to give up his claim on his sister so easily.

Soranzo also brings his own baggage to his the story, that being his relationship with "the lustful Hippolita" (Suzanne Burden), a former mistress of his. Soranzo having first killed Hippolita's husband in order to marry her; a promise he ultimately reneges on, preferring the more youthful Annabella. Hippolita however has no intention of going gently into that good night and uses her feminine charms to enslave Soranzo’s servant Vasques (Laurence Spellman) and enlist him in a murderous plot. However Vasques, who has far more cunning than anyone first gives him credit, has his own ideas on that score.

Set in the modern era, with posters of True Blood, Gone With the Wind and Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the background, and the aura and images of sex and sexual pleasures everywhere, the production is an interesting amalgamation of sensuality, comedy, horror and drama, with certain scenes making the gouging out of eyes in King Lear seem quite tame in comparison. The company works on keeping the audience on their toes throughout, for just as events suggest a certain type of tone or feeling, something is presented that complete upsets the current atmosphere on stage, sending it off in a completely different emotional direction. A good example of this is the attitude of Putana (Lizzie Hopley), a serving maid in Annabella's house who, after walking in on the siblings, has a wonderful comedic scene where she attempts to keep their relationship a secret by concealing their dirty linen, quite literally. There's also Burden’s turn as Hippolita, cutting a mean figure as a woman who, with just a movement or gesture can change the meanings of her speech and actions from comedy to drama and back again. (She also reminds one of actress Harriet Harris.)

The play does get a bit confusing in the beginning as one must sort out the various characters, with several actors playing multiple roles, some of which feel almost interchangeable. An early fight scene between Grimaldi (David Mumeni) and Vasques, the latter fighting for his master’s honor is one such example of this. Though within a few minutes, everyone's role in the show becomes clear.

Wilson works well as the initially virginal Annabella; a seemingly bored woman who comes alive when she and her brother acknowledge their feelings for one another. She’s also someone who, in the end, begins to realize the horror of her actions and tries to try to find a way towards repentance, something Giovanni cannot tolerate. Gordon cuts both an alternatively foppish and chilling figure as Giovanni, who begins to unravel when be realizes he may not be able to keep what he desperately desires.

The supporting cast also has much to be proud of. Spellman is excellent as the Machiavellian Vasques, someone always scheming, but also loyal to a fault, and determined to get to the truth no matter what, as several people learn to their everlasting sorrow. Hawkins is fine as Soranzo, at first seemingly a man in lust who simply threw one woman over for another, yet in the end he gets a chance to reveal the depths of his love for his bride, presenting a man crushed by betrayal who must then battle his own demons, balancing his love for Annabella with his burning desire to know the truth. Hopley has fun with the character of Putana, a woman who knows all the secrets, and who likes to play on the wild side, but who also eventually learns that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Burden as Hippolita steals the show at times as a wronged woman out for revenge, and who has the ruthless cunning and sexual wherewithal to carry out her plan. Ellsworth is convincing as the stern Friar to whom all is confessed and who desperately tries to turn Annabella and Giovanni from the course on which they appear inevitably set.

Work by director Declan Donnellan and Jane Gibson, the latter the production’s associate and movement director, are both wonderful; keeping the action moving nicely in a delicate placement of sin, desire and power. There are frequent also dance interludes through the piece. Particularly good is a scene where Putana is seduced by Vasques, with the help of Gratiano (Jimmy Fairhurst), leading to a rather unexpected turn of events.

Not for the faint of heart or delicate constitution, this presentation of ‘Tis Pity She's a Whore makes for an interesting piece of theatre, and is at its heart, a stern morality tale. That is, if you can see the underlying message beneath all the violence, blood, deceit and anguish tossed in.

'Tis Pity She's a Whore

Featuring Suzanne Burden (Hippolita), David Collings (Florio), Ryan Ellsworth (Donado), Jimmy Fairhurst (Gratiano), Nyasha Hatendi (Friar), Lizzie Hopley (Putana), Peter Moreton (Cardinal/Doctor), David Mumeni (Grimaldi), Laurence Spellman (Vasques), Lydia Wilson (Annabella)
Note: Ryan Ellsworth performed the role of the Friar in the performance this reviewer saw.

Written by John Ford
Directed by Declan Donnellan
Designed by Nick Ormerod
Associate and Movement Director: Jane Gibson
Lighting: Judith Greenwood
Music/Sound: Nick Powell
Associate Director: Owen Horsley
Presented by Cheek by Jowl

Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street

Tickets: 718-636-4100 or
Running Times: Two hours, no intermission
Closes March 31, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Few Minutes with Playwright Duncan Pflaster

By Byrne Harrison

Duncan Pflaster has won awards for his plays The Empress of Sex, Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants, The Thyme of the Season, The Starship Astrov, Sweeter Dreams, Eternity: Time Without End, and The Tragedy of Dandelion. Other plays include The Wastes of Time, Suckers, Admit Impediments, Sleeping in Tomorrow, and Ore, or Or, as well as a panoply of one-acts. Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants, The Thyme of the Season, The Starship Astrov are published online at Indie Theater Now. He also writes sketch comedy with the video troupe Laughing Swingset, whose work can be seen on YouTube and Funny or Die. He is also an award-winning actor (2009 MITF Award, Outstanding Supporting Actor, I Hate Love) and theatre reviewer (2nd Place in Stage and Cinema's 2010 Theater Review Contest). Website

First, I have to say that you seem to be a great fan of the whole Kickstarter funding model. In fact you funded last year's "Sweeter Dreams" through Kickstarter. How much are you trying to raise for your current production and what will it go toward?

I'm trying to raise $5,000 for this show. Most of the money will go toward paying the cast and crew- this is an unusually large cast of 13 men. Money will also go toward costumes, props, rehearsal space and publicity. Especially the latter - there's no point in doing a show if no one knows about it!

This new play is "The Taint of Equality" which will be produced as part of this year's Planet Connections festival. I was lucky enough to see a staged reading of this gay sex farce, and thought it was a riot (in no small part due to the amazing cast you put together for the reading). For those who didn't see the reading, could you describe the show?

Adrian and Javier are a gay couple who don't believe in marriage - but everyone keeps assuming they are or should be married. When they realize it might be because they've never actually opened up their "open relationship," they decide to each go out and get laid, with hilariously erotic results.

So where do you fall in the gay marriage debate? Good for the LGBT community, or just another attempt to mimic heteronormative ideals?

I think marriage should not be a governmental issue - I think all couples should be joined equally by the state in civil unions that afford them legal protections and so forth, and if they want to have a religion-of-their-choice, non-legal marriage ceremony to supplement that, that's fine, too.

What inspired this particular show?

It's loosely inspired by a turn-of-the-previous-century ten-minute play called "Another Way Out", by Lawrence Langner. It's about a terribly modern heterosexual couple living together without being married. It's amusing, though wildly outdated. I took the basic idea, changed it to a same-sex couple to reflect current marriage politics, then added more characters and some more farcical complications to wind it out to a full-length play. Most plays take me a year or so to write; once I had the idea for it, this one took me two months.

Back to Kickstarter for a minute. Most Kickstarter campaigns offer incentives for the people who donate. What are you offering to your backers?

For only $1, you'll be listed in our program as a contributor (everyone who donates gets that); for $5 I will write you a personal haiku or limerick; for $25, I'll write you a Sonnet, Ballade, or Villanelle; for $50 I will write you a song or perform a cover song of your choice on my ukulele to be posted to YouTube or delivered in person; $100 gets you a hi-res digital photograph of the hottie cast; $150 I will do a one-day photo shoot with you; $500 or more gets you the digital photo plus two tickets to the show, $1,000 or more will get you the digital photo, two tickets and song or poem of your choice.

I'm already down to write some 21 poems and three songs. Gonna be a busy couple of months, if we make the goal. And of course, if we don't make our goal by the deadline (April 1st), no one gets charged and we won't get any of the money.

Can you do an off-the-cuff limerick or haiku to our readers to convince them to back your production?

Please send us a pledge, I implore;
I promise it won't be a bore:
The Taint of Equality
Is full of frivolity
With mischief and insight galore!

To contribute to Duncan's Kickstarter Campaign, click here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Occupy the Empty Space: A 10-Minute Play Festival on Occupy Wall Street Themes

By Byrne Harrison

After a night (or possibly a day and night) of green beer-fueled excess, do your conscience some good and attend the Occupy the Empty Space 10-minute play festival tomorrow at Judson Memorial Baptist Church.

This has been a passion project for the occupiers and artists facilitating, along with 250+ writers and 100 actors and directors who expressed interest in the project. They have playwrights and performers of various stages in their career--participants include Naomi Wallace, Ismail Khalil, Ali Rose Dachis, Dan Kinch, and Caridad Svich.

In between these short plays, they will intersperse teach-ins by many well known organizations and activists in NYC, such as Picture the Homeless, Frank Morales of o4o, Queer Rising, Time's Up! and others.

The event is this Sunday, March 18th, from 2:30-7:30 @ Judson Memorial Church's meeting hall, and like most things Occupy-related is completely free.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tonight and Tomorrow - The NY Neo-Futurists Present The F.U. Show (The Fair Use Show)

The NEW YORK NEO-FUTURISTS will perform a special, one-weekend-only version of their ongoing, award-winning show Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind featuring 30 short, completely original plays in 60 minutes that were inspired by film, television, theater and literature. The Neo-Futurists offer their distinctive take on popular culture in a way that is both personal and communal. Art-house, low-brow, cult classic and everything in-between... nothing is off limits!

Friday, March 9 & Saturday, March 10 @ 10:30
(a specially curated TMLMTBGB menu!)

Tickets: $11 + roll of a die
Or tickets online here

Matt Doyle Talks to Rob Hartmann About "Private Romeo"

By Rob Hartmann

Matt Doyle, most recently seen on a New York stage in War Horse at Lincoln Center, stars in the film Private Romeo, writer/director Alan Brown’s retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story set in an all-male military academy.

ROB HARTMANN: So how did you get involved with the project originally?

MATT DOYLE: My agent sent me the script and asked, “Is this something you’d be interested in? It’s a little out there.” And I read the script and I said, are you kidding? Absolutely. I love Romeo and Juliet so much – I trained in classical theater, and I studied all of Shakespeare’s works.

RH: You trained in London, yes?

MD: I trained in London for a year, in a classical theater course at LAMDA [the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.] It was wonderful – I really got to know the classics and Shakespeare. There’s a reason that people love Romeo and Juliet as much as they do, and why it’s probably his most famous work. It’s exceptional. It’s so, so beautiful, and I love the way that it approaches that young, foolish teenage energy – the immediacy and destructiveness of a teenager. How a teenager thinks and works. So I’ve always really loved the piece, and the fact that it was done in a military academy – it was very interesting for me. So I went in for it, and it went great. I had several callbacks for it and ended up getting cast as Glenn, the “Juliet” part. I was thrilled. Juliet’s text is pretty remarkable, so I was very excited. And – when else would I get to play that role?

RH: Exactly – when else would you get to play it? Juliet’s interesting – so often in the play, she’s at the mercy of everyone else: waiting for information, waiting to be told what she can do and when she can do it. It was interesting seeing a guy in that role – but seeing that the essence is still the same.

MD: I wanted to make sure, in translating Juliet to a male, you know, that this would not be a male playing a female this time, as so many Romeo and Juliet productions have done in the past. This was actually a male in the role now – I wanted to make sure that there was a quiet masculinity to the role. She is waiting a lot – it’s a feminine part. I tried to make it as masculine as possible while still honoring Juliet and still honoring her tendencies. But I wanted to make sure that he [Glenn] had his own bearings – that he wasn’t necessarily waiting on everyone else, but that he was probably a little more quiet and a little more reserved, and wanted to get a feel for what other people thought before he made certain moves.

RH: Once you were cast, was there a rehearsal process?

MD: We actually did have a rehearsal process for this, because it was so obviously complicated. We really needed to hear each other and really needed to listen to one another. We were about to play with this text to a degree that none of us had before. I think the reason it’s been met with either people embracing it, or people being confused by it, is because we really do flip the text on its head as much as we can. We had actually just a few days together where we sat around and read it with one another. Seth [Numrich, in the Romeo role] and I had some time where we really got to explore our relationship and get to know each other before we jumped into being completely in love with one another. [Laughs] What was so wonderful about that, though, was that the first time we sat down together, there was this chemistry in the group that was so spot-on. I think, walking away from the film and seeing it again – I just saw it recently – I’m amazed by the performances of my peers in that movie. Every time I see it. Everyone is so specific, and has created something really special with their role-slash-roles – everyone had to play a combination of several different characters.

RH: I thought that was interesting, with Benvolio combined with Lady Capulet [acted by Sean Hudock], and Mercutio combined with Capulet [Hale Appleman.]. Very intense work going on. How long was the filming?

MD: We only had a three week window at the academy that we were shooting at. We were shooting at a naval academy in the Bronx. With only three weeks we had to make sure that we got it all done, and worked with each other as well as we possibly could.

RH: That’s pretty quick.

MD: It’s very quick, especially for the material we were exploring together. What was so great was that the group was so excited to be there. Nobody had any fear going into it – nobody seemed to be overwhelmed by it. Everybody was just completely on board and jumped right into it. We all built these wonderful relationships with each other with little backstories. I built this thing with “Omar” [played by Chris Bresky], who is the Nurse character in the film. We talked about our friendship and who those characters were, and talked about their backstory. We came up with this wacky story about how we grew up in Delaware together on a cul-de-sac, and got way too deep with it. [Laughs] I remember the first time I saw the film when I realized, oh yeah, that’s not in the movie. I thought there were scenes about that. No. There’s nothing. That’s just something we made up. [Laughs.]

But the work that we were doing with each other, in terms of the chemistry among all the actors – I think it really shows.

And then Seth and I – obviously – had to let go of any fear or apprehension whatsoever and just jump right into it with one another. And actually the first scene that we shot together was the balcony scene. Which I think is perfect, because it shows that kind of discovery – I mean, obviously we’re acting, and I see the choices that we’re making with one another. But I also see the discovery of how we both work in that scene – we were really figuring each other out. We got to know each other, shooting that scene. To know how each person would respond to a touch and a kiss – just the simplest movements. It was really fascinating to do that scene first. That’s the thing about shooting a film – you’re not doing anything in order. Starting with the balcony scene brought a really great color to it.

And then the next scene that we shot was ‘the lark’, waking up in bed together. [Juliet says it is night, not morning: Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day: It was the nightingale, and not the lark that pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.] And now we really have to be just completely comfortable with each other. Luckily we both were so open with one another and had no problem with each other. Going into that scene, we just laughed about it: all right, let’s just do this. And it was a hundred degrees in those rooms when we were shooting. There was no air conditioning, so we’re sweating all over each other, and in between takes we’re wiping each other down. There’s no way that we couldn’t have walked out of that without feeling completely comfortable with one another. In fact, when Seth and I started doing War Horse together, everyone noticed that we seemed [laughing] incredibly comfortable with one another. Just great pals, but you know, oddly comfortable with one another. And we’re like, oh, that’s just because we just spent four weeks essentially, you know, making out. We were actually cast in War Horse while we were working on Private Romeo. Quite a coincidence.

RH: Tell me more about your approach to the character.

MD: As a male playing a role that was originally written from a female perspective, I didn’t want him to seem weak, and I didn’t want him to seem scared. Alan [Brown], our director, was really careful about this as well. He didn’t want the film to be all about gay-bashing. He wanted there to be a sense that, no, even boys in military academies aren’t that hateful and aren’t that stupid. They’re not necessarily looking at this from the perspective of, “Oh, that’s gay and that’s weird.”

RH: I was curious to know, when you were shooting scenes using Shakespeare’s text, were you translating it for yourselves in some way – to what they were really saying to one another?

MD: That was a struggle, yes – here’s what Shakespeare’s lines are saying, but what are these boys saying? How do we flip it on its head so that it works in this situation? And sometimes it works brilliantly, and sometimes maybe not so much. I don’t know if we ever really, really figured out Paris [the nobleman to whom Juliet is betrothed] in a way that was concrete and clear - the idea of who Paris is, when Capulet – the character of Josh [Hale Appleman] – comes in to talk to me. And so what we decided is, okay, this isn’t going to work, we can’t make it literal. Some of the boys thought about, well, what if “Paris” is like a school, and he had to go to another school. And Alan, of course, was appalled. [Laughs] “No, absolutely not!” So the idea of “Paris” became just that Josh was coming in to tell me that it needs to stop. It’s gone too far. “Paris” was the idea of it ending. So in some instances like that, you could say, “Well that doesn’t work at all!” But to us it did. [Laughs] Not everything needs to be that literal. I think that’s what the film goes back and forth on. Sometimes when the text really works and it’s really clear, it can be completely magical. You just sit back and go, oh my gosh, I can’t believe that in this context it’s perfect. You know? And I never would have looked at the text that way and think that it would say something like that. And other times you’d say, well, that doesn’t work so much, but let’s push forward. And we sat down with one another and communicated to each other in our own language what we were trying to say, and then tied it back into the text – and accepted that we were doing something experimental. To make it literal is doing a disservice to the piece, and is defeating the purpose.

There’s a moment in watching the film where it starts to become dreamlike. We’re saying that all love is universal, and this text ties into a situation that you’d never think it would have tied into.

RH: I was curious about the scene in which the other cadets attack your character in the middle of the night – leaving you outside plastic-wrapped to a chair with your mouth covered in duct tape.

MD: I kept asking Alan, are they doing this to me because I kissed another boy? Because I’m gay? And he said, no, they’re hazing you, because you are the target of the night. Alan had seen a lot of disturbing YouTube videos of actual hazings, and wanted to tie that into the film somehow. If we were in this environment, and this situation had come up, then something of this nature would have happened, either in good sport or in poor sport. So it’s to capture the environment of the military academy. Alan based everything – wrapping me in the chair with cellophane – on videos that he’d seen.

RH: And you get to sing in the film. [During the credits, Matt sings a pop rendition of “You Made Me Love You” directly to the camera.]

MD: [Laughs] Yes, I do get to sing. Alan got in touch with me after I was cast and said, Oh, by the way, I want you to sing in my film. I know you can sing and I want you to sing. At the time, the ending was unfinished. Alan had decided that’s how he wanted to end it. I said, okay, but if it happens, it needs to be a conversation between the two of us. It needs to be extremely simple if you actually want to put it on film. It’s really hard to put a song on film. It was a lot of back and forth, and eventually he presented “You Made Me Love You” to me, I looked at the lyrics, and obviously it’s perfect lyrically. But I said, I’m not doing Judy [Laughs]. But luckily, I got to work with Bishop Allen [the Brooklyn based indie rock group whose songs are featured in the film.] They worked with me for a few hours in their apartment, and we listened to the Patsy Cline version, and then did our own contemporary spin on that. So that’s how that song came to be.

RH: And you’ve got some musical projects that you’re working on - ?

MD: Yes – I’m working on a followup EP to my first EP. I did an EP last year called Daylight and the followup will come out this year, called Sunset. And I just did the out of town run of Giant, which will be at the Public in the fall. [The musical by Michael John LaChiusa and Sybille Pearson, based on the 1952 Edna Ferber novel.]

RH: Back to Private Romeo – I see that you all got an acting award from OutFest. [Grand Jury Prize for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film, awarded to the entire cast.]

MD: And we just got a Critic’s Pick from The New York Times. I love how controversial it is – I love that some people absolutely embrace it and fall into it and go into that dreamlike state and go along for the journey. And I love that some people are like [laughs] “No! I’m not doing this! I don’t get it!” I think that that’s a mark of something original. I love it.

RH: Especially now in film, so many things feel pre-digested and mapped out. There’s no ‘question mark’ left.

MD: I think Alan’s passion shows through. He wanted something very specific. He was so committed to his vision. I took a lot of film history – it reminds me of some of the films that came out in the Seventies that made people say, “Wait, what?” They were testing boundaries. That’s what this film was trying to do. And I love it.

PRIVATE ROMEO Written and directed by Alan Brown. With Seth Numrich, Matt Doyle, Hale Appleman, Chris Bresky, Sean Hudock, Adam Barrie, Bobby Moreno, and Charlie Barnett. Producer, Agathe David-Weill. Editor, Craig B. Weiseman. Director of Photography, Derek McKane. Casting Director, Stephanie Holbrook. Composer, Nicholas Wright.

"Galileo" - Story Not Up to Its Subject

By Judd Hollander
Photos by Joan Marcus

Change is a frightening thing. This is a central theme in Bertolt Brecht's 1937 dramatic work "Galileo," presented by the Classic Stage Company, using a 1947 translation by Charles Laughton. Unfortunately the ultimate result is rather pedestrian.

In 17th century Italy, inventor-mathematician-astronomer-physicist Galileo Galilei (F. Murray Abraham) announces that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, as is commonly thought, but rather the Earth, as well as the other known planets, actually revolve around the Sun. This idea contradicts nearly 2,000 years of teachings by the church, and the findings of Aristotle.

This proclamation is something the church hierarchy cannot allow. For to do so would, they believe, reduce man to an insignificant afterthought in the universe rather than being at its center. In their efforts to silence Galileo, they threaten to prosecute him for heresy if he persists in his statements, even as people in other quarters urge him to expound on his ideas.

While Galileo at first seems to succumb to the church's entreaties, his passion and belief in the importance of the truth cannot be denied, especially after mounting evidence appears to confirm his hypothesis. There is a pivotal scene where he instructs those working with him to vigorously attempt to disprove his theory, and that only if and when it becomes impossible to do so will they proclaim their findings. All this sets Galileo on an eventual collision course with those desperate to maintain the status quo.

"Galileo" looks at a pivotal time in scientific history and discovery. Yet the work offers no new information on a subject most people attending will have a least a passing familiarity, with what's presented on stage feeling like an education special aimed at those in grade school. Additionally, most of the information offered is often spoon-fed to the audience, such as when Andrea (Andy Phelan), a follower of Galileo, tries to disprove the idea of an old woman being a witch.

The show does contain some interesting flourishes. This includes pointing out that Galileo, for all his brilliance, was just a man, one with normal needs and desires; especially the need for money in order to live and eat. This fact is brought home via an enjoyable sequence regarding his so-called invention of the telescope, an object which plays a pivotal role in his life and in the play. Another important moment occurs when various people in authority refuse to consider Galileo's ideas, going so far as to ignore his pleas to even peer through his telescope and have the opportunity to see what he sees. Yet such high points are severely weakened due to most of the characters being more one-dimensional than anything approaching flesh and blood. The issues brought up in the show are quite serious (i.e. the church believing people will lose their reason for living if Galileo's ideas become widely accepted, and conversely how people will stop believing in the power of the church), but since those on both sides of the argument often seem little more than stock figures, it's hard to identify with any passion they try to convey. Whether the fault comes from Brecht's original text or Laughton's translation is unclear, but in either case, the work is lacking a substantial grounding in substance - somewhat surprising considering the subject matter. Things also might have turned out better were most of the supporting cast not playing multiple roles, thus allowing some of the characters a chance to have a clearer identity.

Abraham's performance is a welcome exception to the characterization problem, the actor presenting Galileo as a low-key sort of fellow, one with quiet humor and gravitas. This certainly helps to make the character more interesting, and allows the audience to emphasize with his struggles on whether or not to follow his conscience, even if one knows his decision long before it is finally made. Abraham also has some nice contemplative moments studying the sky while quietly expressing wonder in what he sees. Also offering a strong performance is Amanda Quaid as Galileo's loving and pious daughter, a woman whose own future happiness may be sacrificed on the alter of her father's ideals.

Brian Kulick's direction is nicely done, as is the choreography by Tony Speciale, many of the characters moving in a circular manner about the stage, either by walking or dancing, their movements indicating the paths of the planets. Complimenting this is Adrianne Lobel's simply masterful set, which depicts the heavens and the role they play in the story. Costumes by Oana Botez-Ban fit nicely into the period in which this story takes place.

The story of Galileo and the trials he faced make for a fascinating subject. Unfortunately the offering by Classic Stage Company never makes said tale engaging enough to really come alive. The technical efforts are excellent throughout, but the play itself is lacking that needed spark to make it all come together.

Written by Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Charles Laughton

Featuring: Andy Phelan (Andrea, The Prince), F. Murray Abraham (Galileo), Amanda Quaid (Virginia), Nick Westrate (Ludovico), Steven Rattazzi (Priuli, The Ballad Singer, Boy), Steven Skybell (Sagredo, Cardinal Bellarmin), Jon DeVries (The Old Cardinal, Federzoni), Robert Dorfman (Cardinal Barberini), Aaron Himelstein (The Little Monk), The Company (Senators, Bishops, Monks, Officials and Revelers)

Scenic Design: Adrianne Lobel
Costume Design: Oana Botez-Ban
Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Original Music and Sound Design: Christian Frederickson and Ryan Rumery
Projection Design: Jan Hartley
General Manager: Jeff Griffin
Production Stage Manager: Joanne E. McInerney
Assistant Stage Manager: Kelly McGrath
Production Supervisor: Production Core
Casting: Calleri Casting
Press Representative: The Publicity Office
Choreographed by Tony Speciale
Directed by Brian Kulick

Presented at Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th Street

Tickets: 212-352-3101, 866-811-4111 or

Running Time: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes (including intermission)

Closes: March 18, 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

FRIGID Festival Round Up - Part One

By Byrne Harrison

Whenever a particularly good festival comes along, and FRIGID is a particularly good festival, I always wish I could clone myself.  There is too much to see and never enough time.  That said, I managed to see a wide variety of plays this year and found most of them to be well worth the time.

"The Terrible Manpain of Umberto MacDougal"
Written by Emleigh Wolf
Directed by Bricken Sparacino
Featuring: Emleigh Wolf (Umberto MacDougal) and Mike Ogletree (Mike Hamilton)

When I think of over-the-top expressions of angst, bad poetry, and sighs pregnant with deep meaning, I tend to think of high school drama majors dressed all in black with clove cigarettes or emo kids.  In Emleigh Wolf's hilarious play, "The Terrible Manpain of Umberto MacDougal," she turns this expectation on its head by portraying the ultimate survivor of terminal manpain - a big, burly Scotsman named Umberto MacDougal.  Full of sighs, forlorn looks, a "Book of Sad," and food to help him eat his pain, Umberto is an absolutely brilliant creation.

Initially the play begins as a lecture by Umberto (with help from his friend Mike), explaining what manpain is (pain that is only felt by men), and how best to express that pain (having a nearby window is useful).  As it goes along, the audience shares in all the humiliations and disappointments in Umberto's life (and there were a lot of them), from his missing father to his lackluster love life.  Each one building on the next as Umberto breaks down, then rallies, then breaks down again, all to the audience's delight.

Ably directed by Bricken Sparacino, and well-acted by Wolf and Ogletree, "The Terrible Manpain of Umberto MacDougal" is my choice for best of the festival.

"The Terrible Manpian of Umberto MacDougal" is part of the FRIGID Hangover, with one additional performance on March 8th at the Kraine Theater.

"The Rope in Your Hands"
Written and Performed by Siobhan O'Loughlin
Directed by Danielle Skraastad

Siobhan O'Loughlin's interview-based play, "The Rope in Your Hands," brings to life the people of post-Katrina New Orleans.  A series of snapshots of the survivors of the city's worst catastrophe in recent memory shows the scars left by the trauma, but also the incredible strength that is manifest by those who stayed in (or returned to) the city.  From the people who watched their lives destroyed, to the people who came to New Orleans post-Katrina with the best of intentions, to the children who didn't understand the magnitude of what was happening, O'Louglin shows a fascinating cross-section of New Orleans life.

O'Loughlin is a chameleon, transitioning smoothly from character to character - a change in stance, a flutter of hands, use of a prop being plenty to establish each new identity.  And with the exception of some minor technical glitches (the play features projections that help identify each character), the production is exceptionally strong.  I would love to see what a New Orleans crowd would think of "The Rope in Your Hands."  I think they'd be pleased with O'Loughlin's portrayal.

"The Rope in Your Hands" is part of the FRIGID Hangover, with one additional performance on March 9th at the Kraine Theater.

FRIGID Hangover Starts Tonight


Horse Trade Theater Group (Erez Ziv, Managing Director, Heidi Grumelot, Artistic Director) is proud to present the third annual FRIGID Hangovers, March 5-10 at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery). We’re bringing back the best and the brightest from this years festival, so don’t miss your second chance to catch standout performances of Fear Factor: Canine Edition, Little Lady, The Terrible Manpain of Umbertto MacDougal, The Rope in Your Hands, Missed Connections, Coosje, and Rabbit Island.

FRIGID Hangovers will run March 5-10 at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery). Tickets ($20) may be purchased online at or by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444.

Fear Factor: Canine Edition
Hangover: Mon 3/5 @ 8:30pm
Remaining Festival Performances @ The Kraine (85 East 4th Street): 
Thu 3/1 @ 9pm & Sat 3/3 @ 7pm

The peculiar and misguided true adventures of a man and his very trusting, very forgiving, therapy dog. An award-winning tale of true love and overcoming obstacles, while staring fear in the face.

Little Lady
Hangover: Tue 3/6 @ 7pm
Remaining Festival Performances @ The Red Room (85 East 4th Street):
Tue 2/28 @ 9:30pm, Thu 3/1 @ 11pm, Sat 3/3 @ 5pm, & Sun 3/4 @ 12:30pm

A physical theatre solo show that peers into the fantastical life of Little Lady.

The Terrible Manpain of Umbertto MacDougal
Hangover: Thu 3/8 @ 7pm
Remaining Festival Performances @ USM (94. St. Marks Place): 
Mon 2/27 @ 6pm, Fri 3/2 @ 7:30pm & Sat 3/3 @ 2:30pm

Umberto MacDougal allows you to look through the window of his tragic manpain. With a beard full of tears and a melancholy guitarist playing a sorrowful tune, Umberto reveals the pain that men feel.

The Rope in Your Hands
Hangover: Fri 3/9 @ 7pm
Remaining Festival Performances @ The Red Room (85 East 4th Street):
Wed 2/29 @ 8pm, Sat 3/3 @ 11pm, & Sun 3/4 @ 6:30pm

A solo show based on the true stories of thirteen different survivors of Hurricane Katrina

Missed Connections
Hangover: Fri 3/9 @ 8:30pm
Remaining Festival Performances @ The Kraine (85 East 4th Street):
Mon 2/27 @ 6pm, Thu 3/1 @ 10:30pm, & Sun 3/4 @ 1pm

Drawing from the sometimes touching, oftentimes torrid (and almost always grammatically incorrect) postings on craigslist's most notorious section, Missed Connections is a collection of the best and brightest.

Hangover: Sat 3/10 @ 7pm
Remaining Festival Performances @ USM (94 St. Marks Place):
Wed 2/29 @9pm, Fri 3/2 @6pm, & Sat 3.3 @ 7pm

Coosje is the story of two artists, husband and wife, finding their playful aesthetic together and attempting to escape death.  Meanwhile, the singing Pear embarks on a heroic quest to achieve immortality.  Their journeys intertwine in this fantastical love story.

Rabbit Island
Hangover: Sat 3/10 @ 8:30pm
Remaining Festival Performances @ The Kraine (85 East 4th Street):
Mon 2/27 @ 7:30pm, Thu 3/1 @ 6pm, & Sat 3/3 @ 5:30pm

Alex zigzags irregular relationships with an erratic therapist, his on-again off-again girlfriend, an untamed burlesque dancer and The Cleanse. But what more will it take for this verbose Canadian mime to become a Real New Yorker?

The FRIGID New York Festival was founded by Horse Trade and EXIT Theatre in 2007. Since founding The San Francisco Fringe Festival - the 2nd oldest fringe in the United States - nearly 17 years ago, EXIT has learned a thing or two about festival running. They introduced Horse Trade to the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) in mid-2006. Besides feedback from dozens of thrilled CAFF participants and artists, Horse Trade was drawn to its main principle: “…to provide all artists, emerging and established, with the opportunity to produce their play no matter the content, form or style and to make the event as affordable and accessible as possible for the members of the community,” Horse Trade is proud to sign on to the tradition and chill out the New York independent theatre scene’s ideas of what a theatre festival can be.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Review - "My Tawny Valentine"

By Byrne Harrison

Tawny Heatherton is many things - one hit disco wonder (in Europe), former "Hee Haw" Honey, niece of Joey Heatherton, incurable optimist, and Esperanto enthusiast.  She's also the brainchild of Obie-award winning actor and playwright David Drake, who portrays Tawny in "My Tawny Valentine" at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.

"My Tawny Valentine" heralds Tawny's return to show business, and what a return it is.  Full of stream of consciousness stories about her childhood (including why she was known as the Pyro Girl of Long Island), her years working the touring "Hee Haw" circuit, meeting and losing the love of her life, her disco hit, and anything else that seems to pop into her mind, "My Tawny Valentine" is a peek into the life and mind of a D-list (or maybe even lower) showbiz survivor.  Tawny is very much in the moment, and her show will take the audience places they certainly don't expect to go in a typical cabaret show.

Drake is phenomenal as the dizty and lovable Heatherton.  While Tawny is a bit of a mess, Drake gives her a certain dignity; you will laugh at her, but you will sympathize, too.  She may have a checkered past, but she still manages to shine in her own special way.  While she certainly surprises the audience with her musical stylings (Did you ever wonder what "My Funny Valentine" would sound like in Esperanto?  Neither did I, but you'll be glad you heard it.), the best moments of the show involve Tawny's rambling stories about her life.  Her journey from her childhood days on Long Island to her current "stardom" are wonderful, touching, crazy, and above all hilarious. 

Ably directed by Robert La Fosse and featuring some marvelous arrangements by musical director and accompanist Lance Cruce (he also gets to have some fun moments with Tawny as they discuss how they met), "My Tawny Valentine" is a fun treat.

It's also worth mentioning that Tawny's European disco hit is not only used as a jumping off point for some of her stories, the music video from the song, "Run Crazy Man," is shown during one of Tawny's costume changes.  Featuring Aaron Tone and J. Stephen Brantley as a couple of Tawny's European muscle boys, and directed by Ned Stresen-Reuter, the video is spot on.  For those of us old enough to remember the early days of MTV, this will be a somewhat embarrasing reminder of the videos we used to love.

"My Tawny Valentine"
Written and performed by David Drake

Feb. 17 - March 2 at The Laurie Beechman Theatre
West Bank Cafe at 407 West 42nd Street

Tickets are $20 plus a $15 food/drink minimum. To purchase tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit