Friday, May 31, 2013

Planet Connections Interview - Lenny Schwartz of "Subject 62"

By Byrne Harrison

Name: Lenny Schwartz
Show: "Subject 62"
Relationship to production: Writer/director

How did you first get involved in theatre?

I first got involved with theatre as an actor in my first year of high school. I was in the musical "Anything Goes." My theatre teacher, Phillip Brown, wanted me in it because he said I was funny to look at, that he started laughing just by looking at me. (This trend also continued into my high school dating life ironically.) It was my first time acting and I loved it. I was the character of Ling of the two part duo in "Anything Goes," Ching and Ling. I was a white kid who they made into an old Chinese man. (These were the days before political correctness really made it's way into the schools.)

Later on, I began writing my first play in college called "Lost in a Daydream," because I was bored in a math class. At the end of the semester, I had a play and an A in the class.

Who are your biggest influences?

My influences are whoever the people I am working with at the moment. So in this case it would be the cast of "Subject 62." Brad Kirton, for his unwavering dedication to dig deeper and ask hard questions each go round, Missy Marine for her joy of acting, her charm, and her natural likability on stage, Elyssa Baldassarri for her determination, her, talent, her fierce portrayals and honesty in anything I write, Mat Clerrico for his heart and his natural ability to make everything better on the stage, David Adams Murphy for his original, alive performances which grab me every time, Julian Trilling for her lovely characters and being genuine, Ama Appiah for her energy and her strong characterizations, Melissa Corbett for her strength onstage and readings of characters which make it different than what they sounded n my head, but better than I could ever think up, Dan Martin for his dark humor and his striking characters, Samantha Lee Preston for her original ways or looking at things and portraying them, Dave Almeida for his heart as well as his thoughts, Dave is a talent and a unique wonderful person, Geoff Monti for his verve and his unique amazing spirit, Jim Belanger for his crazy yet amazing ideas that constantly surprise and exhilarate me, Lloyd Felix for his artistry and his views both amazing, and my wife Sara Hutchings-Schwartz for her creativity, her spirit, and for being the one person in my life I never stop loving or learning from . And my daughter Callie who is my everything,

These are the people who inspire me and they all deserve mention and are of note. I couldn't ask for a better cast. These people are wonderful.

My only word would be for people to come and see these performers. And if you like what you see then hire them. And you'll never regret your decision.

What is your show about?

"Subject 62" is a surreal dramas about an artist, Chris, who is afflicted with a degenerative disease called Huntington's.  When he is signed up for a unique experiment to find a cure, he finds himself trapped in his memories, losing them as he tries to hold onto a single one to take with him.

What inspired you to write "Subject 62?"

This play was written because Huntington's is a disease that hasn't been seen too much in the media. I also wanted to write a play where a man's memories fall away from him, almost disintegrating in front of him from scene to scene. I decided to combine the two ideas. As the disease advances in the show, the main character loses memories right in front of his eyes. At that point I had to write the script as I could not get it out of my head. I'm still having trouble actually shaking it from my head... so I have no choice but to do it.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity.  What charity has your production chosen and why?

Huntington's Disease Society of America. It fit pretty well with the show! (laughs)

And please read up on the things they do at their website. Wonderful organization, worth contributing to.

What's next for you after Planet Connections?
Rest! But then a ton of things after that.

November I will be directing a play I wrote in RI about Lucille Ball. It is a biography-play and the script is done ready to go. Very excited about that one.

In December, Scorpio Film Releasing will be premiering their new film which I wrote called “Normal”  It stars Michael Reed, Sarah Nicklin, Nay Sylva and an incredible group of actors directed by Richard Marr-Griffin. More on that as it gets closer, but it's been shot and what I've seen of it looks amazing. Also, the film I wrote for them previously called “Murder University” has received worldwide distribution for DVD and PPV, etc., this October! Very excited about that as well. Details forthcoming. I have also completed a draft of the film version of “Accidental Incest” for Richard as well, the pay I directed and wrote for last year's Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.

I also have two other film projects coming up from Breaking Branches Pictures: one is a film script I have been writing with them called “Rhodyopolis” and the other is an adaptation of this play, “Subject 62” We have a draft we like of it, just needs a rewrite or two but the that should be ready as well!

And more to come beyond that as well!

Finally, what was your best “theatre moment” - that one moment, either onstage or off, that was so sublime that it stayed with you?

The one moment I can never forget, that is so sublime, was that my wife came to the very first show that I wrote and directed in 1996. She made her dad drive 5 hours to get down to see it (we weren't even dating at the time) and she saw the show. We had talked a few times before that, but that night was special and I'll never forget it. The first time I saw her I knew she would be my wife. But that night confirmed to me how good the ride was going to be. 

"Subject 62"
Venue: The Gene Frankel (24 Bond Street)

Friday 6/14/13 – 7:00pm
Saturday 6/15/13 – 2:30pm
Sunday 6/16/13 – 12:30pm

Let’s Hear it For Pinoy: "Here Lies Love" Rocks the Public Theater

By Mark A. Newman
Photo by Joan Marcus

If you would’ve told me that the brains behind "Burning Down the House" and "The Rockefeller Skank" would’ve been two of the driving forces behind one of the most amazing theatrical experiences I’ve had in the last 20 years, I would’ve told you to go home because you’re drunk. And if you further informed me that the subject of this extravaganza was former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, I would then put you into a cab and sent you off into the night.

But dammit, you were right: Here Lies Love, with music by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, is an immense and immersive, hard-thumping spectacular that manages to bring the theatre-going experience to new heights. And under the fluid and exciting direction of Alex Timbers, this theatrical experience is definitely not “the same as it ever was.”

Yet, as you enter the LuEsther Theater at The Public’s newly revamped facilities on Lafayette Street you may ask yourself, “Where is my beautiful Playbill?” You may ask yourself, “Where is my aisle seat?” Brace yourself, because the typical theatrical experience has been jettisoned stage left. Here Lies Love tells the story of Imelda Marcos from her youth in the Philippines to her rise to fame, power, and notoriety in a setting that is essentially an old school disco. You’re not going to just sit back and watch Here Lies Love; you’re totally immersed in it. Most of the seats have been removed and the majority of the audience is standing on the floor amid the shifting stages that move to and fro throughout. Audience members are safely herded out of harm’s way by pink jumpsuit-clad ushers. The audience becomes an essential element of the party. Yes, there will be line dancing!

Pre-show, as the audience makes its way into the theater, the action is already in high gear as a DJ in his booth overseeing the action and keeps the beats going. The DJ also serves as a friendly narrator as the show dictates…think Che from Evita, but with two turntables and a microphone, and a shock of blonde hair. He encourages the audience to dance, clap, and even sing throughout the show but gives a surprisingly rousing closing number – “God Draws Straight” -- a heartfelt emotional wallop as the electronic disco trappings fade away.

The lighting by Justin Townsend is a mix of theatrical and dance club with attention paid to needs for proper video lighting. Since the show revolves around a newsmaker who often found herself on television, video cameras are vital in presenting the action as is David Korins’ set which goes from sandy beaches to seedy disco in the blink of an eye. The scenic design is both a marvel of ease and complexity. With two stages at either end of the space, the action moves seamlessly from platform to platform via the moving structures in the center that transform from runways to stages to even a series of raised platforms with alarming ease. The costumes by Clint Ramos are exquisite in their simplicity and make it quickly known who the good guys and bad guys are by a classic black or white color palette. But don’t worry: Imelda’s gaudy gowns with the puffy sleeves are present and manage to look a little like deranged prom dresses.

While the rollicking pop/rock/new wave score by Byrne and, um, Slim is a stunning centerpiece, the table set by Timbers is truly remarkable. Rather than experience the show from among the crowd on the main floor, I had a seat in the gallery overlooking the action, a mirror ball directly in front of me. Believe me, it added to the ambiance. What Timbers did was so simple and yet so intricate, it’s amazing how well it worked. What’s even more amazing is how seamlessly the action moved around the space, all of which was utilized to the fullest extent possible. I have to admit, I got a kick out of watching the mass of audience members move in a series of fluid motions to make way for the stages’ many configurations. The ebb and flow of a musical’s audience has never been so amusing to watch. Or as impressive.

The cast is, in a word, breathtaking. The show rises and falls on the shoulders of this amazing troupe. As Imelda Marcos, Ruthie Ann Miles shines as the “Rose of Tacloban,” as Imelda is nicknamed in her youth. She brings Imelda on a journey from the young, naïve wannabe model full circle to a narcissistic, power-hungry diva. Miles didn’t need any spotlights because she shined insanely bright any time she was on the stage. As the show draws to a close and she pleads “Why Don’t You Love Me?” to her people, the audience laughs with a mix of pity and pathos at how clueless the fallen first lady is. Miles plays it to the hilt, not a bit of irony in her performance. Her Imelda is truly a star-making turn and she astounds in this central role.

As the corrupt and philandering Ferdinand Marcos, New York stage veteran Jose Llana proves once again why he’s seldom out of work. His rich tenor voice and marquee looks make the distasteful Filipino president likable despite the evil deeds he does (or at least accused of doing). Marcos is a man used to getting his way by any means necessary and Llana portrays him with the suave demeanor of a super villain. Llana also does double duty as one of the dancers so kudos to a classic triple-threat.

Conrad Ricamora portrays the villain’s arch nemesis Ninoy Aquino, who opposed Marcos at every turn as a Filipino senator, and even dated a young Imelda, ultimately rejecting her for being “too tall.” Bad news, Ninoy: Imelda carries a grudge. His rousing call to arms is classic Talking Heads but is a perfect stirring theatrical anthem in the tradition of Evita’s “A New Argentina” and Les Miserables’ “Do You Hear the People Sing.” Anyone at all familiar with Philippines’ history knows what happens to Aquino and that makes the character even more tragic. Ricamora plays the doomed politician with courage and verve and possesses a dynamic presence that resonates throughout the show.

I have to admit that I was borderline speechless at the conclusion of Here Lies Love because in a quarter century of attending live theatre in New York, I have never seen anything quite like this amazing production. I was stunned at how innovative the show was and the credit belongs equally to Timbers, the composers, as well as the dynamic cast, but also to The Public Theater itself for venturing out and producing something so cutting edge. Regardless of whether you’re a Filipino history buff, a Talking Heads fan, a Fatboy Slim enthusiast, or just a theatre aficionado, Here Lies Love will have you dancing down Lafayette Street. And if you wear out your shoes, don’t worry: you can borrow a pair of Imelda’s.

Here Lies Love has been extended to June 30…so far.

Here Lies Love

Music by: David Byrne and Fatboy Slim
Direction: Alex Timbers
Choreography: Annie-B Parson
Lighting: Justin Townsend
Projections: Peter Nigrini
Scenery: David Korins
Sound: M.L. Dogg & Cody Spencer
Costumes: Clint Ramos
Additional music: Tom Gandey, Jay Pardo

Featuring: Renée Albulario (Ensemble), Melody Butiu (Ensemble), Natalie Cortez (Ensemble), Debralee Daco (Ensemble), Joshua Dela Cruz (Ensemble), Jose Llana (Ferdinand Marcos), Kelvin Moon Loh (Ensemble), Jeigh Madjus (Ensemble), Ruthie Ann Miles (Imelda Marcos), Maria-Christina Oliveras (Ensemble), Conrad Ricamora (Aquino), Trevor Salter (Ensemble), and Janelle Velasquez (Ensemble).

The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York City,

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Old Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance)" - A Different Plane of Consciousness

By Judd Hollander
Photo by Joan Marcus

The first thing one must understand when attending a Richard Foreman play is that terms such as "liner" and "sequential" often have no meaning. Such is the case with his latest work, Old-Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance). A piece he wrote, directed and designed and which is now having its world premiere at The Public Theater. 

The show begins and ends with a mysterious voice saying "end of play." The meaning of that phrase however, is, like so many other things presented here, open to interpretation. Has an unseen play just finished moments before with a new one on stage about to begin? Or does it refer to the same play, the story being presented again and again as some type of eternal cycle?

Said story, as best as can be explained, deals with an aging man named Samuel (Rocco Sisto), who is unhappy with how his life has turned out. Looking back over the choices he made and the paths he has taken he wonders what would happened had he instead gone in a different direction. Samuel, who at times almost seems to revel in his failures the way others delight in their successes, often making his comments to two elegantly-dressed ladies of the evening - Suzie (Alenka Kraigher) and Gabriella (Stephanie Hayes). Women who exist both together in time with him as well as at different places and points in existence, though their clothes recall the 1920s. The ladies' actions often punctuated by comments from the afore-mentioned voice, or perhaps it's Samuel's own consciousness or past calling out.

This non-linear feeling continues when one looks at the different aspects of the various characters. Such as the possibility that Samuel and his friend Alfredo (David Skeist) are actually the same person at different points in their life - even though they're talking to each other or through each other at various moments. There's also the mysterious Michelin (Nicholas Norena), a silent type who appears every now and again to bang on a drum. Said action often causing the story to change direction.

Watching the action on stage gives one the feeling of seeing a dream unfolding where different thoughts, memories and people from a person's life who have no business being together in the waking world are able to co-exist here. Also like a dream, there is a certain disjointedness and choppy sensation to the proceedings, leading to sudden shifts of narrative yet still staying within the overall impression of what had been shown before.

Sisto does well as Samuel, an aging dreamer/loner trapped in his memories, while talking about avoiding his destiny and blaming himself for doing just that. There is also more that a bit of faded gentility among him, as he talks about his beautiful coquettes and mentioning a leisurely promenade through the dark streets of a city almost dead. His words also suggest a hint of Tennessee Williams, and of not-quite faded bitterness of what has come before. Kraigher and Hayes play off Sisto nicely as the coquettes in question. The women, like Samuel, seemingly trapped on a mobius strip of what is, what was and what will be. Suzie, supposedly the one Samuel's been searching for all his life, gets to have her own dreams of being admired and of being in a pretty dress on a sun drenched boulevard. But are these really her own dreams or are they Samuel's dreams for her or about her?

Foreman, who came out of retirement to create this work, knows what he is trying to present, with everything being carefully set out for one reason or another. This care is evident in the seemingly chaotic yet quite deliberately chosen set, with a performing area dressed up with bits of string, a blackboard and a supposedly haphazard collection of letters. Also tossed into the mix are photographs, newspapers and flowers - all offering tantalizing hints to what's about to be shown. Directorially-wise, Forman does a good job with the action, keeping things moving carefully and concisely while taking great pains so the work will not overstay its welcome.

Offering a wonderful presentation of the avant-garde where nothing is what it seems or perhaps it's all so straightforward one can't see the explanation, Old-Fashioned Prostitutes is an example of theatre that refuses to spoon-feed the audience a story, forcing them instead to try to figure it out on their own. Those who find something like this intellectually stimulating should make tracks to The Public Theater immediately, and for those who don't well, there's certainly enough mindless alternatives out there to choose from.

Old-Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance)

Featuring: David Skeist (Alfredo), Stephanie Hayes (Gabriella) Alenka Kraigher (Suzie) Rocco Sisto (Samuel), Nicholas Norena (Bibendum (aka Michelin)

Written, directed and designed by Richard Foreman
Performed in association with Ontological-Hysteric Theater
Costume Design: Gabriel Berry
Lighting Design: Yael Lubetzky

Production Stage Manager: Lee Micklin
Stage Manager: Michael Ulreich

The Public Theater

425 Lafayette Street
Tickets: 212-967-7555 or
Running Time: 65 Minutes, no intermission
Closes: June 2, 2013