Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Annie: It's the Hard Knock Life, From Script to Stage"

By Byrne Harrison
Photo courtesy of WNET

John Godfrey Saxe once talked about laws and sausages and how it's best never to see how either is made.  Now me, I find such things fascinating.  That's why I really enjoyed the behind the scenes look at the recent revival of Annie provided by "Annie: It's the Hard Knock Life, From Script to Stage."  This documentary shows the ups and downs of bringing a show to Broadway, from the planning stages, through auditions and casting, rehearsals and tech, all the way to opening.

The parts that were the most interesting to me were those involving the kids and the rehearsal process.  The way that a group of kids from all over the country and with varied backgrounds managed to bond. The difficulties they had involving the choreography and learning the lines.  I was amazed at the professionalism of the children, and watching the adults demand excellence while having to be careful of the children's feelings.

If you don't mind seeing how the sausage is made, and you'd like a little peek behind the scenes, this is an entertaining way to see how a big Broadway musical comes to life.

And for a limited time, you can watch it online.

"Frankenstein Upstairs" - The monster is in the eye of the beholder

By Byrne Harrison

Mac Rogers' latest production, Frankenstein Upstairs, is a retelling of Mary Shelley's classic horror tale.  Rogers, whose adaptation of Karel Capek's R.U.R. (called Universal Robots) ranks as one of my favorite plays, once again shows both his skill at creating exceptionally real characters and his expert storytelling.  Frankenstein Upstairs is an outstanding update Shelley's story, one that is creepy and suspenseful, but rooted in universal issues (I highly recommend reading the playwright's note in the program).

Set in the same universe as Shelley's novel (i.e., the name Frankenstein carries no cultural baggage in this play), Frankenstein Upstairs tells the story of Sophie (Autumn Dornfeld) and Marisol (Diana Oh), business and life partners living in a Brooklyn loft while running a social media business.

Like most couples, they have their share of ups and downs.  They want to grow their business.  Their main client (a blind, gay romance writer played by Rob Maitner) is ready to shed his female pseudonym and "come out," as it were.  They have completely different working styles, and that makes their work lives and their relationship rather rocky.

And there is the problem of the scientist upstairs who keeps knocking out the power in the building with her experiments.

Enter the socially awkward, formal and mysterious Dr. Frankenstein (Kristen Vaughan).  Victoria Frankenstein.  Vic to her friends.  And she wants to be friends with Sophie and Marisol.

Part of the fun in Frankenstein Upstairs is watching Rogers' and director Jordana Williams' skill in teasing out the story.  You can guess some things.  There will be a creature brought from death to life.  There will be mayhem and death.  But these things are so enmeshed in the surprises that Rogers' has created that it is hard to go into too many details about the story without spoiling the joy of watching it unfold.

Suffice it to say, Vic is not what she seems, and watching her agenda unfold and worm its way into the lives of Marisol, Sophie and their client Taylor is a disturbing pleasure to watch.

The night that I saw Frankenstein Upstairs, there were electrical issues, so there were no lights other than house lights, and the sound system was reduced to just computer speakers.  This would have killed a Broadway or Off-Broadway show, but to their credit, the folks at Gideon Productions recognized that the show's strength is not the special effects, but the writing and the acting.  Yes, the audience missed Jennifer Linn Wilcox's lighting and Jeanne E. Travis' sound, and I'm sure these would have added some appropriately creepy shading to the atmosphere created by action of the play, but so be it.  If anything, it brought the cast's skills to the forefront.  And it is an incredibly talented cast.

Dornfeld, Oh and Maitner create complex and engaging characters and are pleasure to watch.  They are equally deft with the humor in Rogers' play, the growing sense of horror, and the physicality.  But it is Vaughan who steals the show as Dr. Frankenstein.  Vic is odd and likable, and Vaughan is a virtuoso at dropping little hints about her true nature.  When she shows her true colors, it's like a slap to the face.  This character, who seems to be so sympathetic at the beginning of the play, has the makings of a monster in her.  And watching that come to the forefront is amazing.

In Frankenstein Upstairs, Rogers has once again created an excellent piece of theatre, and has added a strong new work to the Frankenstein canon.  He has a unique theatrical voice, and I highly recommend seeing this and his other works.

Frankenstein Upstairs
By Mac Rogers
Directed by Jordana Williams
Featuring: Autumn Dornfeld, Rob Maitner, Diana Oh, and Kristen Vaughan

Producer: Sean Williams
Stage Manager: Nikki Castle
Set Design: Sandy Yaklin
Lighting Design: Jennifer Linn Wilcox
Sound Design: Jeanne E. Travis
Costume Design: Amanda Jenks
Special Effects Design: Stephanie Cox-Williams
Ass't Director/Assoc. Producer: Mikell Kober
Fight Choreography: Adam Swiderski
Technical Director: Ashanti Ziths
Photography: Deborah Alexander Photography
Publicity Design: Pete Boisvert
Medical Consultant: Steve Alexander, M.D.
Scenic Painter: Kate Rance
Scenic/Props Assistant: Monserrat Mendez
Lighting Assistant: Lauren Bremen

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Venice" - Broadway in the cards!

By Judd Hollander
Photos by Joan Marcus

While the new rock musical Venice (book by Eric Rosen, music by Matt Sax, lyrics by Matt Sax and Eric Rosen, additional music by Curtis Moore) isn’t 100% ready for Broadway, it’s certainly on the fast track to get there, if the current powerhouse of a production at the Public Theater is any indication. An epic tableau of a show, Venice has a lot to offer; including a Shakespearian plot with sibling rivalries and star-crossed lovers, along with betrayal, deceit, class struggle, terrorism and the ever-fading possibility of the reunification of a country. 

The once-peaceful Venice was fractured twenty years earlier when a terrorist attack killed 20,000 people, causing most of the elite to flee the city to a “safe zone” where the wealthy and powerful prospered, while the city itself fell into violence with the various factions fighting for control. Among those caught up in the chaos were two young children. Best friends Willow Turner (Jennifer Damiano) daughter of the former president, and Venice Monroe (Haaz Sleiman), whose mother was a leader of the peace movement. During the attack, both Venice’s and Willow’s were killed, Willow being among those lucky enough to escape to the safe zone while Venice was left behind. In the years since, Venice has taken up the cause of his mother, with his entreaties of peace and hope reaching the masses of the city and eventually uniting the different groups therein as one. Now 20 years later, Venice is pushing for the reunification of the affected areas with the safe zone. Helping him in his efforts is his trusted friend Michael (Claybourne Elder), who is facilitating the return of Willow to the city where she and Venice plan to wed.

However there are certain people who do not want the wedding or the reunification to come off as planned. People such as Theodore Westbrook (Jonathan-David) head of Westbrook Enterprises, the corporation which controls the safe zone and Venice in general. Westbrook has also loved Willow for years and wants to marry her himself. There’s also Markos (Leslie Odom Jr.), leader of the military occupation forces, as well as Venice's half-brother, who has his own nefarious plans for power. Using whatever means necessary, including a rather seductive singer (Angela Polk), and whispers of innuendo and misdirection, Markos begins an elaborate plan which will turn friends and allies against each other, his ultimate goal being to return the city to chaos, from which he will emerge in control.

Instantly involving with characters that are extremely well drawn, the play sucks you in and has the audience rooting not only for Venice and Willow to ultimately be together, but also hoping against hope that perhaps this time, a world where one can finally put down the tools of violence will actually emerge. Containing elements of Othello, King Lear and Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Venice spins a tale of young people forced to grow up too fast and who now find themselves in a world where, after years of struggle everything they have strived for may be cruelly snatched away, forcing them to begin again if only they have the strength to do so.

Helping to hold the entire production together is an incredible performance by Sax, playing a sort of master of ceremonies, narrator and guide for the audience while setting up the action - the play segmented like chapters in a book with a rousing 20-minute prologue bringing one up to speed on prior events – while moving with a power and passion that causes the story explode off the page. The score is delivered perfectly, with tunes that are both hummable and memorable – a rarity in musical theatre these days - running the gamut from rap to rock to ballads. The company also makes good use of the playing area, a mostly bare stage with a few judiciously placed props and set pieces. Good work by scenic designer Beowulf Boritt in this regard.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few problems in the production. While Damiano is nicely appealing as Willow in a benign sort of way, becoming a quiet symbol for the people to rally around, she lacks the vocal chops to really deliver the more rock-driven songs. Through she does very well with the ballads. It would also have been nice to see the jealousy angle played up a bit more in the first act as one of the character’s reactions in this regard is not as believable as it could be. Sleiman on the other hand is quite good as the stalwart Venice, a man driven by his dreams for a better life, but one who threatens to be torn apart by his own baser instincts. Something Markos, in a fantastic performance by Odom, ruthlessly exploits. A villain through and through, one can see the bitterness, anger and long-simmering resentment in every move, gesture and speech the actor makes, all the while always plotting to become the total master of all he surveys.

A nice surprise is David’s performance as Westbrook. Definitely a man with his own agenda, and willing to do almost anything to get what he wants so long as keep his hands clean, this character turns out to be rather multi-layered with perhaps more in him than even he realizes possible. Venice is also a case where the supporting people are just as significant as the leading players, with Uzo Aduba doing a powerful turn as Venice’s mother, a woman who realizes the important of forgiveness; while Elder does well in the role of Michael, a good counterpart to Venice in that he’s more cautious than the title character, but perhaps not always quite careful enough. Polk is very good as the sensual and seductive Hailey Daisy and Victoria Platt is fine in the role of Markos’ wife, someone who, like so many others, ultimately finds herself touched by the simple innocence and belief of Willow.

Direction by Rosen and chorographic work by Chase Brock are both spot-on, moving the piece through the various chapters and situations while tying everything together with a strong through line that takes the play from start to finish. Alternatively hard driving and soft spoken, Venice looks to have a long life ahead of it and this reviewer expects to see it on Broadway one of these seasons very soon.


Featuring: Matt Sax (Clown MC), Haaz Sleiman (Venice Monroe), Claybourne Elder (Michael Victor), Jennifer Damiano (Willow Turner), Jonathan-David (Theodore Westbrook), Leslie Odom Jr. (Markos Monroe), Uzo Aduba (Anna Monroe), Victoria Platt (Emilia Monroe), Angela Polk (Hailey Daisy), Emilee Dupré, Semhar Ghebremichael, Devin L. Roberts, Manuel Stark (Ensemble)

Musicians: Jim Abbott (keyboard and guitar), Alisa Horn (cello), Sherisse Rogers (base), Marques Walls (drums)

Book: Eric Rosen
Music: Matt Sax
Lyrics: Matt Sax and Eric Rosen
Additional Music: Curtis Moore
Choreography: Chase Brock
Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Jason Lyons
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Projection Design: Jason H. Thompson
Music Supervisor, Orchestrator and Vocal Arranger: Curtis Moore
Dramaturg: Doug Wright
Music Director: Jim Abbot
Music Production: Matt Sax, Curtis Moore and Joshua Horvath
Production Stage Manager: Kelly Glasow
Stage Manager: Erin Gioia Albrecht
Dance Captain: Manuel Stark

The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
Tickets: 212-967-7555 or
Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes

Closes, June 30, 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Coney Island Mermaid Parade Today

By Byrne Harrison

Today is the 31st Annual Mermaid Parade in Coney Island.  I know many members of the NYC theatre community who participate in this annual event (any excuse to show off their costuming skills) and they always have fun.

This is a particularly important year for the parade, which nearly didn't happen due to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. If you want to enjoy the beautiful weather and support the Coney Island community, attending today's parade is a great way to do it.

If you can't make it to the parade, keep an eye open on social media.  There are bound to be tons of pictures.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Everybody Rise! – I’d Like to Propose a Toast to Signature Theater’s "Company"

By Mark A. Newman
Photos by Scott Suchman

After a 2012 – 2013 season that got off to a less-than-stellar start with Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, all is forgiven after Signature Theatre’s rapturous season finale with Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

Aside from a 2005 revival of Pacific Overtures, I’ve yet to see a Sondheim show that can match Company for being about as perfect as a piece of theatre can be [Note: I have never seen Merrily We Roll Along but love the score]. The problem with Company is its popularity; you can’t help but compare the production you’re watching with the one you saw previously. For me, it was the Lincoln Center concert version starting Neil Patrick Harris as Bobby and Patti LuPone as Joanne in an ensemble that included Stephen Colbert, Martha Plimpton, Christina Hendricks, and Craig Bierko.

That’s a hard cast to live up to, but by golly the skilled ensemble assembled by director Eric Schaeffer does a brilliant job. Schaeffer’s direction was exceptionally fluid and incorporated more choreography than I think I’ve ever seen in this show. Matthew Gardiner’s choreography is a perfect accompaniment to Sondheim’s '70s-era pop score as he has the actors gliding up and down a main staircase and around the levels that serve as the main stage. The moves are logical without being dull, and intricate without being complicated, basically something any New Yorker at a cocktail party on the Upper East Side could do, without spilling a drop of their vodka stinger.

However, that aforementioned '70s score is one of Company’s greatest strengths as well as one of its weaknesses. The music, lyrics, and much of the show’s sentiment firmly ensconces the world of perennial bachelor Bobby (an adorable and exceedingly likable Matthew Scott) firmly in the era of Nixon, Laugh-In, and the Vietnam War. It’s not that any of those are mentioned but it’s a feel that the show embodies. Lyrics that refer to an answering service or Marta asking Bobby if he has any black or Puerto Rican friends clearly indicate that this is not a show taking place in the age of RENT.

But would we want it to? 

The fact that it takes place in another era is part of the show’s charm and the staging keeps it from being antiquated. As do the costumes (by Frank Labovitz) and the hairstyles. Bobby’s product-laden coif is more Chelsea of the '90s than Park Avenue of the '70s. It would seem that if we’re watching a fable from that era then EVERYTHING needs to be consistent otherwise there’s an imbalance to the show. That one line about having black or Puerto Rican friends is the one line that keeps the show from being multi-cultural. It’s the one statement that prohibits the show from progressing into our own modern era. Would an Upper East Sider really have to ask a fellow New Yorker if they had minority friends in this day and age? Only if they were a Romney.

Then again, does this incongruous dichotomy between what we hear and what we see impact the theatre-going experience? Only for an idiot critic. However, there are likely some who might question a few of the phrases, e.g., “Boy hoo boy!” in “Have I Got a Girl For You.” Boy hoo boy? Who says that? Who ever said that? Wouldn’t “Boy oh boy” be a more acceptable turn of phrase?

But the overarching themes of the show are as relevant now as they ever were. Bobby seems to be the glue that holds his gaggle of friends together. They only seem to gather as a group when Bobby is somehow involved. You have to wonder if Joanne and Larry would hang out with Susan and Peter if Bobby wasn’t around. I doubt it. The couples don’t have any interaction with one another independent of Bobby; they appear to only have a fleeting familiarity with one another as evidenced by Joanne’s comment on Susan’s Southern charm at the top of the show. Without Bobby these couples – and the trio of single ladies Bobby is stringing along – would cease to exist in the world in which we view them. 

The second act opener “Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You” really hammer this point home. When asked what they would do without you to Bobby, he simply replies, “Just what you usually do.” This indicates that Bobby doesn’t view himself the way we do. While we see him as the force that holds these people together, Bobby almost has a George Bailey view of his world; his friends would be the same with or without him. We know that’s not true, but gives a bit of insight into Bobby’s wayward balancing act as he meanders through life. However, right up until the very last song it’s evident that Bobby is adored by his friends and their singular goal seems to be to make sure he’s happy.

Scott’s portrayal of Bobby is rare in that this Bobby is actually likable. Raul Esparza’s performance was magnificent in the last Broadway revival but with his Bobby you wouldn’t be surprised to discover there were dead hookers in his crawl space. Harris’ aforementioned Bobby was brilliantly buoyant but a bit on the douchey side, a character Harris has perfected. And although I didn’t see it, I can only imagine that Boyd Gaines’ Bobby was very Jimmy Stewarty with an abundance of “aw shucks” annoyance (because that’s how he plays everything), while the clips I’ve seen of the original Bobbys of Larry Kert and Dean Jones show different men, one with an underlying secret, the other who’s somewhat disengaged. Then again, you shouldn’t judge a performance by a grainy YouTube video. Wow, talk about a multitude of Bobbys!

The truth is that the weight of the entire show rests on the success of whether the actor playing Bobby can pull it off. Otherwise you’d have to wonder what all these people see in this guy. Scott’s winning portrayal should leave no question in anyone’s mind what Bobby’s friends see in him; he’s a sweetheart, considerate, and really doesn’t seem to have any ulterior motives. We should all have a friend like Bobby.

The characters in Bobby’s orbit aren’t a particularly diverse bunch. Then again, how could they be? It’s New York City and we’re watching a bunch of white Upper East Siders eat, drink, and toke. As brilliant as Company is, 75% of the actors are stuck in truly thankless roles and only a few of them get to shine in solos. 

First and foremost in Bobby’s entourage is Joanne – made famous by the irascible Elaine Stritch – and here played by Signature’s resident comic genius Sherri L. Edelen. When it was announced that Signature would be closing the season with Company, I knew that only Edelen could play this role. While she won’t make you forget Stritchy, Barbara Walsh in the recent Broadway revival, or La LuPone, Edelen’s Joanne is a completely different animal from what we’re used to seeing. Still a boozy older broad, this Joanne is more in the vein of an Auntie Mame than a black widow; she’s fun, crass, sassy, and Edelen’s uproarious laugh brings some much-needed levity to the character. Her rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch” is more of a celebratory showstopper than an ode to bitterness and Edelen brings down the house.

Signature fave Carolyn Cole makes Marta a standout. As one of Bobby’s flings, Cole’s Marta is a funky downtown chick and she belts one of the show’s most popular numbers “Another Hundred People” with pizazz and gusto. Cole plays Marta with a more devil-may-care joie de vivre than just being kooky for kooky’s sake. It’s obvious what Bobby sees in her but it’s just as obvious that these two have no chance in hell of working out in the long run.

Madeline Botteri’s April – the ditsy flight attendant – is another standout. Botteri plays the girl who always wanted to live in Radio City as awash in innocence and you really feel her pain when she talks about the injured butterfly. Sexy and unassuming, Botteri played April as one of the many seemingly lost souls that surround our man Bobby.

As Amy – one of the most memorable roles in the ensemble – Erin Weaver is neurotic knockout. While Amy tries to figure out exactly which way to go on her wedding day, Weaver plays this dingbat with a layered authenticity that makes you want to slap her even though you totally empathize with her if you’ve ever been in this situation. “Getting Married Today” was truly a star-making turn for Weaver, who has had plenty of such turns in past Signature shows (her Kathy in Signature’s Last Five Years was sublime).

The rest of the cast was all exceptional and it was great to see some great actors from great shows (Matthew Gardiner, Erin Driscoll) as well as some great actors from not-so-great shows (Thomas Adrian Simpson, Tracy Lynn Olivera) blend their voices to create a truly remarkable ensemble. The only sour note was Amy Conley replacing Sandy Bainum’s Susan; her Southern accent seemed forced and she didn’t seem at all comfortable in the role. Maybe she had to step in at the last minute, maybe it was her first time in the role, but it was a noticeable weak link in a very strong chain.

Featuring: Matthew Scott (Robert), Sherri L. Edelen (Joanne), Tracy Lynn Olivera (Sarah), Evan Casey (Harry), Sandy Bainum (Susan), Bobby Smith (Peter), Erin Driscoll (Jenny), James Gardiner (David), Erin Weaver (Amy), Thomas Adrian Simpson (Larry), Carolyn Cole (Marta), Jamie Eacker (Kathy), Madeline Botteri (April), Amy Conley (Susan u.s.)

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Originally produced and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince 
Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick
Director: Eric Schaeffer
Choreography: Matthew Gardiner
Music Direction: Jon Kalbfleisch 
Scenic Design: Daniel Conway 
Costume Design: Frank Labovitz
Lighting Design: Chris Lee
Sound Design: Matt Rowe
Production Stage Manager: Kerry Epstein
Tickets: Ticketmaster (703) 573-SEAT (7328)
Signature Theatre • 4200 Campbell Avenue • Arlington, VA 22206

TOSOS Benefit a Loving Tribute to Doric Wilson

By Byrne Harrison

Last night's benefit performance of Street Theater was a fitting and touching tribute to playwright and TOSOS founder Doric Wilson.  Wilson, who passed away in 2011, was well-loved by his many friends and collaborators, so it is no surprise that they put every ounce of effort into this annual benefit supporting TOSOS and the LGBT Community Center.

It was a labor of love, and it showed.

Wilson's play about the Stonewall Uprising is wildly funny and whip-smart.  The performance featured a very talented cast of award-winning TOSOS and downtown theatre regulars under the direction of TOSOS Artistic Director Mark Finley.

This is an annual event that I look forward to, not just because of the many familiar faces I see onstage and in the audience, but because it is an entertaining tribute to a legend in New York theatre--one that I was honored to know.  It's also just a lot of fun.

Congratulations to everyone involved.

Street Theater
By Doric Wilson
Directed by Mark Finley
Stage Manager: Jennifer Marie Russo
Costume Consultant: Chris Weikel
House Manager: Robin Kaufman

Featuring: Christopher Borg, J. Stephen Brantley, Rebecca Nyahay, Eilis Chaill, Jason Pintar, Chris Andersson, Travis C. Artz, Jeremy Lawrence, Michael Lynch, Tim Abrams, Ben Strothmann, Chad Austin, Russell Jordan, and Desmond Dutcher

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Planet Connections Review - "The Procedure"

By Byrne Harrison

Immigration, gay marriage and privacy are  very hot topics right now, with very vocal advocates and critics of each flooding the media with their opinions.  While Marcus Yi settles the issue of gay marriage in his play, The Procedure, (set seven years in the future, it has become the law of the land), he takes on the issue of immigration and the consequences to the immigrants and the people they love.

At the heart of The Procedure is the relationship between Adrian (Stephen Thornton), a young man from Singapore, and his husband Jacob (Reynaldo Rivera).  They seem to be living the dream.  Both have good jobs, a solid relationship, good friends and family, and Adrian is about to become a citizen thanks to his recent marriage to Jacob.

But there is a hitch, as there always is.  In order to become a US citizen, Adrian will need to have a chip implanted in his eye.  Freedom Link! - it will serve as an internet connection.  Freedom Link! - it can connect you to social media.  Freedom Link! - it can help you shop in the blink of an eye.  Freedom Link! - it can even help you lose weight.

Freedom Link! - it tracks you.

And it will forever.

Faced with the idea of being marked and tracked, Adrian starts having second thoughts.  Can he go through with it?  Or should he convince Jacob to leave his job, family and friends and go back to Singapore. Surely if Jacob loves him, he'll want to stay with him, no matter where.  Won't he?

The play could have turned out didactic, and as a result not very interesting. Yi allows his characters to really look at the pros and cons of the situation, and agonize over the decisions.  Of course, the audience eventually finds out what Adrian's decision is, but Yi lets the deliberations be as weighty as they deserves to be.

While the play successfully deals with some serious issues, there was one issue about the story that bothered me.  The play, through a series of commercials for Freedom Link, makes the point that Freedom Link is something that is readily available to US citizens and only mandatory for new citizens.  Given that average citizens are opting for the chip, it seems less extreme for Adrian than it would be if this was something that was solely for new citizens.  As it is, Freedom Link just sounds like the latest technology that is rolling out as new technology does.  While the idea of having a chip implanted in your eye is cringe-inducing, it doesn't have the same onus as it could have if Adrian were one of the few who were to have the chip implant.

Other than that little issue, the play is interesting and thoughtful, and addresses a lot of difficult issues.

The production itself, however, is a mixed bag.   Most notably, there is a lack of chemistry between Thornton's Adrian and Rivera's Jacob.  In order to really feel that there are painful consequences of their possible separation, there has to be a feeling of a strong connection that would be severed, to the detriment of both, if they decided to split up.  That was lacking.

Both actors gave good performances otherwise, and were technically adept, but without that chemistry and connection, the performance suffered.

The rest of the cast gave mixed performances, though I suspect some of this was due to choices by Yi as playwright and director (along with Sonia Nam).  Interspersed throughout the play were late night type commercials for Freedom Link.  These were pretty much as cheesy as late night commercials are supposed to be.  Most of the other characters (Adrian's friends and family) were played realistically.  But in the middle of this was the implant doctor, played by Richard Glucksberg, who seemed to be in a completely different play.  Wildly flamboyant and painfully incompetent, I wasn't sure what Yi intended this character to be.  Granted, this scene leads into a surreal dream ballet of sorts after Adrian is drugged, and if the doctor had been as wildly over the top for that portion it would have made sense as an extension of Adrian's fears and anxieties.  And perhaps that was what Yi was going for.  However, I found it to be rather confusing.

Fenny Novyane hit all the right notes as Valerie, Adrian's mother, and had some of the most moving and funny scenes in the play.  Rounding out the cast were Shubhra Prakash and Lauren Gralton, both of whom turned in good performances.

Technical aspects of the show were pretty spare as one would expect from a festival production.  That said, scene changes were nimble and quick, which is always a plus.

While the production had issues, The Procedure is a timely and though-provocking piece of theatre and well worth a look.  There is one remaining performance on Thursday, June 20th.  Visit the Planet Connections website for details.

The Procedure
Written by Marcus Yi
Directed by Sonia Nam and Marcus Yi
Stage Manager: Brendan Carmody
Production Assistant: Taras Chopenko

Featuring: Stephen Thornton (Adrian), Reynaldo Rivera (Jacob), Fenny Novyane (Valerie), Shubhra Prakash (Dawn/Woman 1), Lauren Gralton (Ms. Williams/Woman 2/Nadine), Richar Glucksberg (Henry/Man 1/Doctor/Feldman)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TOSOS to present a special performance of Doric Wilson's "Street Theater"

On Thursday, June 20th at 7:30 PM, TOSOS and the LGBT Center will present a a special presentation of Doric Wilson's award-winning satire about Stonewall, Street Theater.

A participant in the Stonewall Uprising, Doric Wilson wrote Street Theater not so much as a history of the event but as a record of the people he knew and the incidents he was involved in on Christopher Street in the months, days and hours leading up to the night gays fought back. The play focuses on a panorama of drags, dykes, leathermen, flower children, vice cops and cruisers— the innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders who would turn June 28, 1969 into Stonewall—the D-day of gay history. 

Frequently called the “father of modern queer theatre,” Doric Wilson’s 50 year dedication to queer culture was recognized with the first Robert Chesley Award for Lifetime Achievement in Gay Theatre; the 2007 IT Award for Artistic Achievement; in 2009, the ATHE (Association for Theatre in Higher Education) Career Achievement Award for Professional Theatre; and last year the Fresh Fruit Festival presented playwright Doric Wilson with the 2010 PassionFruit Award for Enduring and Continuing Pioneer Work in LGBT Theater.

This performance benefits TOSOS and the LGBT Center.

Tickets - $20 in advance

$25 cash at the door

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, 208 West 13th Street 
(between 7th Ave. and Greenwich Ave)

Facebook invite:

About the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

A beacon of hope for 29 years, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center builds and supports our community through arts and culture, wellness and recovery, HIV/AIDS services, family services and life-saving youth programs designed to foster healthy development in a safe, affirming environment. The Center envisions a world where LGBT people will no longer face discrimination or isolation because of who we are or who we love. We offer a welcoming home to 300,000 visitors each year and we are committed to serving all LGBT people through a variety of programs, services and activities that are designed to meet existing and emerging needs. The Center is many things to many people. We invite you to experience our home at 208 West 13th Street in person and online at


In 1974, playwright and gay activist Doric Wilson founded the first professional gay theatre company. It was called The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS for short). In 2002, directors Mark Finley and Barry Childs and Wilson resurrected the company, rededicating it to an honest and open exploration of the life experience and cultural sensibility of the GLBT community and to preserving and promoting our theatrical past in a determined effort to keep an important literary heritage alive. TOSOS has presented a number of critically acclaimed plays by playwrights David Bell, Meryl Cohn, Linda Eisenstein, Mark Finley, Robert Patrick, Chris Weikel, The Five Lesbian Brothers, Lanford Wilson and Charles Busch. TOSOS also runs the highly successful Chesley/Chambers play reading series under the directorship of Kathleen Warnock. The program is a recipient of grants from The Dramatists Guild Fund. For more information about TOSOS visit

Twitter: @TOSOSNYC

Monday, June 17, 2013

Interview with Robbie Robertson of "Satan in High Heels"

By Byrne Harrison

Robbie Robertson is a playwright and screenwriter and a graduate of both the University of South Carolina and UCLA’s professional program in screenwriting. Robertson’s first play, Mina Tonight!, was published by Samuel French Inc. and has been consistently produced in regional theatres across the nation. He created the musical comedy The Twitty Triplets and brought '60s TV to life by directing a staged version of “Gilligan’s Island” at Trustus Theatre.  Robertson’s screenplays have placed in several national contests, including his latest comedy, “Sweet Child of Mine” being named one of the top 12 comedy scripts in the 2010 Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition. He is currently developing several independent television and film projects and will be mounting a workshop production of Satan in High Heels this fall in NYC.

I recently attended a reading of Satan in High Heels presented as part of the TOSOS theatre company's Chesley/Chambers Playwrights Project reading series.  I had such a good time that I had to talk with Robertson about the play and how it came to be.

So I'm guessing that you are a fan of B movies and exploitation films?

You know, it’s funny, I do love exploitation films but my tastes run wildly from camp to classics. And when judging these films solely on their screenplays, what many people consider B movies of the past have at lot in common with independent cinema of today. That said, I do love a fun, low budget trashy movie and “Satan in High Heels” is my all-time favorite. “Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill” is a close runner up. And “Kitten with a Whip.” Anything with Ann-Margret makes my list.

When did you first see the film "Satan in High Heels"?

Meg Myles
I first saw “Satan in High Heels” about 15 years ago. It was on a videocassette loaned to me by this cool old gay guy in the deep south who collected obscure celebrity autographs. He was a big fan of singer and pinup girl Meg Myles who was the lead in “Satan” and he kept telling me I had to see this film. Little did I know, it would become my favorite obsession.  On the first viewing, I was especially thrilled to see Grayson Hall from the original “Dark Shadows” TV series playing a lesbian nightclub owner named Pepe. Doesn’t get any better than Dr. Julia Hoffman.

What was it about the story that made you interested in it?

What I loved most about the movie is the lead character, Stacy Kane—a carnival stripper turned nightclub singer—is totally amoral, a sociopath with no redeeming qualities except she has a killer body and can carry a tune. The film almost plays like a horror movie in that Stacy, the sexual predator, takes out her victims— one at a time—as she bed bounces her way to the top.  It’s just great fun to see everyone fall victim to her charms—repulsed and turned on at the same time.

Did you have a "Eureka!" moment when you decided it should be brought to the stage?

Absolutely. Upon repeated viewings, I kept shouting out lines I wished the characters would say. Then I started imagining new scenes and plot twists that would make for a more satisfying ending. As a comedy writer and a playwright, I knew the film’s theatricality and melodramatic tone would translate well to the stage. My adaptation definitely plays up the unintentional irony and humor of the original film but I also worked hard to beef up the overall story arc  with new and rewritten scenes, character development and dialogue rewrites. 

How long of a trip was it from film to stage?  What did you need to do along the way?

I started on a stage version of the film about 8 years ago with some friends of mine I met at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. They were interested in collaborating on a musical version of the film but life got in the way. But after leaving a day job corporate gig, I realized I wasn’t getting any younger so the only person to execute my vision was going to be myself. So I finished a new draft about two years ago and then I did a staged reading at Trustus Theatre in Columbia, SC  directed by my pal Tim Gardner, an in-demand commercial film director. From there, my friend (and playwright) Kathleen Warnock asked to read the script and she suggested it be part of TOSOS’ Chesley/Chambers new play reading series in NYC. 

As you know, I attended that staged reading of your play.  I thought it was a lot of fun, thanks in no small part to the talented cast.  I understand you'll be bringing most of them back for this fall's production.  Who will be involved?

How cool is our cast?? Karen Stanion is playing Stacy Kane and I could not be more excited to have her in the lead role. She is absolutely ravenous in this part and she looks awesome in high heels! Brett Warwick plays Stacy’s drug addicted husband, Rudy, an ex con turned pulp fiction writer. Ron Bopst is a dynamo as Arnold Kenyon, the shady businessman with a penchant for S&M, with Paul Caiola as his naïve son Larry Kenyon. Virginia Baeta is playing nightclub manager Pepe. Jacqueline Sydney is jaded barfly Felice and Robert Locke is bitchy, piano playing Paul, one of the only people in the cast who doesn’t sleep with Stacy! I'm leaving a couple of people out but suffice it to say we have a dream team of actors who not only get the era but the style and tone of the piece.

And who do you have directing? 

Mark Finlay will be directing and I am so really fortunate to have him at the helm. He is a big fan of the original source material and I instantly had an incredible rapport with him. With an evolving piece like this, the writer/director relationship is crucial and I lucked out with one of the nicest and most accomplished stage directors in NYC.

What would you say to your potential audience to get them to see the show?

Sex, drugs, booze and murder in a cabaret setting…this one has it all! And for lovers of B movies, I think you’ll get a good buzz from the laughs of this staged adaptation.

Are there any other B movies you'd like to see turned into plays or maybe even musicals?

I think “Kitten with a Whip” would be awesome on stage. Think we can get Karen Stanion to wear a red wig? That and the women’s prison movie “Caged.” I want Kathleen Warnock back on stage playing the Agnes Moorehead role!

If you could give some advice to the Stacy Kanes of the world, what would it be?

Always remember, bruised strippers get lousy tips. My favorite line from the play!

Follow the progress of the play on Facebook at or on Twitter @SataninHH.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Planet Connections Interview - Roi Escudero of "Artaud..mon mômo"

By Byrne Harrison
Photo of Roi Escudero by Valentin Ewan
Production photo by James Ewan

Name: Roi Escudero
Show: Artaud...mon mômo
Relationship to production: Producer/performer/writer/designer/director

Conceptual performance artist Roi Escudero was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her award winning inter-media work, as designer, songwriter, dramatist, and director of documentary-visual theatre and video, is internationally known. She is the creator  of performance-art-cinema™. Her vision paved the way for new media-theatre through her Connected Series BUBULINOS’ DREAMS.  In the USA her work has appeared at The Art Museum Council Gallery, at Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA), Los Angeles International Open Festival, at The Charlie Chaplin Space L.A., The Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, The New York International FRINGE Festival, The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), The Midtown International Theatre Festival, FRIGID New York, and other cultural and artistic events. Escudero's performance-art productions B=Essence, (2012) The Matra India (2011) and 11 seconds of ecstasy!(2010) presented at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, won the PCTF 2011 and  PCTF 2010 Awards for Outstanding Performance-art, Multimedia Event, Use of Projections and Special Effects. Escudero's plays received a total of 14 nominations. This includes Outstanding Overall Production of a New Play. 

Quotes Playwright/Critic Mario Fratti hailed Roi Escudero as “a director of the third millennium” Martin Denton of wrote: “Roi Escudero —"Bubi" to anyone she's ever met and anyone who's ever seen one of her extraordinary shows—doesn't believe in walls. She's against barriers of any kind: artistic ones that would attempt to put any of the multitudinous disciplines that make up her work—music, dance, poetry, mime, mask, puppetry, fashion, architecture, video, and others…” Alfred Weiss of The Italian Voice praised the “Convincing ensemble guided by Ms. Escudero’s masterful direction…”    Producer and Entrepreneur John Chatterton calls Roi the “Ultimate visual-dramatic artist.”   Artist Sue Grillo said: "On the imaginary  canvas of the stage, Roi Escudero paints with light." 

How did you first get involved in theatre?

I was involved in theatre since I was a little girl. I grew up in a creative family. My parents constantly gave  theatrical "tertulias" at home. My aunt, my uncle, and my parents were amateur performers. My father was a extraordinary comedian and my mother a ballerina and designer, as a designer she became well known. My mother made the most amazing costumes and accessories. 

Who are your biggest influences? 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Antonin Artaud, Jean Genet, The Instituto De Tella, The Living Theatre, Maria Fux, Guliano Vasilico, Prem Rawat, Salo Vasochi, Lucille Ball, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino and everyday life.

What is your show about?

In the final period of Artaud's life, he is living in an abandoned pavilion in a park convalescence clinic at Ivry-sur-Seine, surrounded by 406 school children's notebooks. The pages are covered with drawings and cutting edge text: "a body without organs". The drawings depict sexuality and terror, screams and gestures, and the paper is scarred with strokes of piercing knife-blade incisions. Artaud 's radio play To Have Done With the Judgment of God has been  banned. It is Mardi Gras, Jacques the poet, masked as "el Diablo", brings chloral to Artaud. The drug transports Artaud into an imaginary transitory zone in his mind that materializes the assorted places of his memories.  Artaud's hallucinations and flashbacks bring him to his mother's womb, his childhood next to the sea, Paris, the  silent cinema, the Surrealist movement, Genica, and The Théâtre Alfred Jarry.  Artaud also flashbacks to his journey with the Tarahumaras peoples and the time of war at the asylum of Rodez, where Artaud suffered beatings, starvation and electroshock therapy.  In the constrained space of his mind  the only contact that Artaud has with the outside world is the memory of a movie by  the Marx Brothers that he loves.  The action is focused on the protagonist’s awareness with the support of his alter ego, the bon vivant God Pan and a nurse with multiple personalities: Mademoiselle Perfection Obsession Phobos La Folie. Artaud sometimes perceives God Pan like the sadistic Dr Ferdière, a psychiatrist that knows from experience that nothing is more terrifying than freedom. The female figures represent the maternal, the erotic and the hysteric. All of the allegorical characters are manifestations of Artaud's raison d'etre and his pain, the pain of the world and its violent indifference. 

What inspired you to write it?

Artaud mon mômo is inspired by the life, work and lucid madness of the actor, director, theoretician, artist, and visionary genius Antonin Marie Joseph Artaud. After years of research and practice with Artaud’s theory and  following Artaud's belief that the creative process of the mise-en-scène needs to be in the hands of the same artist, I conceived Artaud mon mômo.  With my background in French literature, visual arts and theatre I produced an integral work as a performance artist, designer, playwright and director. I mingled documentary and visual theatre with the extemporary nature of performance-art through an artful planning method. The mise-en-scène containing stage design, new-media, and a narrative of moving images, supports the action onstage and connects my extemporary performance-art action with a skillful performance of actors following my stage directions. I created the  plot with real facts, the mystique of the fantastic, a touch of the  absurd and the irreverent awareness of the Theatre of Cruelty. I removed the stage’s imaginary fourth wall to produce a spontaneous response and pull the audience into a "visual-dramatic spectacle."

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

I met most of the cast of Artaud...mon mômo by fate!!! The first was Brad Burgess, executive producer of  The Living Theatre, and the main collaborator of the legendary Judith Malina. I went to a LIT Fund meeting at The Living Theatre to bring a piece from a project that I'm doing with kids for the LIT Fund. And there under a red light I saw a living image of Artaud! I murmured Artaud, and Brad Burgess responded, "I love Artaud!" Later he said: "Since The Living Theatre helped bring Artaud to the United States and has championed him as one of the great thinkers in their own work and in world theatre, I could not refuse the opportunity to play one of my own and my mentor's heroes." Brad Burgess said yes, and Voila he is portraying Artaud!  Later on  I went to a benefit for the LIT Fund  by The Living Theatre and Elephant Run District in a retrospective of Chris Harcum and I saw Bryant Carroll perform one of Chris plays and he was fantastic. Now Bryant is part of the cast of Artaud mon mômo, with the gifted twins Ashley and Kimberly Carvalho and the unique Mika Oyaizu. I have been working with Mika since 2009 when she danced tango in my performance art play, Argentina Passionate choreographed by the genial Rubén Celiberti. Since then Mika has collaborated in three of my performance art pieces presented at The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity: B=Essence (2012), The Matra India (2011) and 11 seconds of ecstasy (2010). Mika's work was nominated for Outstanding Choreography for the PCTF awards! Others participating in the production are: Erika  Bracy Mendoza who gives to the piece a priceless touch by singing  acappella a Jacques Prevert poem. The endowed Ryan Metzler as technical director and light designer. The multimedia and research assistant is Valentin Ewan, a recent Honors graduate from New York University with a Major in History and a Minor in Documentary Film, he also serves as stage manager.  Renown artist James Ewan created painted costumes and a virtual background for the Tarahumaras scene. The original songs are by La Banda Argentina and me. A new actor in town, James Stokes, gives an awesome curtain speech and is our house manager. I love the cast and the crew too! Artaud... mon mômo is dedicated to Judith Malina.  

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

Artaud...mon mômo is benefiting The LIT Fund. The LIT Fund, is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit designed to financially assist organizations and individual artists creating independent theater in the five boroughs of New York City. The intent of the Fund is to protect, sustain and strengthen this vital segment of American theater--in any economic environment--and to further enhance its positive impact on the cultural landscape of the city. The money for the Fund comes from participating organizations and artists who make donations in the amount of 5¢ per ticket they sell.

I chose to help the LIT Fund because the indie theatre in New York needs to stay alive! 

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

I'm have been invited to present my work at the Urban Eye Studio in L.A. California.  

I'm planning to bring my documentary-performance piece America what  a trip! and Artaud...mon mômo to the west coast.

If you could work with any famous actor, living or dead, who would it be? 

Charlie Chaplin and Johnny Depp!

Planet Connections Interview - Balint Varga of "Dangersparkle and the Lion"

By Byrne Harrison

Name: Balint Varga
Show: Dangersparkle and the Lion

Relationship to production: Music Director/Music Arranger

Balint Varga is a composer, conductor, music director originally from Budapest, Hungary, His musicals include: Kobolds (produced at Emerson in 2012), Darlings of Broadway, Houdini -The Musical and Why Don't I have a Girlfriend? Previous musical direction credits include: West Side Story, Oliver, Assassins, Kobolds, Berklee Goes Broadway. He's been working over Europe in many production as Oliver!, Jekyll and Hyde, Fiddler on the Roof, Chess (also co-orchestrated), Jesus Christ Superstar, They're playing our song (orchestration) and most recently Roman Polanski's Dance of the Vampires (Budapest/Antwerp/St. Petersbourg).He graduated from Berklee College of Music where he studied composition and conducting.

How did you first get involved in theatre?

I began my professional career in the world of musical theater at age 17 when I moved to Paris (I’m originally from Hungary). I worked first for Bastille Opera House in Paris with the musical director Scott Alan Prouty. I was the youngest contracted piano player ever in the history of the Bastille Opera House. I also worked at the French Ballet Institute and in Chatelet.

Who are your biggest influences?

As a composer I’m amazed by Alan Menken’s work. He had a huge influence on me. I also love Leonard Bernstein as a conductor and I admire Jason Robert Brown for his piano arrangements. Furthermore I listen to Puccini, Verdi, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Stephen Schwartz among others. 

What is your show about?

Dangersparkle and the Lion is the epic, touching, comic, and way-too personal tale of the history of the human race as seen through the eyes of two hapless immortals, fallen from heaven and doomed to reincarnate together until they can figure out just how to get along.

What inspired you to become involved with it?

The process we used to make the show was very creative, collaborative, and improvisational, and it was exciting to be a part of something like this.

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

My producers are the extremely creative Harry Einhorn and Lia Tamborra who are also the writers and leads in our show. This is the first time I had a chance to work with them. I had an interview and they asked to be their music director. The amazing Shana Solomon is our director who put so many brilliant ideas in the show, giving it way more colored details. 

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

We are raising awareness for Khoryug, a special project of the World Wildlife Fund working with Buddhist monasteries for environmental protection across the Himalayas 

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

I’ll be music directing Willy Wonka, I’m writing two new musicals, I am preparing my own showcase and I’m also working on music directing two projects in China. 

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

When one of my show (Kobolds the Musical) was produced in Boston last year. Conducting my own show in Boston was one of my best theatre moments. Next, Broadway!

Planet Connections Interview - Mark-Eugene Garcia of "The Holy Cows of Credence, South Dakota"

By Byrne Harrison
Headshot by Ben Strothmann
Production photo by Melissa Segal

Name: Mark-Eugene Garcia (with a little help from Carolyn Lardinois English)
Show: The Holy Cows of Credence, South Dakota

Relationship to production: Bookwriter and producer

Mark-Eugene Garcia is a proud member of A.S.C.A.P. and is the director of the Playwrights Forum of the F.A.C.T. Theatre Company. He is a Graduate of City College of New York and studied book and lyric writing with the Academy of New Musical Theatre in Los Angeles. His musicals include STANDBY- THE MUSICAL (New York International Fringe Festival- Encores Selection, New York Musical Theatre Festival, Next Link Selection), FACING EAST: A NEW MUSICAL ( Chicago Special Event- Nominee), THE HOLY COWS OF CREDENCE SOUTH DAKOTA, and THE JOURNEY. His plays include (UN)MISSED CONNECTIONS (Jacob Weiser Playwriting Award for a Fully Realized Drama, The Stark Award in Drama in Memory of Ross Alexander- honorable mention), ONE NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN BOOT, INSCRIPTIONS, WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR and KEYS. His works have been presented in The New York International Fringe Festival, The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, The Puzzle: Marble’s Festival of New Works, ANMT’s Festival of New Musicals, Untucked: LBGT One Act festival, LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, Disney’s Hyperion Theatre, and The Colony Theatre Burbank. 

As an actor he has appeared from New York to California, including the shows A STRANGE AND SEPARATE PEOPLE (Jay Berman) (Winner- Seymour Peck Award for Sustained Excellence) THE TAINT OF EQUALITY OR I WANT YOUR SEX (Javier Pena) ,SIX SILENCES IN THREE MOVEMENTS (Sean), THE MOUSETRAP (Paravacini), LEAVES OF GRASS(Nude soloist), NEW YORK ( Duff, Vigil), HAMLET (Horatio), THE BOYS IN THE BAND (Larry), THE JAR (The Man), FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (Fyedka) , CITY OF ANGELS ( Pasco,Eugene, Munoz u/s), TEN PAGES WITH 25 WORDS AND A NUDE SCENE (Jay), and many performances at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure as well as on the Jenny Craig Website. Mark's film roles include NOCTURNAL FURY (Charlie) and ALEKSANDR'S PRICE (Michael) He can also be seen on the web series THE MESSAGE BOARD (Charlie) and PIONEER ONE (Dr. Richard C. Hadfield)

How did you first get involved in theatre?

Carolyn: Royal Crane and I began our career as stand-up comedians performing in the LA area. On a challenge and the promise of an all you can eat buffet, we began writing a play for three friends who had found it difficult to find parts that fit their unique personalities and extra-large bodies. Night Nurses was a critical success and quickly launched our writing career but ruined the three aforementioned friendships. Writers see things differently. Often mistaken as husband and wife, which creeps us out, we continue to work to write for all mediums but fewer larges. Holy Cows is our second collaboration. 

Who are your biggest influences?

Mark: When it comes to musical theatre, Ahrens and Flaherty will always be my biggest influences. When I was in high school I happened to see the pre Broadway cast of Ragtime and a regional production of  Once on this Island back to back. I was immediately drawn to the storytelling through music in each show. Up until then I felt musicals were just about doing a scene, singing a song about it, then doing another scene. In those two stories so much time and emotion was wrapped into each song. I was addicted   When I realized that the same people wrote these two shows, I instantly went and found their other material. I’ve been hooked ever since. That’s about when I started writing plays and poetry, which led me into musical theatre.

What is your show about? 

Mark: The musical is about a community of women- and one man- who get together every Sunday to watch their, ever losing, church baseball team (The Holy Cows) play. The minister’s wife, Marlys Brooks, uses these Sunday get-togethers to solve the problems of all of her friends. But this Sunday is the anniversary of a tragedy in her life. Because of this, she is losing her faith. But she has no one to tell. Alone, confused, and searching, Marlys puts her faith in an unlikely source.

What inspired you to write it? 

Carolyn: On a hot summer day on a dirt road in South Dakota, four young adults, almost home, passed a slow-moving tractor. Their head-on collision with the vehicle on the other side of the road and their deaths is not newsworthy. It happens with regularity on the two lane dirt ways of rural America. But in that event were all of life’s unanswered questions. Why do these things happen? What if they had had one more cup of coffee to drink that day? What if they had had one less cup of coffee? Why do the “good” ones have to die and who gets to decide who the “good” ones are anyway? With the metaphor of a church softball game, a game that everyone understands, we explore the profound questions of life and death and signs in a game that no one understands.

Mark: My mom handed me the play Holy Cows which was written by a friend of hers and mentor of mine, Carolyn English and her writing partner Royal Crane. That was almost ten years ago. It was a bit of time before I was able to sit down and read the play, during the break from another project. Immediately, I heard music singing from the page and knew that I needed to tell this fantastic story through song. I was incredibly nervous approaching someone who I had always thought of as “teacher” and “mentor” and asking if I could try my hand at adapting her work. However after giving me the go ahead, and seeing Carolyn and Royal’s reactions to the first readings, I felt reassured and very excited to move along with this project. 

We have been given some fantastic opportunities, first with LaGuardia College, then later The Puzzle: Marble Collegiate Church’s Festival of New Works, and finally here, with the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. 

These characters mean so much because they are so real. The story means so much because it is so basic, yet so touching. This is a simple show, with an intimate story of six people hoping for something as small as their small town church winning a game. Yet, looking deeper, to  hits heart, we see a woman searching desperately for meaning, a group of people searching for community, and a young girl searching for a connection. It is in these moments that the Holy Cows sing.

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

Mark: One of the many things I love about The Holy Cows of Credence, South Dakota is the sense of community between the characters. This is something that continues in the behind scenes element also. We have Carolyn, who always encouraged my writing when I was younger.  Then three years ago, when the musical premiered at LaGuardia College, a fellow student, Viktoria Dana King, was my assistant director. We were so happy to have her back on board in that role this time around. Rodrigo E. Bolaños was our set designer in that run, but in the past few years has become an accomplished director. Having seen every production of Cows, and after his fantastic work on my play (un)missed connections, it seemed only natural to have him take the bull by the horns this time around. David Rigano and I worked on another musical Facing East out in Chicago. He and his brother Paul Rigano write so well together and their song, style and sensibility fit the show so well, that they also seemed the natural fit. Kyle James Johnson, our stage manager, was an actor in (un)missed connections last year. Donald Garverick is a friend, as well as a fantastic choreographer whom we’d all longed to work with for quite a while. I love the storytelling he does with movement. Casting wise, Lisa Dennett who plays Grandma Fette did such a great job in the reading at The Puzzle Festival two years ago that we were so happy to have her back. As for the new members of our herd: Stephanie Kirkland brings such honesty and beauty to Marlys. Alanna Gwynn Shaffer manages to be hilarious and touching at the same time. Jenny Paul is hilarious perfection as Dotty-Lue.  Peter Ackerman is spot on as Skipper and has more energy that I thought was humanly possible. Julia Menn is wonderful, bringing a balance of dark and light to the dramatic role of Liz. 

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

Mark: For our charity, we chose WIN (Women in Need). The Holy Cows of Credence, South Dakota is show about women and community. With nearly an all female cast, we really wanted to find charity that focused on women. WIN transforms the lives of New York City homeless women and their children by providing a holistic solution of safe housing, critical services and ground-breaking programs they need to succeed on their own  – so the women can regain their independence and their children can look forward to a brighter future. The linking of women and community was so close to our theme that WIN seemed like the perfect fit.

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

Mark: Two days after Holy Cows closes, my other musical Standby begins rehearsals for The New York Musical Theatre Festival. It’s a rock musical about five people waking up in an airport terminal with no recollection of how they got there. It’s a lot darker than Holy Cows but just as character driven. It was really well received at last years NYC Fringe Festival and was chosen for the Fringe Encores series. I co-wrote the book and lyrics with Alfred Solis. The Music is by Amy Baer and Keith Robinson. Carlos Armesto is directing and our cast is amazing. We’re opening July 19th

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

Mark: Okay, it’s going to sound like I’m sucking up here. But, I promise it’s all true. Two years ago I got mentioned my first NYC review. I remember reading it, in my living room, with my heart beating a mile a minute. It was just one sentence, but it was my name and a statement of praise.   It was for Duncan Pflaster’s Six Silences In Three Movements which was a big step for me theatrically as well as one of my favorite theatrical experiences. In the review I got a shout out about my performance. I showed that review to EVERYONE. I Facebook linked it. I emailed it. I printed it and handed it to my friends. In fact, it’s still quoted on my website. That year, I was really taking a tentative step back into performing, but that sentence changed everything. I went at everything full force after that. That night at the show, when I went on, I was so happy- but at the same time thought “don’t mess this up!” It was a mix of pressure and jubilation. I never wanted that to stop. That review was by a certain Byrne Harrison on a certain blog called StageBuzz. So yeah, it might sound like I’m sucking up. But I’m saying that it’s all true. And I am also saying, “thank you.”