Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review - "The Temple, or, Lebensraum"

By Byrne Harrison

Overall, I have been very disappointed in adaptations I've seen of H.P. Lovecraft's work.  Other than some very successful radio-theatre performances, the adaptations I've seen (mostly film) have relied on cheap shocks and middling special effects to try to catch even a hint of the horror that Lovecraft could convey with a handful of words.

This is why Nat Cassidy's adaptation of Lovecraft's "The Temple" is such a delight.  Well, as much of a delight as anything involving mutilation, suffocation, cannibalism, Nazis and the elder gods can be.  Cassidy is a strong storyteller; one who fully appreciates just how powerful the combination of excellent actors, fraught situations, and an audience's imagination can be.

The story, moved from WWI to WWII, follows the crew of a German U-boat.--a group of men of different backgrounds, some who have worked together for years, some completely green.  Sailors fighting a losing war, wary both of their hot tempered captain and a visiting Nazi officer in their midst.  In and of itself, this is a fertile ground for drama.  But adding in a mysterious stowaway, one who couldn't possibly be alive, yet somehow is, and her statues of bizarre and grotesque gods, and the madness that she brings to the ship gives the story its creepy supernatural twist.  To say nothing of the sunken city and its strange citizens….

Cassidy knows that the real drama comes, not from any monsters, but from the relationships between the characters, especially in how they react to the Nazi officer in their midst.  Much of the play focuses on these relationships, particularly between the Kommandant (Arthur Aulisi) and Oberfuhrer Heinrich (Matthew Trumbull). It is the Kommandant's ship, and he sees Trumbull's fussy Nazi officer as an annoyance.  This eventually turns to rage and he lashes out in a way that could destroy his career.  But with the arrival of the Stowaway (Adriana Jones) and her mysterious carvings, and the effect they have on Heinrich, it's just a matter of time until the whole crew is doomed.  And this is before they even arrive at the sunken city.

As I said before, the play focuses on the characters, not in trying to show the fantastical elements of the story.  There is no attempt to bring the elder gods of Lovecraft's mythology to life onstage. No attempts to show the audience a sunken city.  Just the awed whisper of Oberfuhrer Heinrich as he describes the city and its inhabitants.  And this was exactly right for this production, and made the ending of the play much more powerful than any attempt at special effects would have.

The cast is very strong, with particular praise going to Matthew Trumbull for his work as Heinrich.  Watching the character go from a bumbling PR man to a psychotic killer is amazing.  Arthur Aulisi as the Kommandant and Tristan Colton as 2nd Wachoffizier Zinner also give outstanding performances.  I should also point out that one of my favorite moments of the play was during a scene where the men were running out of air.  The actors were arranged on the floor trying to breathe.  No dialogue.  Just breathing.  The amazing thing is that the audience was rapt the entire time.

Sandy Yaklin has done an amazing job at transforming the theatre at The Brick into a submarine.  And the way she has arranged the seating makes it easy for the audience to feel like part of the action.  Morgan Zipf-Meister's lighting design and Jeanne Travis's sound design just add to the effect.  There were a number of times where I started to feel claustrophobic.

In addition to being an excellent playwright, Cassidy is a strong director, creating a taut, well-paced drama.

Unfortunately, "The Temple, or, Lebensraum" ends its nearly sold-out run tonight.  I have no doubt it will make another appearance in the future.

The Temple, or, Lebensraum
Written and directed by Nat Cassidy
Inspired by "The Temple" by H.P. Lovecraft
Stage Manager: Sarah Lahue
Produced by MozzleStead
Set Design by Sandy Yaklin
Sound Design by Jeanne Travis
Light Design by Morgan Zipf-Meister
Costume Design by Ben Philipp
Gore Effects by Stephanie Cox-Williams
Technical Direction by Ashanti Ziths
Fight Choreography by John D. Gardner
Publicity by Bunch of People Press & Publicity

Cast: Matthew Trumbull (Oberfuhrer Karl Heinrich), Arthur Aulisi (Kommandant Tod Klenze), Tristan Colton (2nd Wachoffizier Sigmund Zinner), Zac Hoogendyk (3rd Wachoffizier Erich Trauke), Ridley Parson (Funkhauptgefreiter Ahrendt), John D. Gardner (Meteorologe Bohm), John Blaylock (Bootsmann Albrecht Muller), Eric Gilde (Ingenieur Tom Raab), Adriana Jones (The Stowaway)

Friday, February 27, 2015

FRIGID New York Interview - Taryn Parrish of "Hey '90s Kids, You're Old"

By Byrne Harrison

Show: Hey ‘90s Kids, You’re Old
Photo credit: Photo of Taryn Parrish by David Franczak

Taryn Parrish is a film graduate from Wilfrid Laurier University, Taryn has directed three short comedy shows to date and works as a freelance writer for online publications, including

Tell me a little about your show.

Hey ‘90s Kids, You’re Old is a ‘90s nostalgia sketch comedy show that is set in the present. We have asked the question - what if our favorite ‘90s characters had to grow up, like we did? As such, you’ll see lots of familiar ‘90s characters, technologies, toys and themes in modern day situations.

What inspired you to create it?

I wasn’t inspired by one person in particular, I was moreso inspired by recent popularity of ‘90s nostalgia in pop culture, and the discussions that it provokes online (‘90s kids yearning for, “the good ol’ days” for example, as seen in the comment sections of nostalgic listicles.) I was and am totally fascinated by this discourse – how we deal with aging, how we romanticize our youth, and how we define a generation. I love that the ‘90s are thought of by some as “the last true decade” and I wanted to explore these themes in a really fun way.

Who else is helping you bring the show to FRIGID?

Literally everyone in my life is helping me bring this show to FRIGID! My employer, my siblings, my parents, my friends from elementary school all the way to university are helping either financially or with their time. My actors are, of course, also making this possible, booking  their time off work and sharing an apartment for 2 weeks. They have also helped build the show and have helped to make it the best that it can be. We are incredibly fortunate, and incredibly grateful.

Who would be your dream audience for this show?

Our show definitely has a target audience – people who consider themselves to be ‘90s kids. This generally means that you’re born between 1983-1993, but it really is a fluid definition. I suppose my dream audience would be ‘90s kids, who love to reminisce and who are pop culture junkies. That way they can appreciate all of the ‘90s pop culture we jammed into this show :)

As a theatre artist, who are your biggest influences?

Well, I would have to say that my current, biggest influence is Jimmy Fallon. Because our show is sketch comedy, I’m always looking to comedians who are creating smart, relatable, shareable content – because that’s what I would like to do as well, but on stage. Jimmy Fallon and his team are absolutely brilliant at making The Tonight Show to fresh, exciting, and enjoyable.

What shows are you planning to see at FRIGID?

I wish I could see them all! A few that caught my eye were Get Around Me, Post Traumatic Super Delightful, and I Was A Sixth Grade Big Foot.

What is next for you in 2015?

We’re taking Hey ‘90s Kids, You’re Old to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in July 2015!

Lightning round

Favorite theatre professional? Matt Murray

Current show you would love to be involved with? I haven’t seen it yet, but I feel like Bayside! The Musical is right up my alley.

Your dream show to be involved with? The 39 Steps – I love Hitchcock!

Who would you most like to have a chance to work with? Bill Watterson.

Your best theatre experience? I really loved The 39 Steps and The Book of Mormon.

Your worst theatre experience? I won’t say – I respect anyone who puts themselves out there.

Person you’d most like to thank for getting you where you are today? My family!

For more about Hey '90s Kids, You're Old, visit the FRIGID New York website.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

FRIGID New York Interview - Robin Rice Lichtig of "Everyday Edna Mae"

By Byrne Harrison

Show: Everyday Edna Mae
Website: - on Facebook: Everyday Edna Mae
Photo credit: Audrey Weatherstone

Robin Rice Lichtig is the author of over 50 plays (including 19 full lengths), produced from Mongolia to South Africa, London to South Korea, New York to California. Recent productions include Alice in Black and White (Louisville), The Power of Birds (NYC), Play Nice! (Off-Broadway), and Lola and the Planet of Glorious Diversity (upcoming in March, NYC). Her short play, Squeezing Papayas, will be read at The Sheen Center on April 11 as one of 15 plays by members of the international 365 Women a Year: A Playwriting Project – plays about women throughout time. Publishers include French, Applause, Smith & Kraus, Indie Theater Now. Memberships: The Articulate Theatre Company, Dramatists Guild, League of Professional Theatre Women, International Centre for Women Playwrights, Manhattan Oracles.

Tell me a little about Everyday Edna Mae.

First there was a ten-minute play about a young woman with a terrible body image – so terrible it plagued her every step.  One day I realized that the protagonist in this play was the same woman in another short play of mine about middle-aged best friends on vacation in San Diego. I tore the plays apart and began weaving a new, longer play with a third part in which the woman was elderly.

What inspired you to create it?

I’m always interested in how place influences behavior. San Diego is a place that is filled with sunny, tropical colors and soft ocean waves. I always feel good in San Diego. I started thinking about how San Diego would feel to a woman who had never seen the ocean or palm trees, who had never felt the air of southern California. Before I began writing plays I was a fine art printmaker – so my thinking naturally went to wondering how San Diego would affect this woman if she was an artist. What if she was creatively blocked? Surely San Diego would inspire her. What if… ? And the little play grew and grew. 

Who else is helping you bring the show to FRIGID?

Director Bricken Sparacino and actors Heather McAllister and Alison Saltz presented the play (an earlier, shorter version) at Emerging ArtistsTheatre’s New Works Series in March, 2014. We all loved the experience and decided to continue working on the adventures of Edna Mae.

Who would be your dream audience for this show?

People who will get a good kick in the creative pants from Edna Mae, and people who have been there and will root for her.

As a theatre artist, who are your biggest influences?

Thornton Wilder, Maria Irene Fornes, Jose Rivera, Tennessee Williams, Impressionists, poets and The Little Prince.

What shows are you planning to see at FRIGID?


What is next for you in 2015?

My full-length play Lola and the Planet of Glorious Diversity will be onstage in a premiere workshop production directed and choreographed by Marcus Yi at The Alchemical, March 11-15. This is a large cast play with music, movement and muscle! Also, T. Schreiber Studio is producing a short play, The Other Shoe, March 16-29 with director Brian Drillinger.

Lightning round

Favorite theatre professional? Frances McDormand, Robert Duval, the Coen Brothers.

Current show you would love to be involved with? Articulate TheatreCompany’s The Skin of Our Teeth.

Your dream show to be involved with? It would be a dream to get a professional production of Lola and the Planet of Glorious Diversity.

Who would you most like to have a chance to work with? Paula Vogel.

Your best theatre experience? Teaching playwriting in Mongolia.

Your worst theatre experience? A director in London who changed a lot of my dialogue without telling me and wouldn’t communicate with the actor in a one-person show headed to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Person you’d most like to thank for getting you where you are today? Joe Lichtig.

For more about Everyday Edna Mae, visit the FRIGID New York website.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"The Artist & The Scientist" - Inventive and deeply moving

By Rob Hartmann
Photos by Jenny Anderson

The Artist & The Scientist is an inventive and deeply moving new musical currently running at CAP21. Bookwriter/lyricist Jenny Stafford and composer Brandon Anderson have together crafted a story which seeks to explore the inner drives which can both save us from an uncertain world, and trap us into familiar patterns.

Dan Kohler, Curtis Wiley, Jamilla Sabares-Klemm,
Christina DeCicco, James Penca, 
EJ Zimmerman
The core of the story is very simple: a painter (Jamila Sabares-Klemm) and an astronomer (James Penca) have fallen in love. When he proposes marriage, she hesitates. The story unspools in that moment of indecision. Both the painter and astronomer have an inner muse which at times comforts or criticizes them; his is Logic (Christina DeCicco), hers, Creativity (Curtis Wiley.) The pressure of the proposal moment acts to send all four spinning into scenes from significant episodes in the relationship — not only the relationship between the painter and the astronomer, but also the relationship each has with both Logic and Creativity.

I’ll stop to say that a synopsis cannot really capture the essence of this show. We’ve all the experience of seeing the sort of piece where actors play Abstract Concepts (“Behold, for I am Grief. I must weep, and dance, and weep again.” Audience checks watch, plans escape strategies.) Trust me, this is not that kind of piece — even with Time and Space as characters whirling through the plot like an interstellar Oberon and Titania. The Artist & The Scientist draws its characters sharply and specifically, taking familiar tropes (“She’s a free spirit! He’s tightly wound! But can they love?”) and digging into them to reveal painful-slash-hilarious truths about the way people collide as they try to understand one another. The show is smart, witty, funny, and deeply emotional — with great empathy for all its characters.

Jamila Sabares-Klemm,
James Penca
James Penca and Jamila Sabares-Klemm create fully three-dimensional characters whom you believe as a scientist and an artist, and as two people who would be drawn together. Sabares-Klemm neatly sidesteps all “eccentric artist” cliché, bringing great warmth and sensitivity to the role of a person in the grip of an all-consuming need to create. Penca finds the soul of the sort of man who always has an Interesting Fact of the Day to share: someone for whom order and method are ways of survival. (The Artist, in wide eyed wonder: “You know what else I like about him? If he says he’s going to be somewhere, or do something, he does it. Every time.”)

Christina DeCicco, as Logic, is decked out in a festival of geometric prints, including grid-patterned pants that could have been fashioned from the set of Tron (evocative costuming by Amy Sutton.) She inhabits the role with dry-as-bone comic timing. (In a moment of agitation: “I don’t think I can predict other people for you! … You never needed me to predict other people before! There weren’t any!”) DeCicco also endows the role with great kindness. In a quietly devastating second act moment, we see the Scientist as a kid, left alone when no one wants to play Legos with the NASA-shirt-wearing nerd. Logic appears, to offer him a lifeline: organization, order, calm. “This helps,” she says — DeCicco nailing the simple, strong truth of the moment.

Curtis Wiley, James Penca
Curtis Wiley plays Creativity as that charismatic mentor-teacher we’ve all had — the one who wonders why you would interrupt your work for such mundane tasks as eating and sleeping. Oh, and other people. Wiley is an actor of great nuance, skillful at portraying flickering, conflicting emotion. He gives Creativity’s voice a knife-edge sharpness and power, ably negotiating the high registers of his songs.

Brandon Anderson’s score is propelled by moody, rhythmic figures which percolate under plaintive pop-folk-tinged melodies. Anderson is an accomplished performer himself: he puts his cast through their paces, exploring every inch of their vocal ranges while weaving them into intricate, soaring harmonies. Music director Kristen Lee Rosenfeld ably leads the evening from the piano, bringing nuance and sensitivity to the score (along with Craig Magnano on guitar.)

Jenny Stafford’s book is an actor’s delight: in spare, taut scenes, she creates interesting, multi-layered individuals, wrestling with their own vulnerabilities as they cautiously fumble towards connection. By smartly keeping the text emotionally restrained, she allows the actors to find deep wells of feeling. She is also a lyricist in command of her craft — in one highlight, she deftly sketches out the agony of an art-house-cinema date (the kind of disastrous evening that you are pretty sure unfolds at the Angelika on a regular basis.)

The songs delve into some heady topics. When it seems that the pair are breaking up, the Scientist finds solace in the concept of eternalism. He sings:

There’s a theory on time called eternalism.
Great scientists often debate and discuss 
the third portion of time — the future. What’s coming for us.
If the future is constantly happening, 
then it’s happening. Right now.

So leave me, it’s fine.
I know there’s a “future us,” way down the line,
And they’re happy.
We’re saying we’re sorry and making up, somewhere.
You love me again and you’re holding me, somewhere.
We can’t believe you ever left me, somewhere.
I can’t wait till time takes us there.
Where we’re happy.

It’s a gorgeous moment, set beautifully to music, and Penca delivers it with a mixture of anger and shattered despair that is mesmerizing.

Dan Kohler
Time is a significant element in the piece — we move forward and backward in time, to childhood, to possible futures, to a minute ago, to millions of years ago. As the character of Time, Dan Kohler is like your slightly maniacal friend who convinces you to jump off the roof into the swimming pool. Space is a little more no-nonsense; EJ Zimmerman finds great texture in the role, from exasperation to remorse at having flung down the comet which wiped out the dinosaurs. (Keep an eye out for the tiny dinosaurs on the glowing Earth prop toward the beginning of the show.)

Lee Savage (scenic and prop design) creates a magical, theatrical space with a few simple gestures: a curtain of hanging bare bulbs, empty picture frames which glow with intense, flickering color, a simple painter’s scaffold. Greg Solomon (lighting design) takes us effortlessly from the human world on Earth to galactic space and inner darkness. Sound designer Jacob Subotnik’s work includes bringing the sounds of singing galaxies to the stage.

Director Jessi D. Hill keeps a sure hand on the narrative flow — never losing sight of the human story at the core of the story. The staging makes inventive use of the intimate space, moving the actors fluidly in and out from every corner.

Like all new works, The Artist & The Scientist will surely transform and evolve when it goes on to other productions. The beauty of the piece, here in its initial outing, is a certain glorious messiness. Too often, new-work developmental processes sand off all the interesting edges and crunch a piece down into predictable, easily digestible forms. What is clear about CAP21 (under the leadership of artistic directors Frank and Eliza Ventura) is that they are interested in stories which have unexpected angles, stories which assume that the audience is intelligent and curious, stories which have emotional truth and authenticity.

In The Artist & The Scientist, you will see yourself, and perhaps have a flash of insight into that wonderful, maddening person in your life — the one you love but just don’t fully understand. 

The Artist & The Scientist runs through February 28 at the CAP21 Black Box Theater, 18 West 18th Street. Show times are Wednesday-Saturday at 7 PM.

Tickets are $18 and are available through OvationTix or online at

CAP21 Theatre Company presents The Artist & The Scientist
Book and Lyrics by Jenny Stafford
Music by Brandon Anderson
Story by Jenny Stafford and Brandon Anderson
Directed by Jessi D. Hill
Musical direction by Kristen Lee Rosenfeld

Starring Christina DeCicco, Dan Kohler, James Penca, Jamila Sabares-Klemm, Curtis Wiley, and EJ Zimmerman. 

Scenic/props design by Lee Savage
Costume design by Amy Sutton
Lighting design by Greg Solomon
Sound design by Jacob Subotnik
Assistant lighting designer: Nathan Avakian
Stage manager: Cate DiGirolamo
Casting director: Geoff Josselson
Production manager: Becca Doyle

Friday, February 13, 2015

FRIGID New York Interview - Shirley Gnome of "Shirley Gnome: Real Mature"

By Byrne Harrison

Show: Shirley Gnome: Real Mature
Photo credit: Rufio Van Hoover

Shirley Gnome is a self-styled musical comedian and songwriter. Armed with only a guitar and a sassmouth, this chanteuse provocatrice belts out original tunes about the embarrassing, profound, and hilarious adventures that happen when bodies collide. Her music, while smothered in explicit language and provocative insights, is sung with the voice of "an angel dry-humping a cloud." Sometimes tongue-in-cheek, othertimes insightful and honest, Shirley weaves a live show that has people in hysterics - often in spite of themselves.

She won The People Champ of Comedy Competition in 2012, taking home $20,000. She continued her success with critically acclaimed shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. She has graced the stages of several burlesque festivals, earning herself a place as the musical cousin of the international burlesque family. She was nominated last year for a Canadian Comedy Award for Best Variety Act. She has recorded three albums, her most recent being The Lady of the Night released on Feb 8th, 2015.

Tell me a little about Shirley Gnome: Real Mature.

My show is a conflagration of different songs spanning the last 5 years of my work. It weaves a tapestry full of tell-tale truths, complete with the stains of lessons lived and frayed edges from years of use.

What inspired you to create it?

I am mostly inspired by my close friends. We open up to each other honestly about what it is like to traverse the tricky trails of sex and love, and I take notes. Sometimes I'm just sitting on the bus and the song pops fully formed in my head.

Who else is helping you bring the show to FRIGID?

I've been helped by my fellow artist Gillian English, as she has been to the festival many times and has been a great source of advice. Also critical to my success is the generosity of the community, through which I have found a host who will let me stay in her living room for the duration of the festival - for free! Now that's patronage. I also have a wonderful group of friends and a supportive family who have helped to get this show on it's feet. The community of artists back in Vancouver have also been a great source of inspiration.

Who would be your dream audience for this show?

I suppose anyone who would take satisfaction from seeing it. Whether that's because they loved it and were inspired by it, or in that it helped them define what they don't like/don't want to see - or any strong reaction - I'd be pleased with that. If Tenacious D happened to be there I would probably shit my pants and die from joy.

As a theatre artist, who are your biggest influences?

Storytellers. Their particular brand of theatre completely moves me, shows me the possibilities in my own musical storytelling, and inspires me to be as honest and real as I can be.

What shows are you planning to see at FRIGID?

Get Around Me! and Sam Mullins' new show. I'd like to go and support a lot of my fellow Canadian artists. I think I'll know more when I get there.

What is next for you in 2015?

I'll be doing a bunch of theatre festivals in Canada, including UnoFest (Victoria), The St. Ambroise/Montreal Fringe, WinnipegFringe, and Edmonton Fringe. I may try get to Australia this fall as well. I will also probably nap, and poop, and take great joy in falling down laughing.

Lightning round
Favorite theatre professional? Stuart Bowden - Australia.

Current show you would love to be involved with? Any big burlesque production in New York City!

Your dream show to be involved with? A giant musical comedy festival in the summer.

Who would you most like to have a chance to work with? Talented people.

Your best theatre experience? Playing on the Vogue Theatre stage last year as a part of the Vancouver Int'l Burlesque Festival. I have never played for that many people before (1,100), it was an absolute thrill.

Your worst theatre experience? I'm five years old. The girl in front of me was supposed to dance over and pick up her item of clothing, in a Mary Poppins ballet recital. She took mine. I got onstage, froze, and took her piece of clothing. That fucking bitch. I will never forgive her.

Person you’d most like to thank for getting you where you are today? My parents - they gave me their Air Miles points! Also unconditional love and support. But also Air Miles points!

For more about "Shirley Gnome: Real Mature" visit the FRIGID New York website.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Top Ten Reasons to See "Molly's North Korea Armageddon Family Hour" Tonight

By Byrne Harrison

10. The host, Molly "Equality" Dykeman, is a mess.  You'll feel so much better about your own life choices.

9. The show is at The C.O.W. (Celebration of Whimsy) on the Lower East Side.  It has a bar and lets you bring your drinks into the show.  And the drinks are cheap compared to the LES clubs and bars.

8. It's Molly's Anti-Valentine's Day show. Bring someone you want to hit and forget.

7. Andrea Alton, Molly's creator, has lined up some amazing talent including actor Allen Warnock, burlesque star Jubilee Diamond, comedian Mary Dimino, singer Tym Moss, and NYC nightlife icon and columnist, Michael Musto.

6. Let me repeat -- Michael Musto.  You ever seen him perform live?  It's worth a trip downtown.

5. The mullet... Molly's terrifying, fascinating mullet.

4. Tickets are only $10 in advance and $15 at the door.  Try to get into The Elephant Man or Hedwig for only $10.

3. Have you ever been to an end-of-the-world-themed variety show? You'll learn the Molly way to survive any disaster from an earthquake in Brooklyn to the zombie apocalypse.

2. Cheetos dust.  Cheetos dust everywhere.

1. It's a raunchy and funny way to spend a Tuesday night.  And who wouldn't want to hear Molly read a poem entitled "I Want to F*ck Queen Latifa"?

"Molly's North Korean Armageddon Family Hour" is tonight at The C.O.W. at 21 Clinton Street at 8 PM.  Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door.  For tickets or more information, visit SmartTix or The C.O.W.