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Broadway (and Off-Broadway) Bargains!

January 23rd, 2014 Comments off

For theater die-hards, there’s no better time to catch a show in New York City than during the cold winter months of January and February. Sure, you can pay top-dollar to watch Elphaba soar into the rafters of the Gershwin Theater in Wicked… or you can see a show that hasn’t been around for a decade and support the wildly eclectic theater season currently underway. Here are two options to score great seats at bottom dollar:

The cast of "Twelfth Night."  (photo: Joan Marcus)

The cast of “Twelfth Night.”
(photo: Joan Marcus)

Broadway Week: 2-For-1 Tickets Through February 6
Many of Broadway’s biggest hits are participating. Here are our picks:

PippinOne of our favorite shows from last season, you can still catch Tony winner Patina Miller as The Leading Player—a performance not to miss.

Twelfth Night — Direct from its sold-out run in London’s West End, this all-male retelling of Shakespeare’s classic tale is nothing short of spectacular.

Cinderella — Wait until February 4 and you’ll catch pop star Carly Rae Jepsen in the title role and TV star Fran Drescher as her evil stepmother.

Feeling lucky? Enter to win the ultimate Broadway experience, which includes dinner for six and tickets to a Broadway show.

The cast of "Disaster!" (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The cast of “Disaster!”
(photo: Jeremy Daniel)

20at20: $20 Tickets Through February 9
Why should Broadway have all the fun? Take a few steps off the Great White Way and discover a more intimate theater experience. Simply go to the box office of one of the participating shows 20 minutes before curtain and request a $20 ticket. Here is our shortlist of not-to-miss productions:

Disaster! — We recently reviewed this hysterical mash-up of 70s disaster movies and gave it a thumbs up. Life jackets not included.

The Clearing — Are you looking for a modern family drama with plot twists and turns? One of the best new plays off Broadway this winter.

iLuminate — Sometimes you need a little bling, and this groundbreaking combination of storytelling, music and technology will be sure to get your heart racing.

Review: “NORWAY PLAYS: Drama Beyond Ibsen”

November 17th, 2013 Comments off

Contributor Lindsay B. Davis dives into the cold waters of Scandinavian theater, discovering steamy surrealism from the post-Ibsen generation of notable playwrights. 

norway1In June 2013, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry published a Power Point deck online entitled, Norwegian Drama Now. It presents biographies of 14 chosen contemporary (some established, others up-and-coming) playwrights from Norway whom the Ministry would like to see gain international exposure. Amongst them are Maria Tryti Vennerod and Fredrik Brattberg, both previous winners of Norway’s prestigious Ibsen Award for drama. Vennerod’s More (original title: Meir) and Brattberg’s The Returning (original title: Tilbakekomstene) are part of a double bill currently running at Theater for the New City called Norway Plays: Drama Beyond Ibsen, a co-production by the Scandinavian American Theater Company (SATC) and NYC-based production company Ego Actus.

The challenge for Norwegian dramatists is not just creating universal works with global appeal beyond its country of 5 million people, but surviving comparisons to Henrik Ibsen, Norway’s hometown hero who also happens to be considered the father of modern drama and realism. The author of such classics as A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler may be dead over 100 years (he completed his last play in 1899 and died in 1906) but his works are amongst the most produced and highly regarded in the world. These are some large, Shakespearean-size Scandinavian shoes to fill.

According to longtime Norwegian arts journalist and critic Idalou Larsen, for many years Ibsen, “cast a shadow over new young Norwegian authors who had problems freeing themselves from his way of writing.” Vennerod’s and Brattberg’s one acts of approximately 60 minutes in length (performed back-to-back with one intermission) do not suffer that problem. Both break from realist conventions by way of non-linear storytelling and are influenced by their contemporary Jon Fosse, a Norwegian writer known for creating characters that partake in rhythmic, repetitious exchanges. Lineage aside, these are both plays with a distinct voice—subversive works of theater that embrace the art form for its potential as boundary transcending entertainment and social commentary.

The Returning introduces us to an attractive, middle-aged, suburban couple (Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz and Andrew Langton, referred to simply as The Mother and The Father) living in a world of parallel conversations with no connection. Mother is concerned with her knitting and Father is more focused on the neighbor’s lost dog. “I’m looking for the neighbor’s pooch,” he repeats, in one of the phrases that seem slightly lost in translation. Once the couple breaks the fourth wall in direct address to the audience, we learn they are coping with the death of their teenage son, Gustav (the very appealing Kristoffer Tonning). The comedic nature of the piece takes a while to unfold, but under Henning Hegland’s direction (founder/co-artistic director SATC) the characters find their rhythms—oddball representations of the familiar family next door.

The repetition occurs in dialogue as well as action, as Gustav “returns” again and again from his death. With each return, the parents’ reactions to seeing a bloodied son, now back from the dead, changes. From frantic concern to indifference, The Returning considers parental hysteria, suburban repression, teenage rebellion, and how relationships function in the aftermath of a perceived death, as well as the conflicting resistance and relief parents feel while thrust into an empty nest situation.

The Returning has a few swings and misses (including the distracting crocheted pieces of “food” that mom “cooks” and Gustav “eats”) but ultimately succeeds. Despite some moments that need to be pushed further in order to achieve the desired tone and its resulting commentary—something that requires a greater level of commitment from all the performers—it works well. Overall, Brattberg’s piece is astutely written, sharply drawn and effectively lands on an absurdly comedic plane of existence without too many substantial barriers to entry.

Take the jump for More… Read more…

FringeNYC Round-Up and ‘Suicide Math’ Review

August 27th, 2013 Comments off

Contributor Lindsay B. Davis delivers a diverse round-up of this year’s New York International Fringe Festival.

The 2013 FringeNYC festival drew to a close on August 25th and upon its completion, my appreciation for indie theater artists reached epic heights. It takes major artistic mojo to perform a new or relatively unknown work before New York audiences in a venue you didn’t choose, stretch a low budget (most of which you probably crowdsourced) to the max and deal with minimal sets you are required to strike shortly after the show ends, often in haste if another production is starting in 15 minutes. Add to that the challenge of generating buzz and leveraging said buzz into ticket sales within a day or two of opening during the lazy, hazy August days of summer and you get the picture. Whether packing the house or suffering the effects of a painfully early or late time slot, earning a nomination and award or going home empty handed, every one of the approximately 2000 artists from 185 plays who participated in the Fringe deserves a hearty bravo.

Below is a lightening round of top-line responses to every Fringe play I attended. If any make it to an Off Broadway, Regional or Broadway theater, The Broadway Blog can say we knew them when!

Bully by Lee J. KaplanAn inspiring, enthusiastic piece and FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner for Best Director (Padraic Lillis). See previous Broadway Blog post for a full review.

First Hand Woman by Sarah Michelle BrownStellar Canadian import and one of my favorites of the festival, it imagines a single woman’s post break up sensibility as the 5 stages of grief personified: Denial, Depression, Anger, Bargaining, and Acceptance. A beautifully staged, choreographed and layered piece, it features a breakthrough performance from actress Nicole Maroon.

Freefall Frostbite by Michael Fixel, scored by Fixel and Marc Irwin  Director/Actress/Choreographer Julie Fixel leads a high-energy cast through an original rock musical with Shakespearean inspired verse that has potential but needs tightening.

Lies We Tell Ourselves (when flamethrowers aren’t enough) by Josh Sohn– A good script and solid performances are not given proper light. Literally. The lighting design hid or starkly over-illuminated the actors’ faces, doing more to diminish what was happening on stage than convey the desired artistic effect. Stand out performance from actor Luke Forbes as Parker.

Like Poetry by Kristian O’HareA disco ball, dancing men in neon, glow-in-the-dark bodysuits and a dreamscape Walt Whitman are just a few of the theatrical elements on display in this ambitious albeit uneven piece that at its heart is a simple story about a boy’s struggle to become a man and the places he finds inspiration.

Ndebele Funeral by Zoey MartinsonA brilliant script, the demands of which the actors fulfill with their powerful and nuanced performances. See previous Broadway Blog post for full review. A FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner for Overall Play.

Pep Talk by Alberto RamosOnly after the performance was I made aware this monologue play is modeled after a TED Talk but during the piece, the unclear context (see above note about venue assignments) left me confused as to what was really happening. Despite that, the character’s fiery, motivational speech wisdom and pompous yet self-deprecating comedic nature kept me in his corner.

Recipe For Success With Chef Michael Denardi by Peter Grosz This one-man comedy about a wannabe celebrity chef fighting for his break while struggling to overcome his own self-esteem problems had its moments but ultimately did not live up to the buzz.

Somewhere Safer by Lauren FerebeeIntelligent and well-articulated ideas hindered by characters whose relationships were not developed enough to feel invested in their fate. A significantly stronger second act left me wondering if the play’s sequence can be adjusted in a revision.

Suicide Math – Full review below.

This is a Play About Artists by Ginger KearnsIf Alanis Morissette had a performance artist younger sister, she would be Narrator, a woman who derives quirky, subversive artistic inspiration from a soul crushing on-again-off-again relationshippy-ish love affair with a poet. I kind of loved and definitely related to her creation, which includes a trio of men with artistic sensibilities and downtown appeal.

What Every Girl Should Know by Monica ByrneEye opening and seamlessly executed piece about four teenage girls whose lives are powerfully altered when they adopt Margaret Sanger as their patron saint. Provocative and daring, it evoked a similar feeling as when I saw Spring Awakening at the Atlantic. A well-deserved Fringe Award winner for Best Ensemble.

REVIEW: Suicide Math by Jim Shankman

Suicide Math

Few plays touch the subjects of suicide or mathematics. Romeo & Juliet and Proof aside, shows that deal with either topic (let alone both at the same time) comprise a short list. For this reason and based on title alone, I was intrigued to see Suicide Math, a new play by Jim Shankman. Set at Princeton in 1972, it begins after a young, male math student jumps out of an ivory tower to his death. We learn about the event through the reaction of his best friend, Frank (David Gelles), who is tasked with piecing together a suicide note left in the form of complex, computer programming code.

Frank’s own mental state fast comes into question as he becomes possessed with deciphering and manic about unearthing the meaning of the code. Meanwhile, Frank’s roommate, Michael (Jonathan Randell Silver), a shy Jewish boy who functions with tremendous emotional reserve and at times catatonic detachment, must cope with his brother’s MIA status in war-torn Vietnam. The night is shortly underway when Lydia (Sarah Shankerman, the playwright’s daughter), a sensuous hippy from Vassar fresh off a bad night with a really bad guy, arrives drunk and wrapped in an American flag while toting a bag full of booze and her own grief to boot.

Shankman endows each character with their own driving needs and high stakes but there is not much in the way of levity in Suicide Math, and the piece begins to drag like that long computer code which can’t be solved. The use of musical interludes – a hit list of the era from Zeppelin and Hendrix to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell – felt too familiar and clichéd. One wants to hear songs more surprising as opposed to a syllabus from Classic Rock 101.

Directorial issues begin to jump out at as well, including Lydia’s consistently downcast eyes and upstaging, both of which cheat the audience of a complete picture, as well as the bulk of the physical action between Lydia and Michael happening off stage, which diminishes their believability as a couple. That said, it is a touching portrait of youth — the awkwardness, the fear, the drinking, the sex, the compulsions, the tics — all responses to hits from life that quickly launch a person, unready and without a say, from child into adult. Gelles shows an impressive command of a wordy script and stands out as the boy who hurls every ounce of grief into his problem-solving mission. Silver’s disciplined portrayal of Michael, while at times simply too restrained, evokes deep compassion. The young Sarah Shankman has a lost girl charm who pulls at your heart strings and conveys the sense of being weighed down by life far too soon. You root for all three characters in the world of Suicide Math, whose pain it actually feels refreshing to watch. The piece is a nostalgic reminder that before the age of smartphones and in the absence of so many distractions, kids were forced to find their words entirely on paper or in person.

Lindsay B. Davis is a journalist, actress, playwright, producer and director. She resides in New York City. 

FringeNYC Reviews: “Bully” and “Ndebele Funeral”

August 20th, 2013 Comments off

Contributor Lindsay B. Davis unravels some of the best productions of this year’s New York International Fringe Festival

Lee Kaplan in "Bully." (photo: Spencer Moses)

Lee Kaplan in “Bully.” (photo: Spencer Moses)

Bully
One of the first questions an audience member asked writer/performer Lee J. Kaplan about his solo piece, Bully, during the post-show talkback was not a question but a comment. A lean, 70-something-year-old man with a crisp voice said from his seat, “This play reminded me of a bullying experience I had…” He went on to explain how a workplace bully victimized him as an adult and that Bully captured so many of his feelings. What followed was an engaging dialogue where audience members opened up about their own experiences, shared survivor stories and affirmed Kaplan and Director Padraic Lillis for delivering a palpable work of theater that raises awareness while teaching you to fight back and “stand up to the bully.”

Bully is a triumphant story about a Jewish boy from Florida with a talent for impersonations who spent the majority of his youth teased and tossed around but eventually finds his voice, strength and salvation. Kaplan draws on his own sixth grade journals (nicknamed “Understandable” and addressed as “Dear U,”) for source material and uses the power of imagination and theater to put the past to bed.

Enter the Rocky-inspired Kaplan of 2013, a man who trains to become a boxer and conquer his demons: former bullies with names like “The Snake” and “The Worm,” who still exist as haunting memories as well as internalized, negative voices in his head (“You blew that audition! Quit! Give up!”) One might think that Kaplan leveraged boxing experience for this performance piece but that’s not the case. He trained rigorously to convincingly portray a boxer but before Bully, never boxed a day in his life.

With robust energy, Kaplan muscles through the 60-minute piece with a Robin Williams-like intensity. It is personal empowerment happening in real time and structured to suggest the hero’s journey cannot happen without the support of the audience. In a moment of tribal unity, Kaplan asks for a collective “howl” and the majority of the audience spiritedly oblige. While impressive, at times you almost want Kaplan to slow down and realize he doesn’t have to work so hard to win you over, which would give a little more space for some of the material to resonate. Yet, understandably, when someone is in the ring fighting for his or her life, there usually isn’t time to take a breather. Under the compassionate and visceral direction of Lillis (who has worked on Broadway, national tours, Off-Broadway and Tony Award-winning regional theater), Kaplan has the room to play big, be bold, drench a towel with the sweat of his brow and ring it dry.

Bully functions not only as a typical, autobiographically-based solo vehicle in which the writer/actor plays multiple characters — in this case, his childhood teacher, various childhood bullies, former athletic coach, younger self, a cheerleader, and his younger brother, to name a few — but also as political theater. The biggest seed of potential for Kaplan, whose excited and excitable onstage presence is balanced with a grounded, affable and approachable demeanor witnessed during the talkback — is as an agent for social change. Based on the sweat and tears that went into Bully, Kaplan seems ready and up for the challenge. And if the visibly moved, positive audience response is any indicator, so are the people.

VENUE #18: The Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre
115 MacDougal Street
Wednesday, August 21, 9:15 p.m.
www.standuptothebully.com
@bullytheshow

Zoey Martinson (photo: Susan Shacter)

Zoey Martinson (photo: Susan Shacter)

Ndebele Funeral
Ndebele Funeral tells another story of survival in a brilliant piece by Zoey Martinson (TBS’ Are We There Yet, The Public’s All’s Well That Ends Well), who wrote/produced and stars in this powerful and affecting play about an educated, HIV-positive South African woman, Daweti, courting death from her shantytown home in Soweto by using government-provided building materials to build her own coffin. The only light to enter her dilapidated environment and broken heart comes in the form of her best friend, Thabo (Yusef Miller), a ball of sunshine and wit seeking to be her savior. Miller (Classic Stage Company, New York Theatre Workshop, Classical Theatre of Harlem and himself an accomplished playwright) is the perfect compliment to Martinson’s Daweti and their relationship is beautifully layered. Their equally matched intelligence, vulnerability and fire create one of the most affecting male/female friendships I’ve ever seen on stage.

When their spirited conversations are interrupted by the presence of Jan, an Afrikaner government officer tasked with performing routine shantytown checks, events take a dramatic turn. Jan, effectively brought to life by Jonathan David Martin. Ndebele Funeral is produced through Mirror Collaborative, where Martin and Martinson serve as Co-Artistic Directors. The creative team also includes director Awoye Timpo (Joyce Theater, The Public, Juilliard), who understands the rhythms and pacing of storytelling, and choreographer Sduduzo Ka-Mbili, whose perfectly placed gumboot dancing sequences unify the three characters. The addition of original music by Spirits Indigenous keeps the 80-minute piece swiftly moving along. The show’s startling conclusion at once brings relief and takes your breath away.

VENUE #11: Teatro Circulo
64 East 4th Street (Btwn: Bowery & 2nd Avenue)
Friday, August 23, 7 p.m.
Sunday, August 25, 2 p.m.

www.smokemirrors.org

FringeNYC Festival Unravels Unusual Theatrics

August 9th, 2013 Comments off

Contributor Lindsay B. Davis offers Broadway Blog readers a sneak peek at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival. 

"Manic Pixie Dream Girl" (photo: Chesca Rueda; Illustration: Rob Dario)

“Manic Pixie Dream Girl” (photo: Chesca Rueda; Illustration: Rob Dario)

The 2013 FringeNYC Festival, now in its 17th year and featuring close to 200 shows performed at 18 different venues throughout lower Manhattan from August 10th-25th, kicks off tonight. The engine that drives the Fringe is emerging talent – approximately 2,000 artists from around the world descend on New York City to perform plays, poetry, solo shows, musicals and more. These are stars yet to be born, independent production companies crowd-sourcing to get make their dreams a reality, young playwrights achieving milestones and theatrical entrepreneurs who write, produce and perform their own new works.

How is a theatergoer to choose? The TomKat Project and Recipe For Success With Chef Michael Denardi are appearing on most buzz lists for very good reasons — they both successfully satirize celebrity culture to hilarious effect. If you like shows inspired by show business itself, also check out The ABC’s Guide To Getting Famous and for “The Godfather” lover in you, Horsehead. (No word yet on whether they reenact the epic, bloodcurdling scream.)

From Hollywood to Eastern seeking, look for Melting in Madras and Shyama: The Legend of Krishna, both of which use music to advance stories about spiritual quests and pilgrimages. Ndebele Funeral also uses music — and gumboot dancing! — in this case to tell the story of three characters living together in Soweto, South Africa.

Graphic novels more your thing? The Fringe has that, too, of course. Look for Manic Pixie Dream Girl: A Graphic Novel Play, a dark comedy about an artist and his muse. There is also the play about a Manhattan woman’s attempts at celibacy — check out See Jane Give Up Dick — which you might want to pair with Swedish import Fxxx Me before recovering with Carroll Gardens Aborning, a show about two Brooklyn couples dealing with secrets on the road to parenthood. For something a little sweeter, Australian import, I (honestly) Love Youa comedy about two people who find love after being inflicted with a disease that compels them to tell the truth.

If looking to get political, don’t miss Somewhere Safer, which tackles the dangers of extremism in the aftermath of a terrorist explosion in New York City. For sports enthusiasts (guilty!) you must check out Pep Talk, a fictionalized monologue play based on the wisdom of former FC Barcelona football coach, Pep Guardiola. There is even a play about the rain! Or, more specifically, Strange Rain, a “noir journey of conspiracy about a relentless rain and its link to the 1950s and a scientist building weather-control machines.”

Lee J. Kaplan in "Bully." (photo: www.standuptothebully.com)

Lee J. Kaplan in “Bully.” (photo: www.standuptothebully.com)

Are any Fringe shows appropriate for the whole family? Yes. The Young Olympians and The Most Amazingly Awesome Adventure Ever is described as “Part Goonies, part Scooby Doo and musical fun for all ages” as well as Bully, which chronicles the life of a boy who was bullied throughout childhood but triumphs to tell the tale.

And for that experimental, “I-have-no-idea-what-is-going-on here-but-I-think-I-like-it” performance art piece, I leave you with Morning to be Changed from the Morning to the Morning, or Belly of the Whale and its mind altering show blurb: A Portrait in 24 hours or 25 frames Fragments of a broken Self journey through the hours of a day. 5678910111212345678910111212345 But who are these people? What is it in their language that is so contagious? Don’t they recognize each other?

Enjoy and Happy FringeNYC 2013!

Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist, actress, playwright and director. She resides in New York City.

Gayfest NYC Gives Voice to LGBT-Themed Plays

May 24th, 2013 Comments off
The original BASiC Theatre Project cast of “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.” (photo: Catherine Bell)

Now in its fifth season Gayfest NYC 2013 presents “new plays for our times,” offering playwrights a unique opportunity to submit LGBT-themed plays for full production in New York City. Presented by veteran Broadway producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack Batman, this year’s festival opened last night and runs through June 16.

The three productions on the docket for this year include:

Moonlight & Love Songs by Scott C. Sickles — A 45-year-old man’s romantic dreams come true when he falls in love with a young college student. Their romance seems motion picture-perfect until a staggering revelation causes it to implode.

The Loves of Mr. Lincoln — A historically inspired piece by Pulitzer Prize nominated poet David Brendan Hopes that explores the many facets of one of our most famous presidents.

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde — The critically acclaimed BASiC Theatre Project production of Moisés Kaufman’s play.

The Broadway Blog had a chance to chat with Bruce and Jack about their inspiration for the festival and their special connection to its beneficiary, The Harvey Milk High School.

What was your inspiration for creating Gayfest NYC?
Bruce: It was a real creation of both Jack’s and mine. I was producing a gay pride series but it had really become too much. Jack was on my literary board. He called me one day and said why aren’t you doing this anymore?

It took us about 18 months to find an identity, create a logo, etc. Seven years ago there weren’t festivals calling attention these issues. It’s not always easy. We know it’s become very mainstream now. But it wasn’t 7 years ago. We give the plays lots of love and raise a lot of money – but we want the audiences to know everything we do goes toward our beneficiary, the Harvey Milk High School. These kids don’t have much. We’re helping them get a dorm room, a meal card, and provide funding for scholarships and educational programming.

Gerald McCullouch (l) and Nick Bailey (r) in “Moonlight & Love Songs.” (photo: Carlos Gustavo Monroy)

Given how LGBT roles have become more prominent in both theater and mainstream media, why do you feel Gayfest NYC is still relevant?

Jack: Even though playwrights like Terrence McNally, Charles Bush and Douglas Carter Beane can get their plays produced, there is still a huge pool of untapped talent where their plays aren’t even looked at. I feel like Gayfest is almost like a playwright’s festival. At least these authors have a place to send their play and know that somebody is reading it.

Our first year we received more than 200 submissions – plays from around the world. They all address our issues. I also think that as far along as we are, there is still a big fight to be fought for equal rights and civil rights. These are our causes, our issues and our history.

There is also a difference in how we approach the festival. Others festivals may provide theater space, some marketing, a bit of help for the playwrights, but the shows have to come in with a producer – production needs to be brought to them whole. We start from scratch. It’s as if we’re producing a mini-Broadway show with a high production value.

Gayfest NYC co-producers and founders Jack W. Batman (l) and Bruce Robert Harris (r).

How did the relationship with the Harvey Milk School come to fruition?

Bruce: We read an article about the school in the newspaper and were intrigued by what was going on there and investigated further. What the school truly was – was a safe haven – this was way before bullying was in the media. Here were these kids – gay, transgender, thrown out of their families – they need an education – and Harvey Milk was creating a safe haven. We gravitated toward that and the principals care so much for those kids.

Upon visiting the school – we looked at each other and said ‘We have to do this – this message has to get out.’ It’s the same feeling we had as commercial Broadway theater producers when we’d see a show that we knew we wanted to be a part of. That’s how we roll – we’re very passionate, Jack and I, and this is what propels me.

Jack: The school didn’t have a library or gym and we saw the passion that those teachers had as well as a lack of resources. It was going on love alone, and that we could add some. We thought there might be a way to support them in some way.

As a partner of the Hetrik-Martin Institute, they have programming everyday and we stepped in to help the school directly. At first we offered acting classes as a way for the kids to have an outlet but we found they were hesitant to get on their feet and tell their story. But they were willing to put their stories on paper. It became the most successful elective class and was put into the curriculum. We hire professional actors and present a reading of the students’ work. It’s a wonderful occasion to see what has been accomplished by making this class available to them. We can also offer students school credit by interning with us at the festival as well as a mentoring program and scholarship fund.

We get back a hundredfold in love – to go to graduation and see these kids who a few years ago were down and out. And now they are graduating at a rate of approximately 95%.

Gayfest NYC runs through June 16.
Click Here for tickets.

Martin Moran is “All the Rage”

January 31st, 2013 Comments off

Martin Moran in "All the Rage". Photo by Joan Marcus.

A person telling a story. Whether around a fire, perched on the edge of a child’s bed or striding on a stage, it is an elemental human experience. Some would say that the act of storytelling itself is what makes us human. So it is movingly appropriate that Martin Moran, in his new one person play All the Rage, attempts to get to the heart of what, if anything, connects us by standing alone in the light and telling us “what happened next.” Nothing more. Nothing less.

Though it requires no previous familiarity with Moran’s work, the play is a continuation of sorts of Moran’s acclaimed memoir and play The Tricky Part, in which he revealed his sexual relationship at 12 years old with a 30 year old man and his later attempt to confront his abuser.

This deeply searching yet surprisingly funny new work finds Moran struggling to answer a question he hears again and again after performing the earlier play: “Why aren’t you angry?” The journey to access his rage or explain its absence takes him (and his rapt audience) to a Vegas confrontation with his step-mother, a Colorado hike with his seething yet poetic brother and across the world to the cradle of human life itself. At the play’s tender heart lies his burgeoning friendship with an African refuge, whose story of torture and escape binds them together—and leads the way to understanding.

As anyone who has heard the same joke from two people to very different results knows, it’s all in the telling. And with Moran (whose Broadway credits include Spamalot and Titanic), you have a storyteller of such ease, humor and open heartedness that, even when a particular episode feels less organic and more meandering, you go with him. You want to spend the evening with him. Heck, you want to go for a long walk with him after the show and just see where life takes the two of you as you chat and listen. That kind of warmth and spontaneity is not easily captured on stage and, in fact, requires the skill of a seasoned performer and the encouragement of a delicate director—here the unfussy, sure-handed Seth Barrish.

In the end, this soft-spoken, involving and worthwhile play arrives at flashes of insight, moments of loving clarity about our interconnectedness. The lessons learned may not be fresh, but they are freshly felt—freshly, deeply, humanely felt.

Read more…

My Place, Your Place, or “The Other Place?”

January 11th, 2013 Comments off

“The Other Place,” Sharr White’s brainy drama that opened last night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, begins before the house lights go dim with Laurie Metcalf sitting center stage. She is texting.

Like many of us caught in the fast paced world of technology and innovation, she is consumed by her device—oblivious to the audience filling the theater. Then something happens. Some kind of distraction washes over her. It’s a subtle change. A shift in her chair. An awkward glance… the beginning of what is about to unravel in the next 80 minutes.

As Juliana, a sarcastic neurologist who has developed and now hawks a fictional drug called Identymal, Metcalf whizzes through playwright Sharr White’s acerbic dialogue, slicing through the fourth wall like an esteemed surgeon.

Yet, once again, something is not quite right. Juliana is flushed, distracted. So begins the descent to the other place where Juliana must face the demons of her past and an uncertain future. Along for the ride is Daniel Stern as husband Ian and Zoe Perry and John Schiappa who portray a variety of characters.

Read more…

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “A Summer Day” & “House for Sale”

October 26th, 2012 Comments off

Get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents.

This week, by chance, I saw two off-broadway plays back-to-back that similarly stray beyond traditional dramatic language and provide interesting challenges for both the performers and the audience. While they might not be for everyone (as the divisive reviews attest), they certainly might be right for those looking for adventures beyond traditional Broadway fare…

Karen Allen in "A Summer Day". Photo by Sandra Coudert.

A SUMMER DAY

Sarah Cameron Sunde translates and directs a new play by acclaimed Norwegian writer Jon Fosse, about a woman–played by Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s Karen Allen–trapped in memories of one tragic day.

“…a quietly brutal little work that turns a romantic cliché into a sentence of existential doom (or freedom, depending on your mind-set).” New York Times

A Summer Day succeeds in touching the audience without making any effort to seduce it.” New York Post

“Fosse’s abstract technique may be an acquired taste, even in this 90-minute dose, but the welcome return of Karen Allen to the New York stage is a treat not to be missed.” Associated Press

“Like everything else in this slender narrative, the point is simply stated, over and over, in scene after scene, in increasingly melodramatic language. And calling it poetry doesn’t make it any less deadly.” Variety

Mizer’s Two Cents:  With its repetitive, purposefully simplistic dialogue, this play perfectly captures the circling cadences of someone obsessively going over and over a single event…but the question becomes, no matter how poetically achieved and accurate the effect, do you want to spend an hour and a half inside that static, grief-stricken mindset? I, for one, found it moving, though I did have to adjust my tempo and expectations so as not to look for traditional dramatic arcs or conflict driven outbursts. My theater companion for the evening, less impressed, said, “I admired it but I can’t say that I liked it.”

My admiration for Karen Allen’s performance, however, is unqualified. With an achingly open vulnerability, she gently pulls the audience into her confessional and handles the challenge of the language with touching ease–where some of the other actors push to differentiate the intentions behind their repeated, banal phrases. And when, toward the end of the play, Ms. Allen smiles, she is all at once the young woman of hope and the lost older woman–both reaching out for someone to hold.

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SHOW FOLK: The Writer & Cast of “Falling” on Love, Family & Autism

October 16th, 2012 Comments off

Daniel Pearce, Celia Howard, Daniel Everidge, Jacey Powers & Julia Murney in "Falling". Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Mothers often say that they’d give their life for their child–but what happens when the child she loves is truly a danger to her and the rest of the family?

That’s the heartbreaking question at the center of Falling, the intense and emotionally evocative Off-Broadway play which opened last night. Inspired by playwright Deanna Jent’s own experiences, the drama (with some decidedly unexpected and welcome big laughs) follows one family as they try to figure out how best to care for an autistic son who has grown to adulthood–and whose violent outbursts can no longer be completely controlled. Supported by a deeply committed cast, acclaimed singer/actress Julia Murney (Wicked, Wild Party) anchors the play as a woman torn between her desire to escape her life and her duty as a mother; the New York Post raves “superbly staged by Lori Adams and wonderfully acted…Falling soars.”

After a recent performance, the cast, director and playwright sat down to talk to the audience about the inspirations for the show and their preparation for doing this moving work. Here are a few excerpts from the conversation:

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