Monday, November 30, 2015

Outstanding Revival of GOOD BOYS AND TRUE by Retro Productions


Retro Productions is an exceptionally talented theatre company dedicated to the presentation of “good theatrical stories that have an historical perspective - with an emphasis on the 20th century.”  Since 2005, it has staged eighteen full length plays to considerable acclaim, including terrific revivals of Michael Frayn’s Benefactors in 2010 and George S. Kaufman’s The Butter and Egg Man earlier this year.  Now in its eleventh season it is reviving Good Boys and True by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa at the Gene Frankel Theatre on Bond Street in lower Manhattan, an excellent production that can only further enhance Retro’s well-earned reputation.

Good Boys and True had its world premiere at The Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007 and its New York premiere at the Second Stage Theater the following year.  Moreover, the tale it tells, centering on the ramifications of the discovery and dissemination of a sexually explicit video tape, takes place in 1988, a generation earlier.  And yet this revival does not come across as dated at all.  Indeed, although the internet and sexting may have supplanted videotaping in today’s world, the play’s message is as salient today as it ever was.

Brandon Hardy (Ryan Pater) is an upper class upperclassman - a handsome, popular, intelligent senior at the prestigious and elite St. Joseph’s Preparatory School for Boys located in a suburb of Washington, D.C.  He is the son of two medical doctors, he is the captain of his school’s football team, and he has just been accepted to Dartmouth.  In sum, he would appear to have it all – until Coach Russell Shea (C. K. Allen) discovers a sex tape in which the male protagonist bears a striking resemblance to Brandon.  The female protagonist appears to be a working class girl from one of the public schools in the area, clearly not one of the upper class girls from one of St. Joseph’s sister schools.  To put the best light on it, the boy on the tape may have been exploiting, objectifying and using the girl for nothing but his own gratification; at worst, the tape might have been depicting rape.

Coach Shea, a friend of Brandon’s family (he was one of Brandon’s father’s classmates and teammates at St. Joseph’s a generation earlier), is as concerned (or even more so) over his school’s reputation and the potential consequences of the tape’s dissemination for Brandon and his parents as he is about the welfare of the girl or the implications of the tape’s having been made in the first place.  To that end, he enlists the aid of Brandon’s mother. Elizabeth Hardy (Heather E. Cunningham), entrusting her with the tape so that she might view it for herself, confront her son, and determine whether or not he actually is the boy on the tape.  Only then would they determine what action to take.

Spoiler Alert: Brandon does turn out to have been the boy on the tape and the girl, Cheryl Moody (Rebecca Gray Davis) was a working class public school girl he picked up at the mall.  The tape ends up being broadly disseminated (you really never can put the genie back in the bottle) and the repercussions for all concerned are considerable.

But that’s the easy part.  The mystery of who did what is relatively simple to determine but the question of why such things happen at all is much more difficult.  And it is the attempt to understand the “why,” not the “what,” that makes this such an interesting play.

The actual motivations that inform our actions often are unknown – even to ourselves.  As it turns out, Brandon’s closest friend at St. Joseph’s is Justin Simmons (Stephan Amenta) who has also applied to Dartmouth; in fact, the two intend to room together in college.  But Justin is not only gay and out of the closet but also services Brandon orally from time to time.  So was Brandon’s behavior as depicted on the sex tape an attempt to repress his own homosexual inclinations?  Did he make the tape and connive to have it discovered in order to affirm his own heterosexuality?

Cheryl admits to being more than suspicious when Brandon brought her to his friend’s empty house for their sexual romp and she is seen smiling on the tape at its inception.  So was she complicit in the entire affair or is it impermissible to even consider such a thing since to do so would constitute “blaming the victim”?

In the course of the play, we learn of Elizabeth’s own questionable behavior a generation earlier (as well as that of Coach Shea and of Brandon’s own father) when they were no older than Brandon is today.  Are they guilty of providing Brandon with a sense of entitlement and creating an environment in which such behavior would not only be acceptable but could flourish?

Is Brandon just a normal decent adolescent whose hormones ran rampant on one fateful day?  Or is he a basically bad kid with slightly sadistic tendencies who just didn’t think the rules applied to him?

In a program note, Heather Cunningham, the Retro’s Producing Artistic Director (who also plays the part of Elizabeth Hardy) understandably and quite justifiably focuses her attention on the play’s most overt message:

Rape culture and negative attitudes toward women are pervasive in our society.  It’s in how we address each other every day.  Slut shaming is nothing new – it’s been around since the 50’s and beyond.  “She’s easy” or “She’s a tease” have simply been replaced by “She’s a slut” and “She’s a whore.”  Making “those women” somehow “less than”.  Not important.  Not worthy of respect.

So I ask you…and myself…what are we going to do to change it?

Yes, we must change it.  But before we can change it, we really have to understand it and we don’t seem to have even reached that point yet.  Which really is what this play is all about.

 



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Schreiber Revival of HOT L BALTIMORE by Lanford Wilson

L-R: Stephanie Seward, Anna Holbrook, and Alexandra Hellquist in THE HOT L BALTIMORE.  Photo by Bob Degus.
The Hotel Baltimore has seen better days (as evidenced by the missing “e” on the hotel’s sign which accounts for the play’s somewhat unusual title).  So, too, have its long term residents, including three members of the oldest profession.  Suzy (Jill Bianchini) is so accepting of her submissive state that she is prepared to return to a former pimp should she be forced to vacate the hotel, all the while persisting in flouncing about as if she were a glamour queen.  April Green (Stephanie Seward) simply does whatever if takes to keep going, including turning tricks on the floor, on a table, in a bathtub, or wherever.  And the Girl (Alexandra Hellquist) has so little understanding of who she really is that she cannot even decide on a name for herself and persists in seeking alternative worlds incorporating ghosts and concepts of reincarnation which ostensibly would prove to be more palatable to her than her own reality.

Nor will the three hookers be the hotel’s only casualties in the event that it is forced to close (which seems highly likely now that all its residents have received eviction notices).  What is to become of Jackie (Lisa Sobin), a tough, conniving thief and her passively pathetic brother, Jamie (Philip Rosen)?  Or the older folks: the mildly eccentric Mr. Morse (Peter Judd) and the sedate Millie (Ann Holbrook)?  Indeed, we might also ask what will become of the hotel’s employees, Bill Lewis (Jerry Topitzer) and Mrs. Oxenham (Joan D. Saunders).

Not that we’re going to find out.  The Hot L Baltimore by Lanford Wilson, won the Drama Desk and Obie awards for best play when it was first staged in 1973, and it is now being revived in a very professional production by T. Schreiber Studio for Theatre & Film at The Gloria Maddox Theatre on West 26th Street in Manhattan.  But the play wasn’t big on plot structure when it was first produced and, not surprisingly, it isn’t any bigger on plot structure in this latest incarnation.  Rather, its claim to fame rests on its depiction of various individuals and their relationships (trivial though they might be) under all sorts of circumstances.

In my opinion, that is the play’s shortcoming.  This would have been a much better play, I believe, if Wilson had allowed his plot ideas to evolve and then resolved them, instead of just leaving them out there as unresolved background issues, focusing solely on his characters’ emotional reactions.  Given the play as it has been written, however, the cast has performed splendidly.  I was particularly impressed by the performances of Jill Bianchini, Stephanie Seward, and Alexandra Hellquist as the three hookers; Lisa Sobin as Jackie; and Ann Holbrook as Millie.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Delightful Revival of ROSENKRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD



L-R: Miranda Jean Larson and Jocelyn Vammer in ROSENKRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD.  Photo by Al Foote III.


Tom Stoppard, arguably the greatest living English language playwright, achieved his first major success in 1966 when Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (before moving on to Broadway a year later in a Royal National Theatre production that won the Tony Award for Best Play as well as an award for Best Play by the New York Drama Critics Circle in 1968 and an award for Outstanding Production from the Outer Critics Circle in 1969).  Now, nearly a half-century later, it is being revived by The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company in a delightfully rambunctious production at The Gene Frankel Theatre on Bond Street in lower New York.

This is an extraordinary work – a tongue-in-cheek comedy, an existential and absurdist tour-de-force that owes as much to Samuel Beckett as it does to William Shakespeare, and an exploration of the philosophical concepts of determinism, free will, chance and the laws of probability – all in one.

On the simplest level, it is a comedic spin-off from Hamlet, focusing on two minor characters from the Shakespearean play, the courtiers Rosencrantz and Guldenstern, who have been tasked with accompanying Hamlet to England. In Shakespeare’s play, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are no more than incidental characters and what we are meant to care about is what happens to Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, and Laertes.  But in Stoppard’s play, everything is turned upside-down: it is Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern who assume center stage while Hamlet, Claudius, et al. are reduced to little more than supporting roles.

On a somewhat deeper level, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead may be seen as a re-working of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern may be the very reincarnations of Estragon and Vladimir (the protagonists of Beckett’s greatest work) and the Player and his acting troupe, The Tradedians (who play important roles in Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) may represent Beckett’s Pozzo and Lucky.

On its deepest level, however, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead may be interpreted as a philosophical exploration of the inter-related concepts of death and determinism, free will and the illusion of intentionality, chance and the laws of probability (this is a Stoppard play, after all).

In Stoppard’s hands, the plights that confront Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are seen to have been predetermined – or not. They are inevitable – or coincidental – or accidental – or random – or fated - or a consequence of the exercise of one’s own free will – or not. In other words, they are just the sorts of events that allow Stoppard’s imagination to take flight and permit him to explore the mathematical and physical paradoxes which have informed so many of his other works (e.g.  Arcadia, Hapgood, and  Jumpers).

In sum, Stoppard here addresses the fact that we all must go through life with limited knowledge – and yet we must go on. We, like Rosenkrantz and Guldenstern, don’t really know what’s going on about us, what is transpiring in the sea around us while we focus all our attention on what’s happening on the deck of our own small ship, or whether or not our seeming freedom of action is anything more than an illusion. And yet we must and do go on.

In this production, Thomas R. Gordon, the Artistic Director of The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company, has cast two women, Miranda Jean Larson and Joceylyn Vammer, as Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern.  Those roles have traditionally been played by men but this instance of gender-blind casting works beautifully, with both Larson and Vammer providing a welcome degree of light-hearted insouciance in their roles.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

SONGBIRD Based on THE SEAGULL at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Eric William Morris, Adam Cochran, and Kate Baldwin in SONGBIRD.  Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography.
Songbird by Michael Kimmel, currently enjoying its world premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan, is being billed as “based on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull,” but it is really much more (or less) than that: it is virtually a wholesale transfer of Chekhov’s classic melodrama from nineteenth century Russia to twenty-first century Nashville, Tennessee, with little more than the names of the characters changed (or transliterated) and the addition of some original (but not very memorable) country western tunes.  Other than that, the plot of Songbird hews pretty closely to that of the original Russian melodrama, merely substituting songwriting for playwriting and attempted suicide by hanging and traffic fatality for attempted suicide by gunshot.  And, oh yes, the substitution of a bluebird for a seagull.
 
Much of the action in The Seagull takes place on the country estate owned by Sorin, where Sorin’s sister, Arkadina (an acclaimed actress), has just arrived with her lover, Trigorin (a writer), to attend a presentation of a new symbolic play written by Arkadina’s son, Konstantin, and starring Nina, Konstantin’s girlfriend.  In Songbird, Sorin has become Soren (Bob Stillman) and his country estate is now a honky-tonk in Nashville.  His sister, Arkadina, has morphed into Tammy Trip (Kate Baldwin), a once famous and now fading country western music star.  Her lover, Trigorin, has turned into Beck (Eric William Morris), no longer a writer but now a commercially successful songwriter.  Konstantin is now Dean (Adam Cochran), the son who Tammy abandoned to launch her own career and who is now attempting to launch his own as – you guessed it – a writer of unconventional country western songs, much as Konstantin attempted to achieve success as a writer of unconventional plays.  And Nina, in her present incarnation, is Mia (Ephie Aardema), there to sing Dean’s song and as much in love with Dean as Nina was with Konstantin.

Also in attendance at Sorin’s estate in The Seagull are Medvedenko who is in love with Masha who, in turn, is in love with Konstantin who, as we already have learned, is in love with Nina.  Similarly, in Songbird, it is Rip (Don Guillory) who is in love with Missy (Kacie Sheik) who, in turn, is in love with Dean who, as we already have learned, is in love with Mia.  And, lest we forget, in Chekhov’s melodrama, it is Polina who is married to Ilya and carrying on an affair with Doctor Dorn; in Songbird, Polina has become Pauline (Erin Dilly), Tammy’s childhood friend, who is married to Samuel (Andy Taylor) and carrying on an affair with Doc (Drew McVety).

Unsurprisingly, Dean’s song in Songbird falls as flat as Konstantin’s play did in The Seagull, with similar dire consequences.  Mia falls out of love with Dean and in love with Beck, much as Nina fell out of love with Konstantin and in love with Trigorin, leading once again to similar dire consequences.  The unrequited loves, the quest for fame at all costs, life’s major and minor disappointments and the different ways in which we deal with them, sickness, despair, attempted suicide, and death – it’s all deja vu all over again, only this time in Nashville with music.

So if you’ve seen The Seagull, there might not seem to be much point in your attending a performance of Songbird as well, since the musical breaks no new ground and won’t really add to your understanding of the human condition – except for one thing: the cast of Songbird is absolutely superb and they have done a terrific job with the material they have been given.  Kate Baldwin is especially noteworthy as the callously self-centered and narcissistic Tammy Trip, but the rest of the cast is also first rate, exhibiting both exceptional theatrical and musical talent.  And, as a result, Songbird turns out to be considerably more entertaining than one might have expected after all. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

WELCOME TO THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA at 59E59 Theaters


L-R: Christopher Michael McLamb, Jessie Dean, Sarah Grace Sanders, Ruthy Froch, Joey LePage, John Gasper, and John Smiley in WELCOME TO THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA.  Photo by Maria Baranova.  

Saudi Arabia is a land of stark contrasts.  It is an immensely wealthy country and its government spends billions of dollars annually to provide free education and free health care to all its citizens – and yet an estimated quarter of its population live in poverty.  Women are treated as beautiful princesses – protected, placed on pedestals, provided with the finest makeup and couture, and bedecked in jewelry – but then are forced to conceal themselves from the world beneath their abayat and are forbidden to drive or appear in public unaccompanied by a man.  Foreign workers are welcomed with the greatest hospitality and are paid extravagantly – but then are virtually consigned to live in drab and stultifying Aramco compounds.  The country is considered one of America’s staunchest allies in the Middle East – but it was the birthplace of Osama Bin Laden and is the nation that spawned the terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11
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Currently enjoying its world premiere at 59E59 Theaters, Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, written and directed by Luke Landric Leonard with music by Peter Stopschinski and lyrics by Katie Pearl and Leonard, is an extraordinary surrealistic theatrical production that brilliantly captures and exposes these contradictions.  And most surprisingly (at least to me) in today’s politically correct world, Mr. Leonard has succeeded in telling his tale not from a liberal perspective, but from a relatively conservative, pro-life, chauvinistically American and Christian one.

On the surface, the play is a dark musical comedy focusing on the lives of two American expatriates in Saudi Arabia: Hank Brown (Joey LePage), a Protestant adventure-seeking high school chemistry teacher and Tina Murphy-Brown (Jessica Dean), his much more conventional, Christian God-fearing wife, as they attempt to navigate thelr way between the alien culture of Saudi Arabia and that of their home country.  That requires them to deal with two British ex-pats who turn out to be their neighbors in the Aramco compound where they all are domiciled: Dick (John Smiley), a somewhat irrepressible Aramco employee, and his sexy and sexually provocative wife, Fanny (Sarah Grace Sanders) - as well as with Abdullah (Christopher Michael McLamb), a Saudi Arab associate, and his daughter Zillah (Ruthy Froch).

But as it turns out, the Browns have much more to deal with than a couple of sexually promiscuous and eccentric neighbors and an overtly hypocritical Arab and his daughter: they must also come to grips with their own consciences, particularly as they concern their unborn son Randy (John Gasper).  Is Randy the incarnation of their repressed consciences?  A mere figment of their imaginations?  The omnipresent soul of their aborted child?  The devil come for his due?  However you may interpret him, it is he who enlarges the play from a simple theatrical tale to a surrealistic experience that will remain with you long after you have left the theater.

Leonard has peppered his play with a host of corny jokes but there is much more to them than initially meets the eye.  There is more than a kernel of truth in virtually every one and most turn out to foreshadow or allude to much more significant developments in the play.  It is a virtuoso use of humor in moving the story along.

There is little doubt in my mind that other theatre-goers will interpret this play quite differently from the way that I have (my wife, who accompanied me to this performance, already has) – but that is all to the good.  It suggests that there may be even more to the play than I have discerned (or think I have),  For what it is worth, however, I believe that the play presents a thinly veiled pro-life argument, creating an analogy between the abortion of fetuses to the intentional removal of premature babies from incubators, leaving them to die outside the incubator (read: mechanical womb).  I think, too, that it exposes the foolishness of focusing on the trivial, at the expense of the truly meaningful: cold shouldering one’s third grade girlfriend doesn’t really hold a candle to decapitating an infidel.  Additionally, I think it exposes just how malleable are our personalities and how little we know and understand one another (or even ourselves) and how, given the right (or wrong) circumstances, any of us might become so deranged as to become something other than what we ever were. 

Finally, I think that it challenges the politically correct belief that all cultures are morally equivalent, i.e. that they may differ in details but that no one can say any one is better or worse (morally) than any other, only that they are different: on the contrary, the play suggests that American and Christian values of tolerance and humanity are, in fact, morally superior to those of Islamic fundamentalism (with its commitment to the absolute truths of the Quran and the legitimacy of beheading or crucifying infidels).

The play does hit a few false notes.  I thought that the number that began “I am a child of entropy….” near the play’s end was pretentious as best and incoherent at worst, obfuscating rather than illuminating the play’s messages.  But that said, the work succeeded in hitting its mark much more often than it failed, a credit both to the playwright and to the entire cast.  Of the several cast members, all of whom truly deserve accolades, I was most impressed by Ms Dean who did a beautiful job of expressing Tina’s internal demons with skill and sensitivity; Mr. McLamb who, in the role of Abdullah, provided just the comic relief that the play required; and, of course, Mr. Gasper, without whose powerfully enigmatic presence, the play would not have succeeded.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Powerful Revival of DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by John Patrick Shanley

Susan Mitchell and John Talerico in DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA.  Photo by Peter Welch.
When John Patrick Shanley finally won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2005 (for Doubt), he was long overdue.   His exceptional talent as a playwright was evident long before that – as early as 1984, in fact, when his second play, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, was first presented at Circle in the Square, starring John Turturro as Danny and June Stein as Roberta.  Danny and the Deep Blue Sea was revived a decade later at Stage 22, directed by Lissa Moira and featuring Susan Mitchell as Roberta.  Now, 20 years after that, the play is being revived again, this time at Theater for the New City on First Avenue in lower Manhattan.  It is again being directed by Lissa Moira and stars Susan Mitchell as Roberta (but this time John Talerico time plays the role of Danny).

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is subtitled An Apache Dance and, in directing this dynamic two-hander, Ms Moira has certainly taken that subtitle to heart: the play is as much choreographed as directed, with Danny and Roberta playing off one another with the smoldering emotion generally evoked by tango and apache dances.  Both Danny and Roberta are deeply damaged, needy, lonely individuals: she is a single mother who has virtually delegated the raising of her troubled son to her own dysfunctional parents; unemployed and an occasional drug user, she was sexually abused by her father but blames herself for that and cannot rid herself of her Catholic guilt; and, in turns, sexually insecure, promiscuous, submissive, masochistic and violently aggressive, she is, in short, a psychological mess.   He is a violent paranoid (nicknamed “The Beast” by his co-workers) whose immediate reaction to any perceived slight is to use his fists and who may have killed a man in a fight the previous night; he is also a possibly repressed homosexual who has fantasized about being the bride in a wedding and who is still living with his mother.

When Danny and Roberta meet in a local bar, it doesn’t appear to be a match made in Heaven (Hell might be a more likely locale) but there clearly is something between them: she is the first person he can talk to without her automatically making him angry and he is the only person she has ever found to whom she feels she can confide her innermost secret.  Unsurprisingly, they return from the bar to her room where sex is inevitable and an even deeper relationship might ensue – if they don’t kill each other first.

Both Ms Mitchell and Mr.Talerico are terrific in their respective roles.  The chemistry between them is palpable and they play it for all its worth.  In sum, this is a powerful play and this production is first-rate.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

RADIO MYSTERY 1949 by Dennis Richard at Clarion Theatre

L-R: Nate Steiwachs, Lisa Landino, Beth Griffith, Dan Burkharth, and Alexander Reed in RADIO MYSTERY 1949.  Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
Radio Mystery 1949 by Dennis Richard, currently premiering at Clarion Theatre on East 26th Street in Manhattan, is a cartoonish period piece with pretensions to deeper significance.  Set in a New York radio station in 1949, back in pre-television days (when radio networks had to rely solely on our auditory rather than our visual sense to entertain and retain their audiences), the play revolves around the broadcasting of a live radio crime drama that goes badly awry when an unanticipated real life danger intervenes.

Norman Arizona (Dan Burkharth) is the producer of a radio mystery drama show sponsored by “Blue Coal” on the Mutual Broadcasting System; he is so desperately afraid that the network is about to cancel his show that he has not only taken to drink but has even considered committing suicide on air as a dramatic gesture to keep the show alive.  His fears have spread to the other actors on his show as well: Margo (Beth Griffith), Vespa (Lisa Landino), and Chicky (Alexander Reed), as well as to the station’s sound effects man, Chubby ( Nate Steiwachs).
 
Vespa’s problems are also compounded in the most trivial fashion: she is Croatian and is being forced to play the rose of a Latina which she finds linguistically difficult .  And Chicky has another much more serious problem: the neighborhood mob intends to kill him.

With only seconds to go before the latest radio mystery drama is to go on the air, one of the show’s actors still has not arrived.  At the last moment, Radio Nick (Fergus Scully) walks in but no one is quite sure whether he actually is the missing actor who Norman hired in a drunken stupor the night before or a terrorist for whom the police are searching.  When Radio Nick dumps his duffle bag on the ground and challenges the other actors to guess what is in it that might be ticking, the latter alternative seems much more likely.  And with that, the real life drama involving Radio Nick effectively supplants the mystery drama that was being aired.

According to the play’s press release, the play is much more than a mere period piece.  Rather, the playwright “is calling attention to an uncertainty that is peculiar to our times.”  These are the times in which “we are barraged with stories of unexpected bombings and mass murders, but we never know the real reasons behind these acts….leaving society gasping for explanations that never come.”  Presumably, the playwright also is alluding to issues of life imitating art, questions of ethnic identity, and the degree to which we tend to focus on the trivial in the face of the truly consequential.

Well, I guess one could look at the play in those ways but if those really were the playwright’s intentions, I’m afraid he didn’t succeed.  Despite the cast’s best efforts (and their exertions are truly considerable), the play still comes across as nothing more than a trivial comedic romp with two-dimensional cardboard characters, albeit one with occasional humorous moments. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman Is Riveting in PONDLING at 59E59 Theaters

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman in PONDLING.  Photo by Paul McCarthy.
Pondling, a one-woman show both written and performed by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, debuted at the Dublin Fringe in 2013 and was staged at the Edinburgh Fringe last year.  It is currently enjoying its US premiere as part of Origin’s 1st Irish Festival at 59E59 Theaters on East 59thStreet in midtown Manhattan.

Ms Hulme-Beaman is exceptionally talented both as a playwright and as a performer (she won the Best Actress Award for her performance in Pondling at the Dublin Fringe).  As the sole performer in the play, she enacts the role of a very young farm girl, assisting her brother and grandfather in performing minor chores around the farm, and eagerly anticipating the start of the new school year where she would again see the “older man” of her dreams – her 14 year old schoolmate, Johnno Boyle O’Connor.
 
Pedaling about on her “my little pony” bicycle and proud of her new black patent leather shoes, she fantasizes about a future sophisticated and glamorous life with Johnno, re-imagining herself as stylish, elegant, and “a beautiful French swan girl by the name of Madeline Humble Butter Cup.”  It is just the sort of fantasy that normal little girls have engaged in since time immemorial, imagining themselves to be princesses, and if “Madeline” were the mild and innocent little girl she appears to be at first sight, there’d be nothing to be concerned about (and no reason for the play).

But we are quickly disabused of the notion that “Madeline” is just another normal little girl allowing her imagination to run rampant.  No, she is much more of a “bad seed,” as becomes increasingly evident.   Moving spastically, cackling raucously, and bellowing out her innermost secrets, she discloses, bit by bit, just how warped and pathologically malevolent she actually is.

“Madeline” prides herself on having found small ways to help out on the farm “that would go unnoticed by the untrained eye” but they’re not the sort of innocent things one might imagine.  For one, she “scared the birds from the bird feeder so the seeds lasted longer.”  For another, she “captured and killed the stray cat that scared the chickens at night” and “did it when no one was looking.”  The chore she especially loves is crushing cans –which she enjoyes so much that she moves the can crusher box from the larder to the chicken shed, where it ends up being used for a purpose for which it clearly was not originally intended.

When “ Madeline” finds a beautiful yellow flower, she imagines that it has magical powers but the powers she envisions are not those for turning straw into gold or frogs into princes; rather, they are the powers to kill or destroy anything and everything from her brother to Johnno’s girlfriend.  As it turns out, the flower is the poisonous tansy ragwort and “Madeline” ultimately does utilize its powers, although not in the manner you might suspect.

The play has its funny moments but the humor is very dark and it is much more a hauntingly macabre play than an amusing one.  Ms Hulme-Beaman’s performance is absolutely riveting as she expresses through words, actions and expressions the devolution of a superficially charming and delightful but fundamentally deeply disturbed little girl.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sense of an Ending at 59E59 Theaters

Hubert Pont-Du Jour in SENSE OF AN ENDING.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
When Rwandan President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down (allegedly by the very Tutsi rebels with whom he had been planning to sign a peace accord), killing the President and all aboard, it sparked a vengeful reaction by Hutu extremists who seized control of the government and massacred 800,000 Tutsi, hacking many to death with their machetes and burning others alive.  As the Hutus advanced on Kigali, many Tutsi sought sanctuary in the local Catholic church – but to no avail.  The Hutus found them in the church, doused them with the church’s own fuel, and set them ablaze.  Virtually all died.

On the day that President Habyarimana’s plane was downed, Father Neromba, the head of the Catholic church in Kigali and a Hutu himself, had a vision: the Virgin Mary came to him and told him – what?  Sister Justina (Heather Alicia Simms) and Sister Alice (Dana Marie Ingraham) were Catholic nuns of the Benedictine order at Father Neromba’s church in Kigali and they knew of his miraculous vision.  And they were also Hutu.

Now, five years after the massacre at the church, Father Neromba has disappeared and is being sought on charges that he was complicit in the massacre.  Sister Justina and Sister Alice have been arrested on similar charges and are awaiting transfer to Belgium, where they are to be charged with having provided the Hutus with the fuel with which they burned their Tutsi victims alive.  Predictably, they deny the charges brought against them and hope to convince the world of their innocence, even before they are brought to trial in Belgium.

To that end, they have agreed to meet with Charles (Joshua David Robinson), a reporter for the New York Times whose editor, Kendra, has sent him to Rwanda to get the human interest story that will portray the two sisters’ plight in the most sympathetic light.  Charles would love to be able to bring back such a story for Kendra (she is not only his boss but also his romantic interest), but it is even more important to him that the story he brings back be the truth: Charles, as it turns out, has had a bit of a problem with the truth in the past, having been accused of plagiarism, and his current assignment, if truthfully and successfully completed, could go a long way toward restoring his own reputation.

When Charles arrives in Rwanda, he is met by Paul (Hubert Point-Du Jour), a Tutsi corporal in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (the military force that has restored order in Rwanda) who is to be his guide.  Paul is convinced that the sisters are guilty as sin and that their protestations of innocence are a pack of lies and, in support of his position, he produces Dusabi (Danyon Davis), a Tutsi and the sole survivor of the genocidal massacre at the church.

In Sense of an Ending by Kern Urban, currently receiving its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan, it is up to Charles to interview the sisters, to listen to Dusabi’s story, and somehow to arrive at the truth of what really transpired at the church.  But the challenge confronting Charles goes much deeper than that:  not only must he determine the nuns’ factual culpability, if any, for the massacre that occurred at the church but he must determine their moral culpability, if any, as well.  Whatever the nuns may have done, should their allegiance to their Catholic faith and to Father Neromba (who, after all, may have been directed in his actions by the Virgin Mary herself) enter into Charles’ moral calculus?  Whatever they may or may not have done, were they ever really in a powerful enough position themselves to do anything else?  If nothing that the nuns did not do but might have done would have made no difference in the final tragic result anyway, should they still be punished?  Is there a greater moral value – one of reconciliation – that transcends questions of guilt or innocence in individual acts?

Sense of an Ending is an exceptionally powerful play, portraying the horrors of war and ethnic rivalries, massacres and genocide, in all their gory details, and it forcefully addresses the importance of determining the factual truth in the face of conflicting Rashomon-like stories.  That alone makes this play well worth seeing.  But it doesn’t do nearly as good a job, I’m afraid, at resolving the deeper moral questions that are brought to the fore, relying instead on papering over real differences in a couple of kumbaya scenes.

The entire cast of five was excellent but I was especially impressed by Hubert Pont-Du Jour and Danyon Davis.  Mr. Pont-Du Jour’s nuanced portrayal of Paul as a Tutsi soldier with a stereotypical view both of Hutus and Americans, who had seen so much of death that it left him futilely longing for any sign of humor in life, was absolutely extraordinary.  In stark contrast to Mr. Pont-DuJour’s coldly controlled portrayal of Paul, Mr. Davis’ portrayal of Dusabi was all fiery intensity and raw emotion.  It all made for a striking contrast and wonderful theater.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Drop Dead Perfect Returns to Theatre at Saint Clements

L-R: Jason Cruz and Jason Edward Cook in DROP DEAD PERFECT.  Photo by John Quilty.
Drop Dead Perfect by Erasmus Fenn (whomever he might be) received rave reviews and played to sold-out audiences last year, prompting its current return to Theatre at St. Clements on West 46th Street in midtown Manhattan.  In its present incarnation, it features the same zany cast: Everett Quinton (in drag) as the wealthy and mentally unbalanced Idris Seabright; Jason Edward Cook (also in drag) as Vivien, Idris’ physically handicapped ward who is an aspiring sculptress; Jason Cruz as Ricardo, a mysterious Cuban stranger; and Timothy C. Goodwin who does double duty as Phineas Fenn (Idris’ lawyer) and as Phineas’ son (the play’s narrator).

Idris is taken to writing and re-writing her will (which appears to be Phineas Fenn’s main function) and to sketching stilllifes – which requires that her subjects really be still - even if that entails freezing her goldfish, waxing her apples, or killing and stuffing her dog.  She becomes especially deranged when Vivien announces her intention to leave Idris’ home and go to Greenwich Village to pursue an artistic career.  The arrival of Ricardo, who bears a striking resemblance to Idris’ former lover, and who is not above dallying with the affections of both Idris and Vivien, complicates matters still further.

The play is clearly intended as a star turn for Everett Quinton who does what he does and does it very well (though some might question why he bothers to do it in the first place).  But without detracting from Mr. Quinton’s performance, I must say that, much to my own surprise, I was far more impressed by Jason Edward Cook’s extraordinary dance performance.

Joe Brancato, the play’s director, has described the play as “a madcap romp that celebrates and satirizes movie melodramas, with a nod to both Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Burnett” and the play’s press release emphasizes that it is “laced with double-entendres and homages to 1950s television and Hollywood melodramas” and only is “recommended for those who possess a slightly twisted sense of humor and appreciation of slapstick TV comedies such as I Love Lucy and camp horror such as Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”

I won’t disagree and, if you fall into that category (“those who possess a slightly twisted sense of humor and appreciation of slapstick TV comedies such as I Love Lucy and camp horror”), then this production might be right up your alley.  But if not, you may be disappointed, finding that the show’s double entendres, sophomoric ethnic humor, penis jokes, and persistent satirization of Lucille Ball really are more puerile than clever.



Sunday, August 16, 2015

James Lecesne Soars in The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

James Lecesne in THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY.
James Lecesne is a highly accomplished and versatile writer and actor – and, even more importantly, a truly compassionate and admirable individual.  He has written three novels for young adults, including Absolute Brightness, from which he has adapted his play, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.  His acting credits include stints on Broadway, off Broadway, and in television.  He was executive producer of the documentary film After the Storm, which followed the lives of twelve young people in post-Katrina New Orleans.  And he wrote the screenplay for the Academy Award-winning short film Trevor, which inspired his co-founding of The Trevor Project, a nationwide suicide prevention and crisis intervention lifeline for LGBTQ youth.  Quite a resume.

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, currently being staged at the Westside Theatre on West 43rd Street in midtown Manhattan, revolves around the disappearance and murder of Leonard Pelkey, a flamboyantly gay 14-year-old, whose larger than life persona and absolute refusal to be anything other than what he was affected all around him.  In the course of the play, we never do meet Leonard but we come to know him nonetheless through the words of all of those whose lives he touched.

First among them is Chuck DeSantis, the hard-boiled detective in a small town on the New Jersey shore who investigates the Leonard Pelkey case.  DeSantis is played brilliantly by James Lecesne – who plays every other role in this extraordinary solo tour de force as well – and that includes Leonard’s “aunt” Ellen Hertle, the shrill proprietor of the local beauty parlor who first reports Leonard missing; Phoebe, Ellen’s 16-year-old daughter who finds herself called upon to act as Leonard’s schoolyard protector; Gloria Salzano, the widow of a mob boss who discovers one of the shoes Leonard was wearing at the time of his disappearance floating on the lake near her home; Marion, one of Ellen’s clients, who attempted unsuccessfully to convince Leonard to “tone it down”; the Germanic proprietor of a watches and clocks repair shop who related to Leonard as a result of his own nostalgic recollections of his own lost son; the pretentious proprietor of the theatre and dance studio where Leonard had been studying, who is a bit fearful that he might be accused of pederasty (whether pronounced in the British or American fashion) for merely offering car rides to some of the older boys at his studio; and one of Leonard’s bullying schoolmates, hung up on video games.  Lecesne plays them all with insightful precision, seamlessly switching from one character to another   It is a truly virtuoso performance.

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey is, of course, a tragedy, as is any death, but most especially the unnecessary death of a child whose entire life still lay before him.  And it is, of course, a mystery: who killed Leonard Pelkey?  But it is much more than that, much more than a tragedy or a mystery: it is at one and the same time a revelation of the interconnectedness of all of us (underscored by Lescesne’s playing every role) and a celebration of our differences.  As Marion related it, Leonard once told her that “if he stopped being himself, the terrorists would win.”  And it is that sentiment which pervades this production and which results in the play being such an uplifting one, despite the tragedy of the unusual 14-year-old boy’s untimely death.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mac Brydon Stars in PIMM'S MISSION at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Mac Brydon and Ryan Tramont in PIMM'S MISSION.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Both Robert Pimm (Mac Brydon) and Thomas Blander (Ryan Tramont) are regulars at the pub in midtown Manhattan owned and operated by Jim (Brad Fryman). They meet there regularly on Sundays where their conversations range from Robert’s commiserating with Thomas over Thomas’ recent divorce, to Robert’s disclosure of his own corporate misadventures in Great Britain (which led to his current relocation in the US), to Robert’s insistence that Thomas try to find a true mission in life.  At this point, one might assume they are “friends,” although Robert is not prepared to go quite that far, quibbling extensively in the best Clintonian fashion on just what the meaning of “friends” is.

This Sunday, Robert is seated at the bar, nursing both a drink and a superficial wound to his head, just moments after an explosion at the nearby Zincorp building resulted in the deaths of 15 innocents - and Thomas is nowhere to be seen.  FBI Agent Staats (Daniel Morgan Shelley) and his sidekick, FBI Agent Charles (Patrick Hamilton), are canvassing the area in their search for clues.  In the course of their investigation, they encounter Robert who can’t quite seem to recall how he arrived at the bar but whose description, as it turns out, matches that of a man who was seen leaving the Zincorp building shortly before the explosion occurred. 

Subsequently, Staats learns that Thomas is an employee of Zincorp and that he works at its headquarters – in the very building in which the explosion just occurred.  And Jim reluctantly informs Staats that although he never quite overheard the details of Robert and Thomas’ many earlier conversations in the pub, it was clear to him that they were “discussing things” in a “pretty secretive” manner.

There’s not much more I can write about the plot of Pimm’s Mission without ruining its surprise ending - other than to say that, as the play evolves, it becomes increasingly evident that there is more to Robert and his relationship to Thomas than first meets the eye.  I will, however, give you one hint: if you’re justifiably concerned over the threat of Islamic terrorism, you may be a bit disappointed.  On the other hand, if you’re more politically “progressive” and inclined to perceive capitalism as a bigger bugaboo than Islamic terrorism, then you may find the play’s highly contrived conclusion to be more satisfying.

Notwithstanding that artificial contrivance, however, the play is very well written and quite entertaining.  It unfolds over a period of 75 minutes with no intermission in a series of sharply constructed bar scenes in which Staats is interrogating Robert, interspersed with flashbacks to scenes involving Robert, Thomas and Jim in the same bar on various Sundays preceding the day of the explosion.  Written by Christopher Stetson Boal and directed by Terrence O’Brien, Pimm’s Mission is currently receiving its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan.  All of the cast members merit praise for their performances but Mac Brydon, bouncing back and forth from the present to the past and back again, delivers a truly bravura performance – one might even say a star turn - and deserves a special accolade.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Summer Shorts 2015 Series A at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Clea Alsip and J.J. Kandel in 10K.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Now in its ninth year, Summer Shorts 2015, the highly acclaimed annual festival of new American short plays, is currently being staged at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  The festival consists of three one-act plays presented in each of two series running in repertory:  the plays in Series A are 10K by Neil Labute, Glenburn 12 WP by Vickie Ramirez, and The Sentinels by Matthew Lopez;  those in Series B are Built by Robert O’Hara, Love Letters to a Dictator by Stella Fawn Ragsdale, and Unstuck by Lucy Thurber.

Unfortunately, I won’t be seeing Series B this year.  But I did see Series A and I’m glad I did.  All three plays in this series are simply terrific and all of the actors’ performances are first rate across the board.

The three plays in Series A are situated in different venues and the characters in the three plays bear little superficial resemblance to one another.  The man (J. J. Kandel) and the woman (Clea Alsip) in 10K are two young married (but not to each other) joggers who meet by chance on a wooded jogging path. The characters in Glenburn 12 WP are Troy Davis (W. Tre Davis), an African-American hipster in his mid 20s, and Roberta Laforme (Tanis Parenteau), a Native American professional woman in her early 30s; they also meet by chance – but in an Irish pub near Grand Central, rather than in a park.  In The Sentinels, Alice (Meg Gibson), Kelly (Michelle Beck), and Christa (Kellie Overbey) are three widows who meet regularly over a period of years in the same coffee shop in the Financial District to commemorate their husbands’ deaths.  But despite these differences, there does appear to be a theme that ties these works together: in all of them, the characters have experienced losses and are forced to deal with them, each in his or her own way.

In 10K, the man and the woman realize that they are suffering from similar losses: both are married and parents but neither enjoys, within his or her own marriage, the personal and sexual pleasures that they once took for granted.  The woman’s husband travels constantly and is seldom home; the man’s wife hates the world.  Nor do their children provide them with the satisfaction that they thought they would.  Now, finding themselves stuck in unsatisfactory marriages, they resort to dreams and imaginative fantasies to provide what is lacking in their reality.  But will that be enough?

L-R: Tanis Parenteau and W. Tre Davis in GLENBURN 12 WP.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
In Glenburn 12 WP, Roberta, who is something of a regular at the pub, is mourning the loss of her friend Krystal.  Troy walks in, having tired of participating in a nearby protest movement, and Roberta engages him in conversation.  As it turns out, neither Troy nor Roberta are anything like what the other expected, and before the play ends, they’re bantering back and forth in a manner neither would have imagined possible, given the difference in their backgrounds and the stereotypical images that each had of the other’s ethnic and cultural heritage.  Kieran, the pub’s regular bartender, isn’t there and Roberta goes downstairs to search for him.  By play’s end, we realize how much more there is to Troy than we should have thought; we understand why Roberta is mourning Krystal; we find out what happened to Kieran; and we discover that Roberta deals with loss quite differently than do the joggers in 10K.

L-R: Meg Gibson, Kellie Overbey, and Michelle Beck in THE SENTINELS.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Finally, The Sentinels moves backwards through a series of scenes from 2011 to 2002 as Alice, Kelly and Christa meet annually to commemorate the losses of their husbands.  They all evolve over time and each deals with her loss in her own way: Alice throw herself into socio-political causes; Kelly remarries and is pregnant; Christa is just moving on.  Different strokes for different folks but it works for them.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Outstanding Revivals of BOY'S LIFE and BOY GETS GIRL at The Seeing Place Theater

L-R: Natalie Neckyfarow and Brandon Walker in BOY'S LIFE.  Photo by Russ Rowland.
Now in its sixth season, The Seeing Place, located on East 26th Street in Manhattan, is currently staging two exceptional revivals in repertory: Boy’s Life by Howard Korder and Boy Gets Girl by Rebecca Gilman.  It is the juxtaposition of these two plays, both focusing on gender relations, that resonates synergistically to enhance our appreciation of both.

Boy’s Life was originally produced in 1988, garnering a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize nomination at the time, but comes across as somewhat dated today.  Those were the pre-PC days, you may recall, when “no” meant “maybe,” “maybe” meant “yes,” and “nice girls” simply couldn’t be expected to actually say “yes” outright.  It was then that the idea that “boys will be boys” was well nigh acceptable and young women were taught to be wary of post-adolescent men only a few years out of college who might use any ruse – from lying to alcohol – to lure them into bed.

Three such men are Jack (Brandon Walker), Don (Alex Witherow), and Phil (Logan Keeler) who have evolved from being “campus cut-ups to wasted potentials” and who attempt to continue to live lives centering on cheap beer, drugs, and sexual conquests.  Jack is married to Carla (Candice Oden) and has a son but he doesn’t allow those minor details to stop him from attempting to pick up Maggie (Natalie Neckyfarow), nor from borrowing Phil’s or Don’s apartment to facilitate his afternoon trysts.

Phil and Don are a bit more sensitive than Jack (who is clearly the alpha male in the group) but both of them are just as much on the make.  Phil will say almost anything if he thinks it might enable him to re-connect with Karen (Mary Ruth Baggott) – and if he can cop a feel in the process, so much the better.  Don hooks up with Lisa (Brisa Frietas), a waitress and aspiring sculptress, and ultimately falls in love with her, but even that doesn’t prevent him from engaging in a one night stand with another mentally unstable girl (Olivia Baseman).

The play unfolds as a series of brief vignettes rather than as a linear story line and is most effective in doing so.  After 90 minutes of this, a full picture has emerged, reflecting the playwright’s view of men behaving badly.  Despite its being somewhat dated, Boy’s Life is still a thought-provoking and funny play.  And it provides a wonderful prelude to the even more powerful Boy Gets Girl that succeeds it.

L-R: John D'Arcangelo and Erin Cronican in BOY GETS GIRL.  Photo by Russ Rowland.
Boy Gets Girl was first produced in 2000 (by which time it should have been understood that “no” meant “no” even if the world was not quite ready to accept today’s ultra-PC and romance-suffocating “yes” means “yes” standard).  It was acclaimed by Time Magazine as the “Best Play of the Year” and I can readily see why.

In this excellent revival, Theresa Bedell (Erin Cronican), a highly intelligent and talented journalist, reluctantly agrees to go out on a blind date with Tony Ross (Daniel Michael Perez).  Their brief meeting goes well enough and she agrees to meet him again for dinner but, before that second encounter reaches its conclusion, she realizes that she has made a mistake and attempts to end their relationship.  It is not that she perceives anything particularly wrong with Tony; it is just that she doesn’t think that they have enough in common to justify the expenditure of her time when she’d rather devote herself to her career.

But Tony is not on Theresa’s wavelength and does not realize that “no” really does mean “no,” even as regards such mundane matters as meeting for a drink or dinner.  He persists in his attempts to woo her, telephoning incessantly, sending unwanted flowers on a daily basis, showing up unexpectedly at her office.  His persistence escalates to obsession, from that to stalking and, ultimately, to the most pathologically threatening behavior.

Theresa enlists the aid of her hapless secretary, Harriet (Emily Newhouse); of her boss, Howard Siegel (Einar Gunn); and of her co-worker, Mercer Stevens (Brandon Walker), but all to no avail.  Eventually she turns to the police as well and Detective Beck (Virginia Gregory) manages to assist her in establishing an alternate life for herself – one free of Tony but less than ideal.

Erin Cronican (who not only plays the lead role in Boy Gets Girl but also directed Boy’s Life) is absolutely sensational as Theresa.   She perfectly epitomizes the successful feminist in today’s world who finds herself forced to balance a variety of different relationships, including not only those with Tony, Harriet, Mercer and Howard but also that which develops between her and Les Kennkat (John D’Arcangelo), a successful director of soft-core films featuring big-breasted women.  Much of the success of this production must be attributed to her performance.

That is not to deny that Ms Cronican has been very ably supported in this production by the other members of The Seeing Place Theater’s ensemble cast.  Especially noteworthy are Mr. Gunn who plays the role of Howard with just the sort of paternalistic concern that Ed Asner brought to his relationship with Mary in the Mary Tyler Moore Show; Mr. D’Arcangelo, who manages to convey both sensitivity and smarminess in his role as Les; and Mr. Walker, who exhibits the range of his talent by bringing to his role of Mercer so much more restraint than was called for in his role as Jack in Boy’s Life (and, incidentally, who also directed Boy Gets Girl).

Mr. Korder, Ms. Gilman and The Seeing Place Theater all do seem to have predicated these plays on two assumptions with which I don’t necessarily agree.  The first is that male attitudes toward women are almost entirely a function of nurture or conditioning, rather than nature or genetics – that is, that men are attracted to women with large breasts because they have been conditioned by men like Len Kennkat to find large breasts attractive, not that men like Len Kennkat create the films they do, featuring women with big breasts because that is what men want to see.  In support of that contention, they cite such examples as the appeal of women with small feet among the Chinese or of women with long necks among some African tribes.  Surely, it is argued, such fetishes must be a result of conditioning, not genetics; otherwise they would be universal.

And certainly there is merit to that argument.  But the more we learn about evolution, it seems to me, the more we realize that more of our likes and dislikes than we ever imagined do have an evolutionary basis in the survival of our species, and I would have liked to have seen that alternative addressed rather than dismissed out of hand.

The second point on which I tend to disagree is with the plays’ implication that all men are on a spectrum when it comes to mistreating women – that the only difference between men like Jack and Don and Phil who are continually seeking to bed women, on the one hand, and psychopaths like Tony, on the other, is one of degree, not of kind.  To that end, in a very clever bit of casting, Brandon Walker appears as the insensitive, philandering Jack who attempts to conceal his marital state from Maggie in Boy’s Life and then as the much more sensitive and honorable Mercer in Boy Gets Girl.  But what I believe that is meant to suggest is that maybe they’re really not so different:  after all, why did Mercer neglect to tell Theresa he was married for so long?  And did you see the way he was massaging her shoulders?   Finally there is the coup de grace as Mercer admits that the thought of sleeping with Theresa had, indeed, once flashed before his mind.  Obviously, he’s no better than Jack.  (It’s all rather reminiscent of Jimmy Carter’s unfortunate statement to the effect that “I’ve looked at many women with lust.  I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times,” isn’t it?)

Sorry, but I can’t buy it.  Mercer’s not on the same spectrum as Jack but, even if he is, neither is on the same spectrum with Tony.  Men may behave badly in many different ways and to many different degrees, but psychopaths and stalkers are in an entirely different league.  This is the same objection that I have to the unfortunate tendency in today’s world to conflate rape with sexual harassment.  To be sure, sexual harassment is reprehensible but it isn’t rape and any attempt to conflate the two only trivializes the true horror of rape itself.

But I digress.  Whatever differences I might have with the playwrights or The Seeing Place Theater regarding their interpretations of male behavior, the fact remains that these are their plays, their ideas, and their productions, not mine, and they have every right to present them as they see fit.  And so they have – and most effectively, with considerable power and humor, I might add.  These are productions very much worth seeing.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Funny and Poignant SHOWS FOR DAYS at Lincoln Center

L-R: Dale Soules and Patti Lupone in SHOWS FOR DAYS.  Photo by Joan Marcus.
Drawing freely on his own experiences, Douglas Carter Beane,  a very talented gay playwright, has written a wonderfully funny and poignant fictionalized “coming of age” story that is sure to resonate not only with the gay community but with theatergoers of every possible sexual orientation.  In Shows for Days, currently premiering at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Car (Michael Urie), the playwright’s 14 year old alter ego, who is tentatively beginning to explore his own sexuality, learns about the pleasure and pain of first love as well as how he might best confront the larger world around him.

With time to kill before taking the next bus home, Car wanders into a run-down community theater in Reading, Pennsylvania and finds more than he had bargained for.  Irene, a heterosexual, married, Yiddish-spouting, self-styled New York theatrical “maven” with delusions of grandeur (Patti Lupone) and Sid, a rough and tumble, down to earth “butch” lesbian, co-founded the little theatre group.  They are joined in their efforts to make a go of it by Clive, a gay African-American actor with a superficial resemblance to James Earl Jones (Lance Coadie Williams), Maria, a straight, melodramatic aspiring actress (Zoe Winters), and Damien, a duplicitous, self-serving bi-sexual narcissist (Jordan Dean).

As it turns out, the members of the group have big dreams but small resources and limited talent and they are called upon to make all sorts of questionable decisions and compromises.  To paraphrase a line from Irene: they don’t sell out but they do adapt to circumstances in their own financial self-interest.  Along the way, Car discovers his literary talent and just who he is: in making that role come alive, Mr. Urie is exquisitely charming and self-deprecating and the play’s success owes much to him.  Irene is forced to confront her own self-deceptions and in doing so, Ms Lupone is a force to be reckoned with.  Clive faces the hypocrisy inherent in his relationship with a closeted white Republican politician; Mr. Williams is splendid in that role as he seeks to reconcile the inconsistencies in his character’s own persona.  And Ms Soules is simply terrific as Sid, who would prefer to wield a sledge hammer than wear a dress - but who will wear a dress too, and to maximum effect, if that’s what it will take to keep the theater alive.