Thursday, August 22, 2013

NYC Fringe 2013: Waiting for Waiting for Godot

L-R: Dave Hanson and Chris Sullivan in WAITING FOR WAITING FOR GODOT
Waiting for Waiting for Godot (WFWFGodot), now playing at the Kraine Theater on East Fourth Street in Lower Manhattan as part of FringeNYC 2013, is not only a terrific meta-reworking of the original Beckett classic but is also a delicious send-up of the entire Beckett canon.  In this production, set in a dingy backstage dressing room rather than on a country road, Val (Dave Hanson) and Ester (Chris Sullivan), are understudies for the roles of the two hobos, Vladimir and Estragon, in Waiting for Godot, and are themselves awaiting the arrival, not of Godot but of their play’s Director, in the hopes that he will come to tell them that he intends to give them an opportunity to play their roles onstage.

In Beckett’s The Unnamable, the novel’s unidentified protagonist, after a long disjointed monologue, proclaims “…you must go on.  I can’t go on.  I’ll go on” – a sentiment at the core of Beckett’s work but one that is not very different from that hoary theatrical mantra: “The show must go on.”  And, indeed, for the multi-talented Dave Hanson, who wrote WFWFGodot and who also plays the role of Val, the distinction between Beckett’s words and the theatrical mantra would appear to be a distinction without a difference:  the play must go on and so must the two understudies, if not onstage, then at least with their own lives.

Val and Ester are consumed by the same absurdist existential questions that tormented Vladimir and Estragon and fare no better in their struggles than do their alter egos.  In Waiting For Godot, it is an unnamed boy who arrives to tell the two hobos that Godot won’t be showing up that day after all; in WFWFGodot, it is Laura (Amy Weaver), the perky Assistant Stage Manager, who informs them that the Director they had been hoping to see won’t be making an appearance that day either. The consequences are the same: despair  

But WFWFGodot is much more than just a retelling (or even a meta-retelling) of the Waitng for Godot story, simply set in a different venue with Ester’s vest substituting for Estragon’s boot: it is also a delightful parody of Beckett’s signature style.  When Ester gives Val an acting lesson, emphasizing the “miserly” approach to acting wherein an actor does nothing but repeat another actor’s lines, the verbal repetitions and repetitions of repetitions constitute an hysterical send-up of Beckett, culminating in what I took to be a similar send-up of James Joyce as well.

Hanson plays the role of Val with comic genius and Sullivan turns in an equally impressive performance as Ester. In sum, this production is likely to go down as one of the very best of the FringeNYC 2013 and if the show’s not yet sold out and you can still manage to get tickets for one of the few remaining performances, I’d strongly urge you to do so.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer Shorts 2013: Series A at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Gia Crovatin and Elizabeth Masucci in GOOD LUCK (IN FARSI) in SUMMER SHORTS 2013 at 59E59 Theaters.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
For the seventh consecutive year, Thoroughline Artists is presenting a Summer Shorts program of one act plays by established and emerging playwrights at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  This year’s program consists of six plays evenly split between two series: Series A includes Good Luck (in Farsi) by Neil LaBute, About a Woman Named Sarah by Lucas Hnath, and Breaking the Spell by Tina Howe; Series B includes Falling Short by Marian Fontana, Change by Paul Weitz, and Pine Cone Moment by Alan Zweibel.  I just saw Series A and I must say I was rather disappointed.

I chose to attend Series A rather than Series B because I am a long time fan of Neil LaBute and I was particularly eager to see his Good Luck (in Farsi), the first play on the Summer Shorts 2013 program.  Sad to say, I found it to be less a fully developed play than the merest idea for a scene or a sketch; it might do as a workshop production of a part of a play in progress but surely not as a full blown play in its own right.

Directed by LaBute himself, the play focuses on Paige (Elizabeth Masucci) and Kate (Gia Crovatin), two narcissistic lame-brained actresses auditioning for the same role in a new television series.  In what is basically a two-hander, they perform as caricatures of what we’ve come to expect of back-stabbing aspiring young actresses in such competitive situations but, other than an amusing line or two, LaBute hasn’t brought anything new to bear on this timeworn theme.
Neither Masucci nor Crovatin ought be blamed for this, however.  Indeed, they both are outstanding in their respective roles and provide the audience with just as much entertainment as the script will allow.  It’s just that the script itself is wanting.

L-R: Stephanie Cannon, Mark Elliot Wilson, Marisa Viola, and Ben Vigus in ABOUT A WOMAN NAMED SARAH  in SUMMER SHORTS 2013 at 59E59 Theaters.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
The program’s second entry, About a Woman Named Sarah, was even less entertaining.  It is a trivializing and somewhat mean-spirited depiction of a fictionalized meeting between John McCain (Mark Elliot Wilson) and Sarah Palin (Marisa Viola) prior to his selecting her to be his Vice Presidential running mate in 2008.  As Hnath would have us believe, the only reason that McCain chose Palin to be his running mate was that nearly everyone whom he really wanted already had turned him down and the only one else who might not have turned him down was Mitt Romney who an insecure McCain was reluctant to choose lest Romney overshadow him during the campaign.
The play consists of four sequential conversations between (1) John and Sarah; (2) Sarah and John’s wife, Cindy (Stephanie Cannon); (3) John and Cindy; and (4) Sarah and her husband, Todd (Ben Vigus).  All of the conversations are performed in a choppy staccato fashion, punctuated by a series of off stage clicks, presumably to accentuate some features of those conversations but all of which serves more to distract than to illuminate.  I. Found. It. All. [Click.] To. Be. An. Annoying. [Click.]  Waste. Of. Time. [Click.]

L-R: Michael Countryman, Crystal Finn, Evan Shinners, and Jesse Scheinin in BREAKING THE SPELL in SUMMER SHORTS 2013 at 59E59 Theaters.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
The program’s third play, Breaking the Spell, was the best of the bunch (though that’s not really saying very much since the bar wasn’t set very high).  Basically a re-telling of the story of Sleeping Beauty, the play revolves around the efforts of The King (Michael Countryman) to break the spell which has put his daughter, Christabel (Crystal Finn) to sleep for 100 years.  When the world’s princes (and princesses) can’t awaken her with their kisses, The King resorts to music, engaging the most talented musicians in the land, to work their magic.  Those musicians include Davey McNab (Jesse Scheinin), an extraordinary saxophonist; Heinrich Hesse Horowitz (Evan Shinners), an amazingly gifted pianist; and Bobby Love (also played by Shinners), a talented accordionist.

The music works, the spell is broken, Christabel awakens and goes off to live happily ever after with her true love, the King’s Poor Wretched Fool (also played by Evan Shinners).  Breaking the Spell might have made it as a short skit on the Sid Caesar Show in the early days of television but it really is overreaching to think of it as a full-fledged theatrical production.  What this play does have going for it, however, are its two enormously talented musicians – Evan Schinners and Jesse Scheinin – and it is they who provide the program with its most entertaining moments.