Hedda Hedda Hey!

Hedda (Gabler)
Adapted by Matt Minnicino
Directed by Joseph Michael Parks
Presented by Wandering Bark Theatre Company
At IRT Theater, NYC
September 23-October 8, 2016

Henrik Ibsen's dramatic critique of bourgeois domesticity, Hedda Gabler, which premiered in 1891, remains probably his most often revived work. Hedda is still going strong 125 years later, now reincarnated in a fleet, fluid refresh written by Matt Minnicino and directed by Joseph Mitchell Parks, who played Lucius in 2015's inventive and memorable Titus Andronicus for the New York Shakespeare Exchange. In a play in which the name that someone is called signals ownership (or independence) and degrees of intimacy, Minnicino has rendered the protagonist's unmarried, titular name a parenthetical: Hedda (Gabler). When the play begins, Hedda (Valerie Redd) is more properly known (propriety being another of the play's thematic touchstones) as Hedda Tesman, having married ernest historian George Tesman (Kyle Schaefer), a "paragon of acceptability." George's rival, professional and otherwise, is Eilert Lovborg (Quinn Franzen), who is the Romantic genius to George's meticulous collator, including in his inclination towards alchoholism (a word no one in the play ever speaks). Hedda also has a rival, in Thea Elvsted (Susanna Stahlmann), the former, in this production, icily blonde and the latter a brunette with, in Hedda's words, wounded doe eyes who has helped Eilert conquer his demons and publish an acclaimed history of the world. During this process, Eilert and Thea have become "companions" under her husband's roof, much in defiance of social mores. While Thea actually has the courage and conviction to forge her own path in despite of propriety and patriarchy, Hedda, with a bit of a Madame Bovary complex, longs for the sublime, describing her desire to, just once, pull the strings of another person's fate. To this end, Hedda tries to meddle in Eilert's new work and new self, and ends up caught in a trap that is partly social and partly of her own making. Read more »

The Black Crook

The Black Crook
Conceived and Directed by Joshua William Gelb
Abrons Arts Center, NYC
September 17-October 7, 2016

The Black Crook, subtitled An Original, Magical and Spectacular Musical Drama, begins with playwright Charles M. Barras (Steven Rattazzi) stutteringly pitching the play The Black Crook to William Wheatley (Merlin Whitehawk), producing manager of Niblo's Garden, a theater that stood, in several incarnations, on Broadway near Prince Street from 1823-1895. This current production of The Black Crook adapts Barras's 1866 original and weaves throughout the adaptation a frame narrative that tracks the origins and success of what was a hugely influential piece of theater. Wheatley and his business partners combined Barras's melodrama with performances by a Parisian ballet troupe and other spectacular interludes, and the result, because of its single unifying plot, is often credited as the first book musical in American theatrical history (the program notes that the song "I Said to My Love," written by Giuseppe Operti for an 1870 revival, includes the male protagonist's name in an early effort to integrate song and plot). While some dispute the designation of first musical for The Black Crook, no one disputes the fact that it was a tremendous, unprecedented hit, running for 474 performances and in numerous revivals. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Dmitri Shostakovich Born 110 Years Ago

shostakovichMany consider Dmitri Shostakovich the greatest composer of the 20th century. Born September 25, 1906, he might not have lived past his teens if he hadn't been talented. During the famines of the Revolutionary period in Russia, Alexander Glazunov, director of the Petrograd (later Leningrad) Conservatory, arranged for the poor and malnourished Shostakovich's food ration to be increased. Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1, his graduation exercise for Maximilian Steinberg's composition course at the Conservatory, was completed in 1925 at age 19 and was an immediate success worldwide. He was The Party's poster boy; his Second and Third Symphonies unabashedly subtitled, respectively, "To October" (celebrating the Revolution) and "The First of May" (International Workers' Day).

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Innovative, Acrobatic Twist on The Little Prince Takes Flight in NYC

(Ezra LeBank, Cynthia Price & Taylor Casas )

Flight
20th New York International Fringe Festival Encore Series
Barrow Street Theatre, NYC
September 24-30, 2016

A quest. A love story. A search for meaning and connection. In the sweetly uplifting Flight, three performers from the California-based company Curbside pay homage to Antoine De Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. In this sequel of sorts to the classic but still timely fable, the Prince is a girl -- why not? -- cleverly evoked through a sleight of hand, and human bodies transcend the limitations of the physical universe, becoming zebras, cacti, airplanes, and the embodiment of past memory and future potential. Read more »

I Won't Forget Blossom

Blossom
Written and directed by Spencer Lott
At Dixon Place, NYC
September 9-September 24, 2016

No one wants to hear the phrase "end-of-life decisions."  Moments after being introduced to us via a daring act of heroism, James Blossom (voiced by Rowan Magee), is being advised by a doctor to make his as soon as possible. James, the eponymous Blossom of puppet artist, director, and filmmaker Spencer Lott's new play, developed with support from the Jim Henson Foundation, has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and we follow James and his daughter Kathryn, a.k.a. Katy, a.k.a. Katy Bee (Jamie Agnello), as they do their best to navigate the practical, psychological, and emotional fallout of James's disease.

The advance of his Alzheimer's precipitates James's move into assisted living facility, against his wishes, of course.  There, he meets fellow residents Maisey and Ronald.  The symbolism around loss of control generated by all three of these elderly characters being embodied by puppets (while the puppeteers play the other various roles) may be intentional or accidental, but it is hard not to see.  Just as Maisey was once a senator and Ronald a CEO, James, we discover, had a storied career as a painter in the film industry, a past to which he reconnects with the help of Kelly (Chelsea Fryer), a young volunteer who runs art classes at the nursing home. Read more »

Song of the Week: Don DiLego - "Don't Bury Me Alive"

Sometimes you gotta wait for it. Sometimes it's not all that immediate. And sometimes you just luck into it and your pretty darn happy you did. So it was with the new album Magnificent Ram A (Velvet Elk/One Little Indian Records) by singer-songwriter Don DiLego. Now I've come to find out that he's right here in my own backyard in NYC and I'm not sure why this is the first time I'm hearing about him, but I'm mightly glad I finally did. There's an urban angst in the Americana fabric of these tunes and certainly the simple lyrics and stripped down accompanyment means nothing, if you don't have the chops to fill those spaces with the right colors and textures. Mr. D has a real knack for it, too. Waiting on the vinyl for my full review, but in the interim please purchase said song here: http://tinyurl.com/hat8trr

Marillion: F.E.A.R. (Fuck Everyone And Run)

[Warning! Although all reviews contain information that the listener will not know until they hear the album, this review (which is actual a preview, since the album will not have been released at the time of posting) is highly detailed. If you are a Marillion fan who would prefer not to be "influenced" specifically in any way prior to your first listen, suffice to say that I am giving the album 4.5 out of 5 stars.] Read more »

Quote of the Week: Leonard Nimoy

"I am intrigued with scriptural mythology that tells us that God created a divine feminine presence to dwell amongst humanity. This concept has had a constant influence on the work. I have imagined her as ubiquitous, watchful, and often in motion. This work is, in effect, the photographic image of the invisible.”

Leonard Nimoy (26 March 1931 - 27 February 2015), American actor best known as Spock on the hit TV & movie series Star Trek.

Cloud Cuckooland

Cloud Cuckooland
Lyrical text by Matthew Freeman Created and directed by Djahari Clark
Presented by Desert Sin At House of Yes, NYC
September 8 - September 17, 2016

Cloud Cuckooland is subtitled "a story about death," and it begins with its protagonist, the Girl (Cassandra Rosebeetle), at death's threshold, looking like a patient etherized upon a table as we hear her heartbeat and a voiceover that talks about the "blank space" underlying biology. The Jackdaw (Zahra Hashemian) picks up this thematic thread as she sings about dying being worse than being dead and compares ephemeral humanity to the eternal bird world. The Jackdaw and her companions, the Crow (Renata Bergen) and the Raven (Amanda Mottur), offer the Girl entrance to their avian empyrean, a chance for her to replace humanity's ungainly locomotion with feathered soaring. They present her with a contract (its terms an opportunity for some light comedy), something that any reader of fairy tales knows should be viewed with suspicion, especially when proffered by magical animals; the Girl must be dead and must embrace madness and reject her heart, and then she will ascend to the queenship of Cloud Cuckooland as the Phoenix. As in any good fairy tale, she makes the bargain, and we survey with her the birds' realm of madness and imagination. But is there only blank space under its surface beauty and apparent freedom, as implied by its denizens' avid hoarding of shiny objects set to the strains of a reimagining of Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie," and particularly when set against the depth of life associated with her heart, which continues to haunt her and by which she continues to be tempted? Read more »

Video of the Week: Beach Slang - "Atom Bomb"

Hugely addictive power pop-punk rock from Philly trio Beach Slang. Hell, even the video is an homage to the original DIY aesthetic of early punk rock. The above-video "Atom Bomb" has a real '70s style and vibe thanks to director Jason Lester's 8mm cinematic flair. Beach Slang’s new album A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings will be released on September 23rd on Polyvinyl Records. They’re also on the road the rest of this year. If you're a fan of The Replacements, The Clash, Rancid, Green Day, this is well worth the effort. And please check out this stunning ballad -- "Too Late To Die Young" -- from their 2015 debut full-length, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us.

Quote of the Week: Mother Theresa

"A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace."

Mother Theresa (born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, 26 August 1910 - 5 September 1997), was an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun who started the Missionaries of Charity and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work with people. Pope Francis canonized her a saint 19 years after her death.

Song of the Week: San Saba County - "Pretty Sure"

So I got an email early last week asking me to preview a new album. Nothing new as I get hundreds of requests daily from PR flacks asking for the same thing. However, this was a heartfelt message from the lead singer John Saba, Jr. of the Austin-based quartet San Saba County. He wrote that "Pretty Sure" was "one of [his] personal favorites from the album" 5th. Damn, he was right on target. This is one catchy tune, like Green Day filtered through a roots-rock prism. Smart lyrics, chugging rhythm, tight playing; a winner through and through. Looking forward to spending more time with the album. I'm pretty sure it'll be worth the effort.

Ten Miles Wide - "Fuck That Shit, I Was Right!"

'...Johndus's response to being told that Masturbational is spelt with an O."

It seems so often these days that all I want to do is burn things to the ground... This is not the confession of a pyromaniac but rather the resignation of a former believer who is convinced that, in so many aspects of life, it'd better if we just started over. However, occasionally something will come along that breathes life into my ever-dwindling hope. Bernie certainly did that for me in the realm of politics, Banksy has long since revitalized my belief in the possibilities of the visual arts, and, in the world of rock, I recently discovered a local secret here in Seattle which, if there's anything right with the music scene, won't remain a secret for much longer. 

In a time where rock seems to be sliding on to the popularity back-burner I am happy to report that the scene remains alive and well in Seattle, and at the core of this local rock scene resides the super group Ten Miles Wide. Ten Miles Wide has inspired me. After suffering through eight musically, bleak years of hipster drudge in NYC rock venues where true talent so often takes a back seat to hype, it’s refreshing to hear sincere, non-ironic music played for audiences who are there to listen rather than be seen.

Ten Miles Wide seems like a natural progression of the Grunge movement, as if it had continued to grow and change over the last two decades, morphing into a new sound rooted in familiar soil. Raw and sincere but also accessible, their most recent album, The Gross (released July 16th to packed house of over five hundred eager fans), is catchy without being guilty of pandering. While possessing the power of a primal rage it is also clean and composed. To quote a lyric from Woodhead, my favorite local band back in NYC, "You don’t know the difference between a symphony or a song"… Ten Miles Wide does, crafting compositions with multiple moving parts and engaging time signature changes that challenge the ear, avoiding the redundancy that so frequently plagues our pop stations. Read more »

El Ganzo Boasts "Unique Love Between a Black Gay Man & White Straight Woman"

As noted above, the invite for Steve Balderson's latest feature, El Ganzo, swore that something special was going to occur between a gay man of color and a white female within its running time. Here was an intriguing come-on, one hard to cold-shoulder, so I didn't. Happily, the film is a well-acted, beautifully shot, two-hander about a couple of gentle souls, thrown together by fate, who wind up the better for the confrontation. Read more »

Girl Trouble: When Women Watch Movies

The Intervention's appealing ensemble. (Courtesy Paramount)

It's no secret that women are still mostly used as beards in studio bromances or scenery in tentpole actioners. But even smaller character-driven films can’t always be counted on to provide satisfaction for those of us yearning to recognize some aspect of ourselves on screen. Faced with intimate stories that fail to bring female characters into focus or ambitious tales that mirror but don’t alleviate the special joys of being a girl (worldwide), female audiences are mostly left to get enlightenment or escape by dreaming ourselves into male characters and stories. Read more »

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