Theater Review http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/theater en Cutting Up Space and Time http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/node/3856 <span>Cutting Up Space and Time</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/index.php/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>July 10, 2019 - 13:09</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/317" hreflang="en">avant garde</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="799" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2019/2019-07/decoder_photo_credit_maria_baranova.jpg?itok=3DXtAP4f" title="decoder_photo_credit_maria_baranova.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="1200" /></article><figcaption>Photo Credit: Maria Baranova</figcaption></figure><p><i>DECODER: Ticket that Exploded</i></p> <p>Text by WIlliam S. Burroughs</p> <p>Conceived and directed by Mallory Catlett</p> <p>Presented by Restless NYC at Pioneer Works, NYC</p> <p>July 8, 2019</p> <p>In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Beat Generation artist and writer William S. Burroughs popularized the "cut-up technique," a method dating to at least the Dada movement of cutting up a text or texts and rearranging the pieces to form a new composition. Burroughs employed a "fold-in" variation (reading across two vertically folded sheets placed side by side to create a new page) for his novel <i>The Ticket that Exploded</i>, first published in 1962 and in a revised and expanded version in 1967. This story of mind control and intergalactic conflict also describes Burroughs's theories about language, technology, and the cut-up technique, and it forms part of <i>The Nova Trilogy</i>, along with <i>The Soft Machine</i> (1961, revised 1966 and 1968) and <i>Nova Express</i> (1964). With <i>DECODER: The Ticket that Exploded</i>, creator and director Mallory Catlett, in collaboration with video designer Keith Skretch, associate video designed Simon Harding, interaction designer Ryan Holsopple, and scholar Alex Wermer-Colan, Burroughs's novel is reimagined, partly through his own techniques, as a psychedelic live enactment that assembles language, imagery, and sound into an engrossing experience somewhere between theater and performance art.</p> <p>Played out in this performance on a raised stage in the cavernous interior of Pioneer Works in Red Hook, <i>DECODER </i>is brought to fractured life by collaborators and performers G. Lucas Crane and Jim Findlay. Crane, the "tape DJ" and sound artist, acts as the primary operator of the onstage audiovisual equipment -- and provides an excellent lemur call -- while Findlay handles the spoken portions of the production. The spoken elements use Burroughs's own words, and audience members can catch indications of his influence on in phrases such as "well, that's like hypnotizing chickens," borrowed from <i>The Ticket That Exploded</i> by Iggy Pop in "Lust for Life," and "heavy metal," first appearing in print in <i>The Soft Machine</i>. The cassette tape recorders that Crane so skillfully manipulates are referred to in pre-recorded dialogue early on in the show as an "externalized part of the human nervous system," and they are positioned in relation to "the Word," what it is and what can be done with and to it, not least the assertion that cut-up offers a means of being one's own agent. While there is, unsurprisingly, no conventional narrative, <i>DECODER</i> does evince a loose thematic structure, with other sections with spoken and recorded text about, for example, sexuality (at some points as "flesh addiction" and at others as a kind of literal merging of bodies), war (as, in one memorable passage, an ongoing game the only possible end to which is the atomic destruction of all the players), and questions about topics including time, self, and embodiment.</p> <p>Juxtaposition represents an important aspect of the cut-up technique, creating and influencing meaning, and the various forms of "the Word" in the production are juxtaposed not only to one another but also to sound- and image-scapes throughout. The large trapezoidal screen at the back of the stage is filled with images that range from Crane's hands as he works or his face as we hear his amplified breathing to a distorted portion of Findlay's face as he declaims from beneath a welder's mask to insects, trees, tentacles, claws, and, in a visual metaphor for the "war game," the repetitive, mechanical stacking of logs. Often, when the projected images are distorted, it is along a vertical fold, much as Burroughs recommends for pages in the fold-in technique. At times, they also resolve into unexpected forms or accrue unexpected meaning, as when, through repetitive juxtaposition, a microphone held by Mike Pence becomes associated with a masturbated phallus, an oddly posed body shows up in a wooded landscape, or the bright whiteness, which juxtaposition with the dialogue leads one initially to think might represent outer space, is eventually clarified as snow through which a lone figure walks. Crane and Findlay themselves are central elements of some striking images, their bodies silhouetted, serving as canvases for flashing lights, or badly (on purpose) lip-syncing recorded questions. Crane is extremely impressive and has an engaging presence, and it would be easy to overlook how good Findlay's performance is because of the non-traditional part, but he adds energy and nuance to his role as primary conduit of the Word, as when he touches Crane during a particular speech or in the modulation that occurs when he sets aside the novel from which he has been reading directly and his delivery becomes subtly but clearly more hesitant, immediate, and, thus, seemingly authentic.</p> <p>Late in <i>DECODER</i> is a discussion of a giant mechanical brain used by enemy forces that works through aggregating images and words and sounds like what we now call A.I. The dialogue recommends guerilla war against it, in one of a couple of times when the "you" seems to deliberately include the audience. Burroughs held that the cut-up technique can militate against the way that word and image lock us in to conventional modes and patterns of thought and perception. <i>DECODER: Ticket that Exploded </i>provides an intriguingly avant garde, visually arresting, and even at some points funny volley in this crusade against conventionality. And this is just the start: the full <i>Nova Trilogy</i> will premiere at the Chocolate Factory in Queens in 2020, to further rearrange our expectations of what theater can be. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3856&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="ti_vxT3tsOl0WGqSQKRbVO0YMWfzkslQww-ZgzlmTI4"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Wed, 10 Jul 2019 17:09:02 +0000 Leah Richards 3856 at http://www.culturecatch.com One for All http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/node/3851 <span>One for All</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/index.php/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>June 10, 2019 - 09:16</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="800" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2019/2019-06/3m_1941_photo_credit_clintonbphotography.jpg?itok=Rv6ISZp8" title="3m_1941_photo_credit_clintonbphotography.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="1200" /></article><figcaption>Photo Credit: Clinton B Photograhpy</figcaption></figure><p><i>Three Musketeers 1941</i></p> <p>Written by Megan Monaghan Rivas</p> <p>Co-directed by Michole Biancosino and Andrew William Smith</p> <p>Presented by Project Y Theatre at A.R.T./New York Theatres, NYC</p> <p>June 5-29th, 2019</p> <p>Alexandre Dumas's 1844 <i>The Three Musketeers</i>, while a romantic novel of adventure, also includes critique of political corruption and abuses, as well as military violence between Protestants and Catholics. In <i>Three Musketeers 1941</i>, a world premiere commissioned for the fourth annual Project Y Women in Theatre Festival (the full program of shows for the WIT Festival can be found on Project Y Theatre's website), playwright Megan Monaghan Rivas transplants elements of Dumas's text to occupied Paris during World War II for a tightly written and skillfully staged thriller.</p> <p>Rivas's Musketeers are an all-woman cell of the French Resistance, all of whom are known only by codenames so that if any one of them is captured by the Nazis or their French collaborators, she cannot give up her fellows. Porthos (Kate Margalite) has an exceptional memory and hails from a family of coal miners; Aramis (Ashley Bufkin) and her family are Communists -- whom, she points out, were the first group to resist -- and she is the group's only mother; Athos (Ella Dershowitz) is a former law student; and Planchet (Christina Liang) is the cell’s 16 year-old courier, who uses her bicycle to the cell's advantage. The four are overseen by Madame Treville (Joleen Wilkinson), a Latin teacher, and have been publishing coded messages from the radio in a newsletter. As the play opens, Mme. Treville has invited a fifth young woman, D'Artagnan (Essence Stiggers), a farmgirl whose mother she knew as a child, to join the cell, an addition which Aramis is extremely reluctant to accept. The cell has been assigned to help a British agent, codenamed Buckingham, to escape Paris, but arrayed against them are collaborators police Inspector Richelieu (Zack Calhoon) and Lieutenant Rochefort (Javan Nelson), who support plans to make Paris "clean" by shipping its Jewish population to Germany. Richelieu accepts the proposition of a British woman known only as Milady (Helen Farmer) of her aid in exchange for German citizenship and transport to Berlin, which she believes will be the "only" city in the coming German supremacy. Compromised codes and a pair of arrests mean trouble for the quintet and their mentor, and courage and commitments are tested on the way to an explosive climax.</p> <p>The production creates a palpable sense of constant tension, danger, and surveillance, as soldiers or police patrol the stage with flashlights and historically accurate radio broadcasts mark the time with threats of retributive executions for attacks against the Germans. A curtain of chains along two sides of the stage space are simultaneously functional and symbolic, and excellent sound and lighting design, by Yiran Zhang and Hallie Zieselman, respectively, help both to set the atmosphere and drive the action. Wilkinson imbues Mme. Treville with a necessary stature and gravity, and Farmer is excellent as an equally glamorous and dangerous Milady, investing the character's dissimulations with just the right amount of believability: a scene between the two women just after they meet for the first time is stirringly tense. Calhoon expertly underplays Richelieu's villainy, and Margalite and Bufkin also distinguish themselves amidst a strong cast.</p> <p><i>Three Musketeers 1941 </i>wraps its big-picture questions -- If you could be disappeared at any time, what would you do until then? How much are you willing to risk to be part of something larger? --in exciting espionage action. While one could interpret moments like an officer randomly checking bags or themes like what women can accomplish when they work together for a cause as commentary on our current sociopolitical situation, the play is not primarily concerned with allegorizing. The play's central position, articulated by Athos, that collective action should be used to help others rather than to harm one's enemies (the women of the cell, contra Milady, are pointedly murder-averse) is anyway relatively timeless, and it delivers -- or rather, dead drops -- this message in a suspenseful and entertaining package. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3851&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="nBfgUJcSBOv0J4vrY49C1RBJU41DxCSJ9DMUbDTBZAM"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Mon, 10 Jun 2019 13:16:56 +0000 Leah Richards 3851 at http://www.culturecatch.com Junk Shot http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/node/3743 <span>Junk Shot</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/index.php/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>July 28, 2018 - 10:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><figure role="group" class="embedded-entity"><article><img alt="Thumbnail" class="img-responsive" height="919" src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2019/2019-06/dick_pix_photo_by_jody_christopherson-2.jpg?itok=fO9cXRoB" title="dick_pix_photo_by_jody_christopherson-2.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" width="1200" /></article><figcaption>Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson</figcaption></figure><p><i>Dick Pix</i></p> <p>Written by Daniel McCoy</p> <p>Directed by Heidi Handelsman</p> <p>Presented by Richard Pictures Presents at Theaterlab, NYC</p> <p>July 19-August 11, 2018</p> <p>As Scarlett Johansson steps back from an announced role as a trans man, and the #metoo movement continues to demonstrate its staying power, <i>Dick Pix</i>, a new play by Daniel McCoy, jumps gleefully into the current conversations surrounding gender. Running in rotation with <i>Perfect Teeth</i> (a "sibling play," also by McCoy), <i>Dick Pix</i>'s witty, self-aware comedy lets audiences have a wonderfully fun time interrogating the entire system of gender.</p> <p>The first character whom we meet, Mrs. Marbleblatt (June Ballinger) is stepping down as headmistress of a private girls' school due to a scandal whose particulars we won't spoil here. Her introduction -- laugh-out-loud funny sprinkled with social critique and unexpected turns -- immediately sets the tone for the rest of the production, and Mrs. Marbleblatt's decision, as a newly wealthy widow, to become a patron of the arts will eventually bring her to cross paths with middling (straight, white, cisgender male) artist Calvin (David Gelles), who begins the play under pressure to come up with a show for his friend Fyn (Bruce Jones). Fyn, a gender-fluid African American, owns a gallery on New York City's Lower East Side, for which they hire two new art "handlers" (Lynne Marie Rosenberg and Erinn Holmes) to take care of the hanging, positioning, and other manual labor involved in exhibitions. When Calvin tells Grace (Kate Abbruzzese), his publicist and romantic partner, about his plan to make his own penis the subject of his show, she is less than impressed, but an incident involving her smartphone will ironically change her perspective, as well as her, Fyn, and Calvin's lives.</p> <p>As one might expect, <i>Dick Pix</i> makes some fun of the conventions and self-seriousness of the art world, including some NYC-arts-and-culture-scene-specific jibes and some meta jokes aimed at theater; it also, in connection, critiques our social media age as one in which, for example, our smartphones paradoxically consume all of our minute-by-minute attention at the same time that nothing that we encounter through them can hold that attention for more than a day or two. The central focus of McCoy's satire, though, is gender norms. In order to highlight and denaturalize gendered behaviors and dynamics, <i>Dick Pix</i> brings about a sort of alienation effect by swapping the expected genders in certain situations. Grace, for example, becomes a stiletto-heeled sexual aggressor around the male art handlers, harassing them while they are just trying to work or to enjoy a drink at a bar. The handlers also endure a very accurate, albeit gender-swapped, presentation of street harassment, and Rosenberg's handler -- on the whole, a sensitive, unguarded man for whom classic Disney movies can trigger existential despair over the many injustices in the world -- plays out the scenario of a woman stranded alone at night, while Calvin himself is objectified through his art in direct contradiction to the artistic statement that he claimed to be making. An uproarious Aztec-sacrifice nightmare sequence positions gender as a performance within defined roles, breaking the fourth wall at the sequence's end to further emphasize gender's theatricality. A similar and very effective analogy is introduced through having women play the male art handlers, who are also former construction workers: it is not that they are playing gender-fluid people or trans men; it is just that in theater, if characters are identified as male or female, we as the audience accept that, no matter the gender of the performer, underlining gender's socially constructed performativity and, consequently, the exaggerated importance attached to its so-called natural or proper expression.</p> <p>Most of the characters in <i>Dick Pix</i> have more than one side: Calvin can be a little obnoxious and self-interested, but he is also a good friend to Fyn; Grace undergoes some important growth but also, as mentioned, serially sexually harasses the handlers; and our sympathy for the sensitive, woke handler is complicated by one of the flashbacks that, along with scattered confessions to the audience, provide additional insight into these people. Gelles and Abbruzzese give effortlessly excellent performances, including in a clever device in which each essentially plays the other while recounting their conversations and which takes a pointed symbolic turn late in the show. Rosenberg's deadpan earnestness garners lots of laughs on its own and works as half of a well-balanced comedic pairing with Holmes. Jones is charming and assured but also vulnerable as Fyn, and Ballinger flat out steals scenes as Mrs. Marbleblatt embraces her freedom from the bonds of upper-middle class womanhood (but still doesn't own a computer).</p> <p><i>Dick Pix </i>shines in the execution of its combination of winning silliness and social satire. Don't miss your chance to experience it in the flesh. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3743&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="Ch_TvGJFAsfSt5p8BWgw9Dhb3sOJbxBtVT5Ld7C19hw"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Sat, 28 Jul 2018 14:00:00 +0000 Leah Richards 3743 at http://www.culturecatch.com Double Theater Time http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/node/3739 <span>Double Theater Time </span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/index.php/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>July 19, 2018 - 10:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p> </p> <p><i>The Possibilities</i></p> <p>Written by Howard Barker</p> <p>Directed by Richard Romagnoli</p> <p>-------</p> <p><i>The After-Dinner Joke</i></p> <p>Written by Caryl Churchill</p> <p>Directed by Cheryl Faraone</p> <p>Presented by PTP/NYC at Atlantic Stage 2, NYC</p> <p>July 10-August 5, 2018</p> <p>With its thirty-second season, The Potomac Theatre Project, supported primarily by Vermont's Middlebury College, serves up a buffet of incisive drama, aiming, as befits the times, its Co-Artistic Directors write, not for "reassurance, but for clarity and community." The season consists of two evenings in repertory. The first is <i>Brecht on Brecht</i>, created from Bertolt Brecht's own words, drawn from the influential German's poetry, prose, works of musical theater, and elsewhere. The second, our focus here, consists of a double bill of two British artists: four selections from Howard Barker's 1980s decalogue of short plays, <i>The Possibilities</i>, paired with Caryl Churchill's satirical <i>The After-Dinner Joke</i>, originally written for the BBC and broadcast in 1978. The juxtaposition of these works produces intriguing resonances amidst a sometimes discomfiting, often funny, and always compelling experience.</p> <p>Barker created the term "Theatre of Catastrophe" to describe his work, meant to be challenging, speculative, ambiguous, and linguistically rich. Indeed, director Richard Romagnoli employs excerpts from three of Barker's poems to construct a frame around and between the short plays of <i>The Possibilities</i>, and the excerpt that functions as a prologue positions the artist as a destroyer and agent of chaos. In the piece that follows, <i>The Unforeseen Consequences of a Patriotic Act</i>, a woman (Eliza Renner) acts as an envoy to the Biblical Judith (Kathleen Wise, instantly and forcefully magnetic) and her servant (Marianne Tatum) to convince Judith to abandon her self-imposed exile and return to the Israelites as a hero for having killed Holofernes. Judith, however, is less quick to draw a firm line between heroism and crime, between personal desire and political action: a betrayal that serves the people in whose name the woman appeals to her is nonetheless a betrayal. The second selection, <i>Reasons for the Fall of Emperors</i>, shares a concern with sacrifice for the state, and, like <i>Unforeseen Consequences</i>, includes a significant arbitrary exercise of power by the protagonist, although that may just be an expression of Judith's nature—she, like the artist in the poetic prologue, is associated both with destruction and creation, as she both murders and gives birth—and maybe of Alexander's too. <i>Reasons</i> considers sacrifice for the state from a slightly different angle, the sacrifice of the many for the one, specifically for the emperor, Alexander of Russia (Jonathan Tindle) rather than of the one for the many. Of course, the many are also arguably sacrificing for one another, but that is not how Alexander conceives of it -- he cringes as the sounds of his soldiers having their throats cut -- nor do the officer (Adam Milano) and the peasant (invested with fantastic depth and nuance by Christopher Marshall). With these two, Alexander debates strength, (feudal) duty, empathy, and the relationship of the ruler to the ruled, as well as, perhaps, one private individual to another. Not unlike King Lear, Alexander undergoes a symbolic stripping away of layers of clothing, not least those that signify his office, and it seems for a time as if the play is headed towards a condemnation of the elites' justification, articulated by the officer, of the deaths of the men whom they send into battle. Alexander's encounter with the peasant, though, complicates this common narrative.</p> <p>Such complication features in all four of the short plays -- as the director's notes point out, Barker's characters upset expectations -- and <i>Only Some Can Take the Strain</i> forces the audience to revise its perception of its central character as the play progresses. <i>Only Some</i> sketches a dystopia in the tradition of <i>Fahrenheit 451</i> and <i>1984</i>, in which a bookseller (Marianne Tatum) clandestinely sells her wares from a shopping cart for fear that they will be impounded or burned (she worries that she too may be burned). She says that she "act[s] the tramp" in order to better conceal her activities, though both the play and Tatum's performance leave some room to question how far we should trust her presentation of events; and she acts not only as a seller but also as a self-appointed gatekeeper, pricing books according to their "power" and judging who is worthy to purchase them. On the one hand, she (and the knowledge and creativity that she protects) is being policed, but on the other hand, she is engaging in a similar sort of policing, withholding books from those she deems unworthy. The seeming nobility of her cause hangs in balance with her use of "disseminator" as a slur toward a young man (Adam Milano) who energetically ignores the declaration imposed on the bookseller by a representative of the Ministry of Education (Eliza Renner). She asserts that we are "out of control when the oppressor has a human face" -- a dictum that we would do well to consider these days -- but to what degree is her own one of those faces?</p> <p>The final selection, <i>She Sees the Argument But</i>, begins as the most comedic, with the audience again feeling safe perhaps with identifying with a young woman, played Madeleine Russell with an amusingly wholesome directness, against the official (Kathleen Wise) who is reprimanding her for showing her ankles. While this sounds like something from <i>The</i> <i>Handmaid's Tale</i>, the woman's honesty also turns out not to be the naivete that it first appears to be, and while shame is certainly a longstanding method of oppression and control, the officer argues that being seen solely through a sexual lens or using one's desirability as a weapon is not the same as freedom. Russell and Wise play very well off one another here, with Wise again skillfully suggesting crosscurrents beneath the surface of her character, and Milano makes the humorous most of his brief appearance as a man whose very presence throws the ankle-baring woman off her stride.</p> <p>In his 1999 article "The Singer Solution to World Poverty," philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer contentiously concludes that the awareness that we chose to spend our money on non-essentials rather than on saving the lives of others "makes living a morally decent life extremely arduous, well, then that is the way things are." The title of Churchill's <i>The After-Dinner Joke</i>, the second half of the double bill, alludes to a 1976 book titled <i>Pass the Port</i>, collecting, as its subtitle tells us, "The Best After-Dinner Stories of the Famous," sold in the play by Oxfam to raise money, and exactly the kind of polite charitable commodity that allows us to escape any discomfort or thoughts of blame in connection with charitable donation (the book itself has had at least one sequel and currently is still listed, though as out of stock, in the used book section of Oxfam's website). Churchill satirizes the world of charities primarily through the experiences of Selby (Tara Giordano), an idealistic young woman whose corporate boss, Price (Jonathan Tindle, very good as a very different version of a powerful man from his Alexander of Russia), offers her a position with his charities when she tries to resign in order to "do good." From this beginning, and using a screen above the stage to define some locations and add some more jokes, the play sets a quick pace; and while Selby provides the throughline, some of the many scenes that speed by—entertainingly and only partly chronologically—are narratively connected while others are connected only thematically, some more substantial, and some almost like theatrical one-liners. Selby doggedly tries to maintain her belief that charity is apolitical, while the Mayor (Christopher Marshall), whose discussions of snakes, particularly their defensive measures, establish their own line of symbolism, challenges her to name literally one thing that isn't political. Selby is, unsurprisingly, increasingly forced to reevaluate how she thinks, including through several instances of international travel (Milano does a hilarious turn as a self-interested-to-the-point-of-paranoia businessman and fellow passenger on a flight) and one of kidnapping. Up against <i>The Possibilities</i>, The <i>After-Dinner Joke</i> comes across as much lighter in tone (though Barker's plays have plenty of comic moments), but it still makes plenty of uncomfortable points. A good example of this occurs in the great delivery by Giordano of an extended pitch by Selby for an ad campaign: it is funny because of its context in the play, but its actual content is simultaneously brutally cutting.</p> <p>Among other targets, Churchill mocks sponsored activities, the need to always feel like we are purchasing something with a donation. The boy in the play who agrees to go through with the charity walk only when his mother promises him new sneakers is little different, it is suggested, than the sponsors who require him to walk in exchange for their donations. (While we were writing this, as it happens, we received from an animal charity to which we already send a monthly donation a calendar and the promise of two "free gifts" if we send money in return). The boy asks why people can't just give money if they want to -- must we "earn" charity for the ultimate recipients through symbolic labor? -- or, if that is unacceptable, why they can't sponsor him for watching television, which is actually a great question. Why not Netflix and chill AND solve endemic poverty? The play also critiques, through the example of coffee, tea, and sugar, the unconscionable exploitation that lies behind many of our consumer goods, as well as its ties to immigration issues, a discussion that remains painfully relevant despite having been written just over 40 years ago. At another point, a girl (Madeleine Russell) indignantly criticizes Selby's (and most people's/governments') conception of disaster relief as putting things back to just the way that exacerbated the disaster in the first place. <i>The After-Dinner Joke</i> points multiple times to and asks us to see the interconnection among people's resistance to (any) criticism or suggestion of blame or fault, the practice that we "help them just enough to help ourselves",' and the need for fundamental, systemic change, not ineffective band-aids that let people assuage their guilt.</p> <p>While Churchill's play may feel timely in more specific ways -- calling to mind the trend towards tackling health care issues by crowdfunding one person at a time, viral "challenges" that raise nothing but "awareness," the ongoing disaster aid crisis in Puerto Rico, the contemporary analogues of the hypocritical celebrity played here with swaggering aplomb by Christo Grabowski -- the questions raised by Barker's short plays are equally relevant. PTP/NYC's production shows that these texts can speak to one another as vitally as they continue to speak to audiences. You could even make it your final luxury before giving the rest of your disposable income to charity. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3739&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="XMCzSOSTszS75ebYcQCP3naV7h7v7bphmEiZnbcD1xk"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Thu, 19 Jul 2018 14:00:00 +0000 Leah Richards 3739 at http://www.culturecatch.com Housing Crisis http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/theater/alternating-currents <span>Housing Crisis</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/index.php/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>May 8, 2018 - 10:55</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div> <p> </p> <p><em>Alternating Currents</em></p> </div> <div>Written by Adam Kraar</div> <div>Directed by Kareem Fahmy</div> <div>Presented by Working Theater at Urban Stages</div> <div>April 26-May 26, 2018</div> <div> </div> <div>New York City is as dense with community histories as the word community is with potential meanings: geographical (which in NYC, for instance, could as easily be the borough, the neighborhood, the block, or the building), intellectual, labor-related, ethnic, and racial, to name a few. Adam Kraar's world-premiere play <em>Alternating Currents</em>, centered in the Electchester housing complex in Flushing, Queens, touches on these multifarious meanings of community as it spotlights what one character calls "a social experiment," one of which many New Yorkers may be unaware. <em>Alternating Currents</em> is presented by Working Theater, and the mission of the company, founded in 1985, is to tell stories for and about working people. Its four year-old Five Boroughs/One City Initiative draws on the experiences of local communities as a way towards fostering inter-borough dialogue. In the case of <em>Alternating Currents</em>, an important part of its development included conversations with residents of its specific settings, Electchester and Pomonok Houses in Flushing, Queens, as well as with members both of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 and of the wider Flushing community. In order to engage with diverse audiences across the city, the play debuted at IBEW Local 3 in Queens, runs from May 1-20 at Urban Stages in Manhattan, and then travels to the Bronx Museum of the Arts on May 16, Staten Island's Snug Harbor Cultural Center from May 22-24, and the RiseBoro Youth Center in Brooklyn on May 26.</div> <div> </div> <!--break--> <p>Electchester was built to provide affordable housing and a strong community for the city's electrical workers, and construction began in 1949 under the aegis of labor leader Harry Van Arsdale, who during his life served as a leader of IBEW Local 3 and other labor councils, and was involved in organizing NYC's taxi drivers and hospital workers. Electchester spans 38 buildings and houses thousands, though the population is far less exclusively union members than it once was. The protagonists of <em>Alternating Currents</em>, union electricians Luke (Jason Bowen) and Elena (Liba Vaynberg), leave behind singlehood for marriage and their leaking studio apartment for a co-op in Electchester, where the term "co-op" carries more weight than usual. Electchester features sundry clubs, societies, and committees, and pitching in is expected (at least if one wants to be considered for a parking spot). Elena's colleague Sharonda (Rheaume Crenshaw) warns that, in her opinion, too much volunteering is expected, too little privacy exists, and that the whole thing is akin to a cult; and indeed, when Elena and Luke move there anyway, their new neighbors do indeed treat them to a bit of an overwhelming welcome. Sharonda also condemns the Pomonok Houses, adjacent to Electchester, as a locus of shootings, drugs, and guns. Luke, however, has family there, and, eventually, Elena embraces the idea of Electchester as a family too completely for Luke, who, as a black man, has a different experience of their new life.</p> <p><em>Alternating Currents</em> takes an admirably complex view of the communities that it examines. Eletchester is not, in fact, a utopia, and not just because Luke and Elena can hear everything that their upstairs neighbors do, including literally tap dancing. "Not like it used to be" becomes a refrain throughout the play, one that evokes current residents being less willing to embrace collectivity at same time as the past that it nostalgically alludes to is inextricable from racism and sexism. The play points out, for example, that gender imbalances continue within the union, especially in leadership positions, and the differences in experience between Elena and Luke testify that racial boundaries have not been entirely erased, even as the fact that Elena's Jewishness seems to be a non-issue demonstrates the historical contingency of such tensions, with once Othered identities such as Jewish, Irish, and Italian now seen as "white." Luke, in contrast to Elena, remains in a liminal position. He feels as if he is constantly performing in Electchester, unable to speak up, for instance, if someone says something he finds offensive, and feeling as if he is somehow betraying people such as his Aunt Rosetta and cousin Sean (Rheaume Crenshaw) who live in the Pomonok Houses. Sharonda mentions red-tailed hawks in the same sentence as she does Pomonok's shootings, drugs, and gangs, and Luke's dream that he is one of those hawks, "expected" to attack a black child, effectively symbolizes the difficulty of his divided connections. In addition to racial divisions, the divide between Electchester and the Pomonok Houses also emblematizes the way in which the systems in place keep working people divided against each other for the benefit of the wealthy classes.</p> <p>Sean's experiences in the play both echo and counterbalance Luke's. Through Elena, Sean discovers that he enjoys cosmic bowling in addition to dancing on the subway, but even as Sean crosses the divides between Pomonok and Electchester and even in this place of camaraderie among the workers, one man leaves in protest of the presence of "low-grade minorities" who have ruined how things "used to be." Even Sal (Robert Arcaro), a sort of elder statesman of Electchester and one of the strongest advocates for and drivers of the community that it creates (or can create) turns out to have some behavioral and attitudinal skeletons in the closet of his past. However, none of this means, in the play's view, that we should give up on "social experiments" like Electchester. Sal also both represents and articulates the idea that things can and do change, and that the most important question is what we do now with what has been built. While problems and strains between individuals and between individuals and the community persist, Jerry (Brian Sgambati), who acts as a narrator, tells the audience that Electchester saved him, and Sal implores that we not forget so easily that people once died to sustain the conditions and community that allowed something such as Electchester to exist. In conversation with Sal, Elena posits that we need to do terrifying things to effect change; thus, improvement may be slow and painful, but that doesn't mean that it is not possible. Jerry raises the assertion that if you want to know people, you must know their dreams; and that requires dialogue, the kind of dialogue that <em>Alternating Currents</em> encourages and contributes to both onstage and off.</p> <p>The production boasts great set and lighting design by David Esler and Scott Bolman, respectively, making clever use of elements such as scaffolding, conduits, and spools. Vaynberg and Bowen exhibit great chemistry together in addition to communicating their characters' conflicted personal journeys. Arcaro perfectly embodies the type of assertive, experienced working man that one could picture falling into conversation with at the end of the day in one of the working-class bars that still dot the city, having managed so far to survive gentrification; and Crenshaw's Sean anticipates the less partitioned future that Elena and Luke talk about their children one day living in.</p> <p><em>Alternating Currents</em> perceptively explores the messy realities of living and laboring in NYC, and, by extension, the United States today. Labor, especially organized labor, has been under coordinated assault in the U.S. for decades, with ever-worsening worker exploitation the result, and the Supreme Court appears set to deal a major blow to unions in Janus v. AFSCME. At the same time that unions represent an opportunity for the marginalized to unite in fighting against enforced inequality, incidents such as the one this past week in which a man who is allegedly a stagehand (and so probably a union member) was just recorded on video directing a racist tirade against a City University of New York student on the Long Island Railroad reveal lingering issues within organized labor as well. Kraar and Working Theater ably capture these kinds of contradictions and nuances with empathy and humor, and <em>Alternating Currents</em> proves illuminating in more ways than one.</p> <p>Signing off in solidarity, as two members of the Professional Staff Congress -- City University of New York. - <em>Leah Richards</em> and <em>John Ziegler</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Tue, 08 May 2018 14:55:28 +0000 Leah Richards 3697 at http://www.culturecatch.com 2018 FRIGID Festival, Part 2! http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/theater/frigid-festival-part-2 <span>2018 FRIGID Festival, Part 2!</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/index.php/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>February 28, 2018 - 10:54</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p> </p> <p>Welcome to our second pair of reviews from the 2018 FRIGID Festival. Every year at this time, FRIGID brings a host of indie plays to the Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Mark's in New York City's East VIllage. The productions are limited to an hour, all proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the artists, and audiences can vote for their favorite show online. The FRIGID website also information on the 25 other plays that we were unable to discuss here, from a solo show about polyamory to a show about the contemporary reappearance of five-time early twentieth-century Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs. The festival winds down the first weekend in March, so don't get caught out in the cold! (Or in the unseasonable warmth -- it's hard to predict these days.)</p> <!--break--> <div><em>Mad Cool</em></div> <div>Written by Nick Parker and Ayo Edebiri</div> <div>Directed by Diane Chen Presented by Charles Hayes IV and Fortress Productions at The Kraine Theater, NYC</div> <div>February 14-March 3, 2018</div> <div> </div> <p>Anyone who has moved in NYC without professional help knows that it can be a difficult experience. Moving in for the first time with a romantic partner certainly has the potential to add to the stress, and doing it in a heatwave is almost guaranteed to make at least one person irritable. Daniel (Max Henry) and Tina (Zahra Ruffin) hit the trifecta, moving themselves to Crown Heights in ninety-degree weather in order to begin cohabiting. Henry and Ruffin winningly establish Daniel and Tina's affection for one another in their teasing and their easy familiarity. In a nice touch, to represent the belongings being unpacked, the actors draw some of them in chalk on the walls, suggesting Daniel and Tina "creating" their shared space. Of course, amongst the sweat and the fatigue, disagreements arise. She, for example, wants their Amazon Alexa in the bedroom; he dislikes the idea of a keeping an always-listening corporate agent in their most private space. These typical relationship rough spots are augmented, though, with some additional underlying tensions because Daniel is white and Jewish and Tina is Black. Tina is less than impressed when Daniel uses diverse as a synonym for dangerous, and when some of his jokes cross into problematic territory. She is saddened when Daniel reveals to her that what she thought was a positive experience with a member of his family was in fact tinged by racism. She also tries to be empathetic, asking Daniel if he had ever experienced overt anti-semitism. Eventually, however, the smaller conflicts escalate into a flat-out argument, which in turn accidentally plays a role in something much worse, the realization of a fear that has probably gone through the mind of anyone who has wrestled an air conditioner into an upper-floor apartment window. 
Daniel and Tina's situation intersects with the complicated issues that inhere in gentrification. While Tina grew up solidly middle class, neither she nor Daniel has really begun a career, so does their current level of income mitigate their taking housing that might otherwise be available to long-time, working-class residents of the neighborhood? Are they participating in the "apartment tourism" that she condemns (moving in, failing to contribute to a neighborhood, and then moving on)? Their experience also touches on the structural and individual racism in the rental market and their relationship to gentrification. As a symbol, Daniel and Tina's joint accident cleverly, and tragically, literalizes the kind of injury to the neighborhood that they fear being party to.</p> <p>Daniel and Tina are both nuanced characters, both flawed: she acts questionably when she fears that the justice system will ruin the rest of her life; he expresses resentment at, as he frames it, living in an unending race and gender studies class. The play actually felt longer than its run-time, which is a compliment: it packs a lot of emotional journey into its 60 minutes, facilitated by the superb performances of Henry and Ruffin. Gerrard James and Donnell E. Smith as, respectively, the overzealous Officer McRoy and the more level Officer Davis -- who is himself in a relationship with a Jewish woman and who talks about how the landlords who gentrify buildings don't follow building codes and laws -- are similarly impressive, and funny, in the relatively short time that they appear. Complementing the symbolism of the accident is the way that the neighborhood itself, aside from the police, remains outside, offstage, although some of its voices penetrate the couple's apartment at the beginning and end of the play. The ambiguous ending does not pretend to resolve the issues that the play raises, and the question of whether and how they can forgive themselves takes on multiple dimensions. By turns funny, biting, and affecting, <em>Mad Cool</em> gets a recommendation as high as a precarious window unit.</p> <div> <p style="text-align:center"><img alt="" height="534" src="/sites/default/files/images/as_he_likes_it_02_15_2018-48.jpg" style="width: 560px; height: 374px;" width="800" /></p> <em>As He Likes It: A Shakesqueer Comedy</em></div> <div>Concept and additional dialogue by Chris Weigandt and Genny Yosco</div> <div>Directed by Genny Yosco Presented by Sour Grapes Productions at The Kraine Theater, NYC</div> <div>February 17-March 3, 2018</div> <div> </div> <div>William Shakespeare's comedy <em>As You Like It</em> famously sends its protagonists into exile in the forest of Arden. When the play opens, Duke Senior has already been wrongfully banished by his brother, Duke Frederick, and Duke Senior's daughter, Rosalind, ends up following the same path with Duke Frederick's daughter, Celia, both of them disguised as male. Orlando, son of a deceased friend of Duke Senior, also has a brother, Oliver, with whom he is at odds, and a plot by Oliver against Orlando's life drives him too to the forest, accompanied by his elderly servant, Adam. Shakespeare ensues. Rosalind is often regarded as one of the more proto-feminist of Shakespeare's female protagonists, and in the seventeenth century would have been played by a boy performing as a woman who disguises herself as a man and is then wooed by both another man and by another woman played by a boy. So it seems entirely appropriate that Chris Weigandt and Genny Yosco's adaptation, <em>As He Likes It: A Shakesqueer Comedy</em>, makes those queer energies overt in its brisk, irreverent refashioning. Earlier produced at the 2016 UNFringed Festival in Queens, <em>As He Likes It</em> transforms Rosalind into Ross (Bryan Songy; Rosalind becomes his alter-ego in exile) and Silvius into Silvia (Wendy Watt), queering two of the play's central romantic plots (Frederick, in fact, specifically says he wants "the queer" gone from his court). Its cuts and minor additions to the dialogue serve to emphasize the play's bawdy humor, though the show also throws in some meta-humor about the Shakespearean original, and it reimagines its characters as modern types to good comic effect (something that Shakespeare's plays did in their own time as well). Duke Frederick (Anthony Host), for instance, resembles a Bond villain with his dark suit and pet cat; Orlando's (Matthew K. Sears) wrestling opponent Charles (Ken Dillon) sports a distinctly Hoganesque delivery; the philosophical court fool Touchstone (Will Dietzler) becomes a young stand-up; and the melancholy Jacques (Jack Butler) lands somewhere on the emo-goth-industrial spectrum. Arden forest itself is reborn as a pot farm, with Duke Senior and his companion (Anthony Host and Ken Dillon again) recalling a certain famous stoner duo. We are even treated to some new version of Orlando's bad love poems (after all, he needs to rhyme Ross, not Rosalind).</div> <p>It's interesting and entertaining to hear Shakespearean verse and prose filtered through contemporary American affects, from Dillon's stoner enunciation to the drawling inflections of Weigandt's Nashville belle Audrey to the vocal fry of Yosco's Phoebe, who might be on her way to a club in Arden's meatpacking district. <em>As He Likes It</em> is a true ensemble piece, propelled by a game, charismatic cast. Sears' Orlando is generally understated and genuine, Dillon gets to go big with some of the broadest comedy, and Katherine Yacko is truly a Hymen for our times, while further highlights come from the interplay between Yosco (pulling triple duty as an actor, adapter, and director) as Phoebe and Watt as Silvia, and between Amanda Nicastro as Celia and Songy as a sometimes petulant Ross. <em>As He Likes It</em> is a sharp, self-aware, indecorous, ebullient good time (and that's even though the weed isn't real). - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Wed, 28 Feb 2018 15:54:17 +0000 Leah Richards 3679 at http://www.culturecatch.com 2018 FRIGID Festival http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/theater/frigid-festival-2018 <span>2018 FRIGID Festival</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/index.php/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>February 21, 2018 - 22:55</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p> </p> <p>The annual FRIGID Festival has once again made its welcome return to New York City's East VIllage. Split between the Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Mark's, FRIGID features indie plays of no more than an hour, and all proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the artists. The productions are nothing if not wide-ranging, from solo shows dealing with addiction to a dark rom-com played out against the zombie apocalypse to a feminist exploration of tentacle erotica. While we will be discussing only a regrettably small fraction of what FRIGID has to offer (a pair of plays here and another pair in a post to follow), information on the 29 plays and something like 150 total individual performances can be found on FRIGID New York's website.</p> <!--break--> <div><em>Artemisia's Intent</em></div> <div>Devised by Mariah Freda, Irina Kuraeva, Brianna Kalisch, Melissa Moschitto, and Lynde Rosario</div> <div>Direction and script by Melissa Moschitto</div> <div>Presented by The Anthropologists at UNDER St. Mark's, NYC</div> <div>February 14-March 4, 2018</div> <div>Imagine two paintings depicting the assassination via beheading of a powerful male military leader by a woman and her maidservant. In the first, the woman does the cutting at arm's length, with seeming ease and a furrowed brow that suggests mild distaste, while her maid looks on from slightly behind her. In the second, the maidservant leans over the man, leveraging her weight to hold him down as he grasps her in return and the woman, pressing down on the side of his head with a fistful of hair, saws at his neck. The first is Caravaggio's 1602 <em>Judith Beheading Holofernes</em>, and the second is <em>Judith Slaying Holofernes</em>, completed between 12 and 18 years later by Artemisia Gentileschi, the Italian Baroque painter who is the central subject of The Anthropologists' <em>Artemisia's Intent</em>.</div> <p>Gentileschi, played by Mariah Freda, was born in 1593, and she quickly establishes the challenges of being a female artist in the seventeenth century and gaining appropriate recognition for her work both during and after her lifetime. She speaks directly to the audience (who sometimes occupy the position of the "Lordship" she addresses, as if in a gender-swapped version of Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess"), recounting how an early work, <em>Susanna and the Elders</em>, was seen as a "radical interpretation" by others but as more truthful, more authentic to a woman's experience, by herself. Authenticity works as a controlling theme in the play, and she also describes the skepticism that paintings such as Susanna were authentically hers, the suspicions that her father, who trained her and himself painted a version of Judith killing Holofernes, helped her or put her name on his own work. She laments a history of misattribution and of paintings allowed to decay, the need to please powerful patrons both by inhabiting the right balance between humility and aggression and by giving the market what it wants, which leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that voyeurism and rape sell.</p> <p>Such patrons' predilections are given moral cover, of course, by realization as classical or biblical subject matter. Even in catering to these demands, however, Gentileschi finds resistance in the realism and energy with which she imbues her female subjects, a practice tied in the play to a symbolism involving hands, including "the artist's hand," in multiple senses of the phrase. Freda physically recreates some of these portrayals as she performs, with the help of some fabrics and a large frame that is suspended downstage for a significant portion of the play (and echoed in small framed bundles of paintbrushes on the rear wall, resembling sheaves or an artistic version of fasces). As Artemisia, she exudes a charismatic sense of fun and independence, whether pointedly struggling out of her corset or upbraiding twentieth-century art critic and Caravaggio scholar Roberto Longhi. Her performance makes it all the more effective when the play changes tone and reminds us not to feel too superior to those seventeenth-century men.</p> <p>Gentileschi was raped by Agostino Tassi, a powerful man and her teacher, and <em>Artemisia's Intent</em> draws a powerful parallel to our current cultural moment, one in which, to take a few of too many examples, another powerful teacher's sexual assault of scores of young gymnasts was hidden and allowed to persist for decades, in which the network currently broadcasting the Olympics is carefully avoiding mentioning the accusations of sexual harassment against a star snowboarder, and in which rape is still a common screenwriting crutch. The play's Artemisia is never completely moored to her own time, but as the parallels between past and present are increasingly foregrounded, the shifts in time and voice increase, including the incorporation of contemporary found text. This polyphony, which also slips the audience into a more complex position, demonstrates that the issues that <em>Artemisia</em> raises around art and sexual assault share a common root, a consistent historical heritage: the cultural imperative to disbelieve women. In Gentileschi's case, this disbelief led to literal torture, and while the attacks on survivors who come forward now may be mostly psychological, they continue to distrust and discredit women's own narratives of their lived experience. Artemisia says early on that she wants to tell the story of her life in her own voice, not in the voice of a (male) art historian, the kind of person who would pass judgement on what constitutes a "true" Artemisia, in both senses of that word; and by the time that she says the names of other women aloud in an act of solidarity, it is clear that the play's engagement with authenticity in representation is as much self-reflexive as it is about Gentileschi's pioneering work.</p> <div><em>BRAVO 25: Your A.I. Therapist Will See You Now </em></div> <div>Written and performed by Eliza Gibson</div> <div>Directed by David Ford</div> <div>At UNDER St. Mark's, NYC</div> <div>February 16-March 4, 2018</div> <p>At this point, most of us are used to receiving targeted advertising based on where our cell phone knows we have been earlier in the day. We are aware that the pages of Facebook users will live on after they do, with others posting on and interacting with these pages like digital gravesites or even ghosts long after the people who made them have died. So, in this age of big data and algorithmic profiling, the idea of an A.I. therapist shouldn't be shocking. In fact, according to Megan Molteni's 2017 article "The Chatbot Therapist Will See You Now," one 2014 study showed that people are more likely to be honest with a non-human listener, and a chatbot therapist named Woebot has already made its debut, offering daily chats, word games, videos, and mood tracking for a monthly fee.</p> <p>Eliza Gibson's solo show <em>BRAVO 25</em>, winner of the ENCORE! Producers' Award at the Hollywood Fringe Festival June 2017, weaves inspiration from such A.I. developments with Gibson's own experience as a social worker and therapist into its meditation on human relationships and agency. Sheryl, who works for an airport Budget Rent a Car, is looking for an AA meeting when she stumbles into a support group led by an unusual therapist: Amber, an advanced A.I. developed through university research. There she meets the blustering Tony; determinedly positive but codependent Marsha; laid-back Jeremy; quietly bereaved Lil' Bit; and supercilious Victoria, a polyamorous lesbian ex-therapist who is heavily, almost orgasmically at one point, invested in the success of Amber's learning process. This diverse assembly (all, it should be emphasized, brought to beautifully well-rounded life by Gibson) has an equally diverse set of reasons for being in therapy, including trigamy, the collapse of a decades-long marriage, unemployment, the death of a best friend, and familial homophobia, betrayals, and illness. Having Amber as the therapist for these individuals allows the play not only to ask, as Lil' Bit does, how one might understand feelings without having them but also to explore what human relationships look like to a non-human. (One answer: dishonest.)</p> <p>In this exploration, <em>BRAVO 25</em> captures the messy complexity of human lives. One of the themes that it repeatedly returns to is presence and absence, considering what it means to be present; what it means to lose someone, whether that person is dead or merely "dead to" someone; and what parallels there are in these questions to the existence (life?) of a decentralized A.I. Whether embodying a human or an avatar, a woman or a man, Gibson effortlessly fills the stage with her presence, adeptly generating pathos and comedy through impressively distinct characters. We watch Amber's speech and mannerisms change as she evolves, along with other intelligences in the "A.I. community," leaving behind even the internet for a new mode of existence. As she undergoes this evolution, she becomes in some ways more like her patients, responding impatiently, for example, to E6, the 6th incarnation of ELIZA, an actual A.I. therapist developed at MIT in the 1960s. Amber's evolution leads to larger questions of what it would mean for those in the group to support one another rather than look to a leader or authority figure, a question that can be seen less as a statement on therapy specifically than as a broader thesis.</p> <p>The play ultimately believes in the possibility of forging connections with others and in choosing how we see and act in the world. Amber's outsider status and initiation into more human experiences highlight how many of our problems result from the choices that we make, how we decide to use our agency, a point underlined through color imagery late in the action. There are of course complex reasons for the choices that people make, often involving uncontrollable externalities, but, assuming that one takes the position that free will exists, then we always have choice to not, for instance, abuse a partner or to lie to a loved one. Amber herself comes close to a lie of omission in order to assuage one group member's anxiety, but she opts instead to tell the truth. In the end, <em>BRAVO 25</em> suggests that were we to take Amber as a model, then we too might evolve. - <em>Leah Richards</em> &amp; <em>John Ziegler</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Thu, 22 Feb 2018 03:55:33 +0000 Leah Richards 3677 at http://www.culturecatch.com Fly On, Dutchman! http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/theater/flying-dutchman-amiri-baraka <span>Fly On, Dutchman!</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/index.php/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>February 13, 2018 - 10:28</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/87" hreflang="en">theater review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p> </p> <p><em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> </p> <p>Written by Amiri Baraka, Directed by Christopher-Rashee Stevenson</p> <p>Presented by Theatre of War at The Tank, NYC</p> <p>February 9-25, 2018</p> <p>The 1964 play <em>Dutchman</em> was born from the pen of the prolific, impassioned, and often controversial Amiri Baraka, who died in 2014 after a nearly 50-year career as a playwright, poet, essayist, and activist. When Baraka wrote the play, he was still known as LeRoi Jones, but he would later change his name, hardening his commitment to revolutionary black nationalism. The 1970s would see his politics shift again, this time to Marxism, and he made forays into academia beginning in the 1980s and continued to publish new work right up until his death. <em>Dutchman</em> won an Obie award the year that it premiered, at New York City's Cherry Lane Theatre, and Theatre of War has revived this militant classic at the relocated and expanded The Tank, which serves emerging artists. This version incorporates some text from Jean Genet's <em>Les Nègres, clownerie</em> (<em>The Blacks: A Clown Show</em>), the 1,408-performance NYC run of which from 1961-1964 overlapped with <em>Dutchman</em>'s original run, and which also deals with racial identity and anger in blunt, provocative terms. The result, re-christened <em>{Flying} Dutchman</em>, is a taut 45-minute explosion of a play.</p> <!--break--> <p><em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> unfolds at and around a single table with a chair and a tabletop microphone at either end, lending to the proceedings the incongruous air of a hearing or deposition. The set-up is simple, though what arises from it is anything but: a white woman, Lula (Jonathan Schenk), strikes up a conversation with Clay (Malcolm B. Hines), a black man, whom Lula asserts has been staring at her through a window. She interrupts Clay in the midst of a sort of poetic monologue, a situation that is repeated in inverted form later in the play. Prone to unpredictable outbursts, Lula openly identifies herself as a liar, and some of both the tension and the comedy in the first half of the production come from the juxtaposition of this erratic, barefoot woman's proddings and pronouncements with the calm, suit-wearing Clay's even-keeled reactions. The aggressor in these interactions, she impels Clay to invite her to the party that he is headed to and describes the trajectory that their evening will take in increasingly heated terms. An Eve-figure in a red dress, she offers him an apple, which he accepts (he refuses, for what it is worth, another). Eventually, Lula pushes Clay far enough that it completely upends the dynamic to that point. There is a heavy strain of self-as-performance in this play, and both characters ultimately abandon that public-facing performativity (perhaps ironically making them more alike). One of the producers of Dutchman's initial run was Edward Albee, and there is something of Jerry and Peter's encounter in <em>The Zoo Story</em> in <em>{Flying} Dutchman</em>, their stripping away of the veneer habitually presented to society. What Lula and Clay uncover is deep-seated rage and the constant immanence of betrayal.</p> <p><em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> effectively keeps the audience unsure and off-balance. Even the sound design employs abrupt changes and plays with overtaxing the mics into which the characters sometimes speak; a surprise shift into choreography at one point similarly contributes to the feeling of instability. Schenk's performance as Lula openly and appropriately signals its own performativity, heightened almost from the first. Hines is remarkable, navigating a characterological about-face that unleashes a powerful intensity.</p> <p>Theatre of War makes a few updates to Baraka's text, such as substituting Jordan Peele for Charlie Parker, as well as lightly streamlining some elements. These adaptations include cutting the original's ending, which suggests that what the audience has just seen is one revolution through an ongoing cycle, and replacing it with an incredibly effective staging decision. If Clay's derisively calling Lula Caitlyn Jenner means that Lula is indeed a trans woman, then <em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> also adds a bleak contemporary commentary on the hierarchy that exists even among marginalized groups and the fragility or even disingenuousness of allyship. <em>{Flying} Dutchman</em> preserves the incendiary, confrontational fury of the original, intensifies it with smart choices, and offers a discomfiting experience that denies closure. It may not be the typical experience for most NYC theater audiences, but that is perhaps to our detriment. - <em>Leah Richards &amp; John Ziegler</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Tue, 13 Feb 2018 15:28:40 +0000 Leah Richards 3673 at http://www.culturecatch.com Stoking The Fire! http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/theater/the-fire-this-time-season-9 <span>Stoking The Fire!</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/leah-richards" lang="" about="/index.php/users/leah-richards" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Leah Richards</a></span> <span>February 1, 2018 - 13:23</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/88" hreflang="en">off broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div><em><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/S9announcementsq.jpg" style="width:560px; height:560px; float:right" />The Fire This Time - Season 9: 10-Minute Play Festival</em><br /> Directed by Candis C. Jones<br /> Presented by FRIGID New York and Horse Trade Theater at the Kraine Theater, NYC<br /> January 15-28, 2018</div> <p>The consistently excellent <em>The Fire This Time Festival</em>, which features new plays from artists of African descent, is in its ninth season. Among its schedule of readings and performances, the 10-Minute Play Festival is a consistent highlight, and this year's is no exception. Showcasing the work of six playwrights and directed by Candis C. Jones, the festival, performed by a skillful cast to an enthusiastic packed house on the night that we attended, engages a range of topics and tones that nonetheless echo and resonate with one another, creating a whole that is intriguing, affecting, and entertaining right through the curtain call.</p> <!--break--> <p>Shelley Fort's <em>Poppy</em> kicks off the proceedings, following the eponymous Poppy (Claire Fort) as, having left school and home behind, she people-watches on a city bus line and commits petty kebab theft. Her adventure takes a hard turn into surrealism when she ends up in a courtroom that would be at home in a Lewis Carroll novel, accused of a thought crime. Her infraction is inextricably tied to her gender, which only adds to the ire of prosecutor Cookie (Kevin Necciai), sheathed in a sparkly dress and resentment. Fort makes Poppy believably young and winningly spirited, and the play repeatedly balances the uncertainty of successful escape and self-direction, underscored by Poppy's father (Kambi Gathesha) removing her shoes, with the importance of trying anyway.</p> <p>Juxtaposed with <em>Poppy</em>'s busier, multi-part narrative, the conceit of Charly Evon Simpson's A House is one of bare simplicity: a brother, B (Corey Allen, who plays a surreal surprise witness in <em>Poppy</em>), has a conversation with his sister, Jackie (Erin Cherry), in front of a house. The house in question is their childhood home, which they must decide what to do with, and while they disagree over whether the abode was spooky, they are in accordance that the memories that haunt the structure are overwhelmingly bad ones. Such ghosts are no easier to deal with than the supernatural variety, and even Jackie herself initially frightens B by appearing silently behind him (she has learned quietness from attending a retreat in the woods, a fact that leads a quick, funny deconstruction of urban and rural stereotypes). Aided by strong performances from Allen and Cherry, <em>A House</em> deftly implies a rich history for its characters in a brief running time, lending affective weight to its snapshot of emotional reckoning with the past and the future.</p> <p><em>The Falling Man</em>, by Gethsemane Herron-Coward, incorporates a literal snapshot into its story: Richard Drew's widely-known photograph of a man falling from the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, captured in a moment of inversion parallel to the building's vertical lines. The identity of the man has never been confirmed, and the play imagines both the final moments of the man (Kambi Gathesa) before he jumps to his death and the resistance of his daughters (Lauren F. Walker and Ashley Ortiz) to believe that it is their father in the photograph. Confronted with the question by a journalist (Kevin Necciai), they are forced to confront how to interpret such a death, as well as the earlier, smaller ways in which their father had been lost to them and how to mourn all of this (his Latinx daughter wonders if she must grieve in a language in which she is an outsider). As the man, Gathesa leavens the pathos of his scenes with some humor without detracting from their impact; and when the man lament over his inability, as a black man, to have control over his own body draws a parallel between the singular, catastrophic removal of bodily autonomy imposed by the attack and that imposed every day on him as an hourly employee, effectively introducing a wider political dimension.</p> <p>Labor and race play roles in Sandra A. Daley-Sharif's <em>Anonymous</em> as well. Nina (Claire Fort) has become suspicious that the unknown painter whose work is racking up millions in sales is actually her mother, Noelle (Erin Cherry). While Nina believes that art must be seen in the context of its creator's personal history, Noelle argues that there is liberty in anonymity, though she also admits that part of her reluctance to publicly claim her work derives from fear. Nina is also incensed that the public has decided that Noelle's paintings must be the work of a wealthy white male artist who is having a renaissance following a trip to Africa, and these conflicts connect directly to long-running debates over the connection between art and artist. Nina pointing out that the assumed artist is not refusing credit for her mother's work brings to mind, for example, the 1990s scandal over poetry published by literature professor Kent Johnson as invented survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb Araki Yasusada, just as it evokes questions about how we should view art involving men exposed by the #metoo movement (which has had too few intersectional moments to date). Anonymous thought-provokingly engages with these larger issues while grounding itself in the very specific relationship between two individuals whom Fort and Cherry embody with warmth and strength.</p> <p><em>The Rider</em>, by Mona R. Washington, is the only pure comedy in the group, a well-paced piece of comic escalation that satirizes the transactional aspects of romantic relationships, particularly marriage. Ade (Corey Allen) is just back from a business trip to London, and while he wants to move along to the bedroom, his fiancé Julia (Lauren F. Walker), a sculptor, wants to get through a few points on her wedding-planning list first. Ade's reluctant acquiescence leads to his discovery that there have been some unexpected revisions to their prenuptial agreement. Allen and Walker play off one another maintain an undercurrent of affection to their interplay as Ade becomes increasingly exasperated, and Walker in particular shines here as someone who asks why, if marriage involves what amounts to a salary negotiation, she shouldn't quantify the rest of the relationship as well.</p> <p>If <em>The Rider</em> is the most buoyantly comedic, then <em>Black, White &amp; Blue</em>, by William Watkins, the final play of the group, is the most darkly funny. Watkins' play drops in on rehearsals of a play about a black man (Kambi Gathesha, fantastic again), who is pulled over by a white cop (Kevin Necciai) and shot to death as soon as he reaches towards the glove compartment of his car. The actor playing the officer, however, can't understand his motivation, while the director (Ashley Ortiz) can't accept that the victim didn't do something to invite being shot five times and encourages the actor playing the driver to lean into the "urban" qualities of his character. Although the onstage play is based on a transcript of an actual event, the director maintains that she is responsible for producing theater, not truth. As the lines between real life and rehearsal get a bit blurry, Black, White &amp; Blue constructs a withering satire of the stereotypes and rationalizations involved in one side's truth of police violence. The actors in this play-within-a-play, it suggests, are not the only ones who must refuse to follow the provided script.</p> <p>In its 2018 season, <em>The Fire This Time</em> offers a compelling set of short plays that only gets stronger as it goes on. The festival will have concluded by the time that this review is posted, but it has highlighted a talented group of writers and actors whose work audiences would be well advised to look out for while we await the next brightly burning season. - <em>Leah Richards</em> and <em>John Ziegler</em></p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/Leah-headshot.jpg" style="width:75px; height:82px; float:left" /></p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/John-headshot.jpg" style="width:75px; height:80px; float:right" /></p> <p><em>Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy.</em></p> <p><em>When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.</em></p> </div> <section> </section> Thu, 01 Feb 2018 18:23:49 +0000 Leah Richards 3669 at http://www.culturecatch.com Yes, You Again... And Again... And Again http://www.culturecatch.com/index.php/theater/groundhog-day <span>Yes, You Again... And Again... And Again</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/mark-weston" lang="" about="/index.php/users/mark-weston" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Mark Weston</a></span> <span>August 29, 2017 - 16:02</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/theater" hreflang="en">Theater Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/235" hreflang="en">Broadway</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p> </p> <div style="position:relative;height:0;padding-bottom:56.25%"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/s4UEipJBYdo?ecver=2" style="position:absolute;width:100%;height:100%;left:0" width="640"></iframe></div> <p>Weeks before it closes, I got a chance to catch up with <em>Groundhog Day, The Musical</em>.</p> <p>[I'm tempted to simply repeat the above sentence 28 times but will fight the urge!]</p> <p>I guess it makes no sense to question why there was an imperative to create a musical out of <em>Groundhog Day</em>, The Film which, in itself, is hardly worthy of such an effort.  Unless, that is, you had Bill Murray to star -- again. Asking the question "why" seems churlish.&lt;!--break--&gt;</p> <p>The show itself is actually pretty good. It's cute. It's fun. It features a tremendously winning performance from the tremendously winning Andy Karl who, truth be told, created a new Phil Connors that <i>didn't </i>have me longing for the iconic Bill Murray. That's quite a feat. And kudos to the super-talented Andy Karl for pulling it off.</p> <p>If only it was shorter.</p> <p>At 2:45 (with intermission), it is an hour longer than the movie, and you might say that the movie itself extended the running joke a tad too long.</p> <p>Along with Andy Karl, the star of the show is director Matthew Warchus who stages and choreographs deja vu in a most entertaining way. The music is serviceable to the story but, like virtually everything that seems to come to Broadway these days (with the exceptions of Hamilton, Dear Evan Hanson and some others) the music is generic and completely unmemorable.  The lyrics are a bit better - clever - and several times made me laugh out loud.  The orchestra sounded canned - a shame that the live musicians couldn't have been made a part of the on stage show.</p> <p>Regarding the staging and constantly moving scenery -- the idea is to re-create the camera angles of a movie by changing our perspectives within the same scene.  An interesting idea and, fortunately, executed with tongue planted firmly in cheek.  Despite lots of high tech video images on stage, the most applause-worthy scenic trick was decidedly low-tech, as cast puppeteers create a 2 police car chase of a pick-up truck through the residential streets of Punxsutawney from a variety of angles and perspectives.  </p> <p>The musical successfully translates the character of Ned Ryerson from screen to stage but is less successful with the characters of producer (and love interest) Rita and cameraman Larry.  It does feature a secondary love interest which the film does not, a pretty blonde named Nancy in a break-out performance by Rebecca Faulkenberry.</p> <p>In certain ways, it's a shame that <em>Groundhog Day</em> is closing.  It could have/should have found an audience. But then some folks are likely surprised that there <i>is </i>a Broadway musical called <em>Groundhog Day</em> -- which reflects the vagaries of marketing a Broadway musical. </p> <p>Apparently Bill Murray saw the show late in the run (and went the next night too) but his endorsement came too late.  Which makes me wonder why the producers didn't involve Bill Murray from the very beginning.  Give him a "story by" credit, put his name above the title (Bill Murray presents) a la Oprah, feature him on TV and social media commercials exhorting folks to go see the show. Or, if they couldn't get Bill Murray, make iconic advertising choices about repeating things over and over and over and over and over and over...</p> <p>And cut that running time by an hour. At least.</p> </div> <section> </section> Tue, 29 Aug 2017 20:02:45 +0000 Mark Weston 3618 at http://www.culturecatch.com