God Shows Up. But does He Really?

GOD SHOWS UP 1 (1)

 

Dr. Thomas Isaac Rehan (Christopher Sutton) rousing his parishioners

Reviewed By Jara Jones

What happens when a prosperous interfaith televangelist receives a mysterious letter and invites God as a guest on his television show? Will stark, unsettling confessions be revealed? With a man like Dr. Thomas Isaac Rehan, what drives him to embrace the possibility of an unknown man to perhaps be the Lord made corporeal? How will this satire of prosperity theology (the belief that faith is made tangible through financial contributions) upend our beliefs?

It appears this play was commissioned with the intent that this “controversial, funny, and philosophical” work would result in “shouting matches to begin after performances”. Unfortunately, the work falls flat in attempting to be risky, to be a source of unexpected humor, or to emerge as a nascent topic for discussion. The production feels like a period piece in retrospect; it would be a daring, satirical production forty or fifty years ago. For example, Charles Farah Jr’s rebuttal to the actions of his former employer, Oral Roberts, in the influential book FROM THE PINNACLE OF THE TEMPLE– (written in 1979!) was considered a landmark tome at this time, being brave enough to give breath to the potential impurity of televangelism.

For those still reading, I want you to go and find yourself a chair right now, because what I’m about to say may cause you to lose your bearing and collapse in awe. Did you know that televangelists “may” not be the most altruistic people? Did you know that many of them pocket the money their parish gives them, spending the bulk of it on gaudy displays of wealth? Also, (and if you have a monocle, now’s the time to remove it before you become so shocked that it falls right into your steaming cup of tea) Did you know that the Bible may not be the direct word of God, but perhaps manipulated and padded over millennia by a host of self-serving men?

I know, right?

In this production, Iacovelli’s set is perfectly rendered to capture the drab earth tones of a 70’s era religious broadcasting set. Maggie Bofill as Roberta is utterly wasted. There’s so much more that could have been fleshed out for this character, the poor soul who does Dr. Rehan’s makeup and fetches his food, and yet also serves as his devoted stage manager. Why does she choose to do so much for him? Why does Dr. Rehan allow her to shoulder so many duties? How does witnessing her creator affect her? She’s little more than a prop whose suffering exists to make Dr. Rehan look even more spiritually corrupt.

There are few revelations and surprises. The internal logic of the play refuses to adhere by its own rules. Why can God in one moment claim they have no control over the weather or human nature, but then be able to wield power enough to paralyze Dr. Rehan and force him to quote scripture for their petty entertainment? Why is the choice made to make Dr. Rehan Satan disguised on Earth (rather than just a mortal descended from God’s original blueprint? Wouldn’t that make for a stronger, more complex assessment of brutal humanity confronted by their Creator?) Would the Devil be so reckless to invite his greatest foe on live television to reveal his secret and usurp his power over God’s ignored works? And since he’s the Devil, why would God’s discourse on a more altruistic and hands-off approach to his creations surprise and astonish him? He’s known God’s true mind , God’s definitive opinions since the world was made. Theses questions leave us baffled and detract from the impact of the play.

Unfortunately, God, played by Lou Liberatore, is disappointing, not due to a lack of talent, that is clear, but due to his inability to memorize his lines. His frequent need to call for line takes us completely out of the world of the play. If the show must really go on, one must wonder why Liberatore did not just simply ad lib until he found his footing and continued on. It’s not like we would have known any better. To be fair, there was a large amount of dialogue for Liberatore to cope with but c’est la vie. One can only hope that this otherwise fine actor will resolve this issue in future performances.

Yet, the show has potential, especially with the stunning performance put forth by Christoher Sutton, who literally speaks for almost ten minutes at the opening and to his credit, we never lose interest. Go to this show to watch Sutton. Get yourself a lesson on how to take any script and squeeze any possible bit of humanity into it. Sutton as Dr. Rehan is so damn charismatic and gentle, with every word he speaks feeling measured and alive. There’s such an earnest lightness to Sutton’s work that for a while the other troubling issues of the production faded into the background. Sutton is alone worth the price of admission.

God Shows Up is produced by Eric Krebs and runs until February 21st at The Playroom Theater (151 West 46th St, 8th Floor)

Tix: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/god-shows-up-tickets-55080869363?aff=erelexpmlt

I Have Just Three Words for Paul Calderon’s MASTER OF THE CROSSROADS: HOLY. FU**ING. SH**.

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Reviewed by Gregor Collins

Normally I feel I owe it to a play to let it marinate overnight before putting fingers to laptop, but it’s nearing midnight and I’m not leaving the light of my MacBookPro until I sweat out some of the intensity I absorbed at the premiere of Master of the Crossroads—the new play at the Bridge Theater written and directed by Obie Winner and character-actor-you’ve-seen-in-almost-everything, Paul Calderon.

Out of all the 93 credits Calderon has listed on IMDB, you probably know him best from his only line in Pulp Fiction—“My name’s Paul and this shit’s between y’all”—a line that I and millions of other 40-year-olds have eternally burrowed in the bellies of our brains.

In the first few moments, as the theater turns black and the sound of discordant jazz music fills the room, you just have that feeling. Set in the ghettos of Baton Rouge, Yolanda (Sarah Kate Jackson) has just stopped by the house of her ex-husband Cornbread (Nixon Cesar), to drop off his medication. There she discovers he has a stranger tied up to a chair at gunpoint, threatening to crucify him. She flees to the house of Cornbread’s estranged brother Jim-Bo (Obi Abili), where the play begins, pleading with him to go over and confront his brother, who is an Iraq War Vet with P.T.S.D.

In the middle of getting dressed to go to church, at first Jim-Bo brushes her off, but it doesn’t take long for Yolanda to rope him into her hysterics to where the guilt proves too much.

The rest of the play is one of the most physically intense hours of theater you’ll ever see. There’s a reason the Playbill warns in bold italics: Please note that this production features nudity, racist language, and graphic violence in a very intimate setting.

At first it’s clear what’s to play out when Jim-Bo arrives at Cornbread’s house: Jim-Bo, the pacifistic, church-going boy with his wits about him, and Cornbread, the crazy loon answering the door buck naked with a shotgun trained at the peep hole. But as each of their pasts scream to the surface, new information rears its ugly head – Jim-Bo also was an Iraq War Vet with severely unresolved P.T.S.D., at times even more unhinged and amplified than his “certifiably insane” brother’s.

Crossroads is the theater experience equivalent of a Rothko painting—you don’t really go to see it for the form or the shape or even the story, you go to have it make you feel something, to take you on a visceral ride. A drama about mental health and who we turn to for help when no one else will, it’s a sit-back-and-be-prepared-not-to-so-much-as-itch-an-itch type of play from beginning to end. At points the broken brothers are going at each other with such impassioned volume, I wondered if they could be heard all the way out on 8th Avenue.

With Sarah Kate Jackson’s jittery Southern drawl that had her bobbing and twitching around the stage like a young Kathryn Hepburn on speed… to Abili’s quiet elegance that turns on a dime… to Cesar’s almost frightening Herculean explosiveness – give them all Tony noms. There, I said it.

MASTER OF THE CROSSROADS runs January 16 – February 9, Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm. The Bridge Theater is located at Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street between 7th & 8th Ave.

Tickets are $18 at https://masterofthecrossroads.brownpapertickets.com/

No Loose SKIN Here

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 Reviewed by Jara Jones

What within ourselves can be shed, exposed in its imperfect state? What methods do we employ just to manifest a shell in which we can protect and numb our senses?  Broken Box Mime Theater’s production of SKIN explores these questions through vignettes of wildlife, furtive and frightened love, adolescent innocence, family dynamics, the self-dissatisfaction when making art as well as deconstructions of pop culture.  On the whole, the production succeeds in developing precise, engaging narratives which are both poignant and rife with vulnerable humor.

The bare stage is adorned with vibrant, welcome projections from Jacqueline Reed, rich and atmospheric lighting design by Jamie Roderick, and one hell of an artfully chosen soundtrack.   While the playbill offers further explanations into the nature of each scene, I’d advise you to skip it, wait until after you’ve seen the company do their work. Art should stand up on its own, complete with specificity and a vivid and continuous story.  While pantomime has perhaps one of the hardest roads to travel in order to reach this goal, it’s clear that this company can create detailed works with their disciplined physical prowess.

Withthis in mind, I’ve only got a few nits to pick before I discuss some of the gorgeous, unguarded performances in the show.  The Answers, Fall from Grace, and Love Song don’t have as much focus and impact as their descriptions in the playbill would like you to believe.  [untitled] takes a two-minute idea and stretches it throughout the evening, when we can see the ending coming a mile away.  Lastly, Variable feels like a repetitive school exercise rather than producing new and surprising revelations.

What’s a joy to watch, and why you should absolutely see this production as well as any additional work Broken Box Mime Theater produces, are moments when the company allows a concept or relationship to truly feel heartfelt and absurd.  Boys Syde is a perfect dark comedy. Survival Mode takes its welcome time to weave between what is real and what is desired, and the effect lingers long after the production concludes.  Would You Put a Hat on a Ball of Sunshine… and The 16th Annual Brooklyn Beard Awards audibly made me shake with laughter and warmth.  Coming This Fall is comic brilliance – in fact, I’d watch a whole hour and a half alone of the company doing animal work.  Sunday aches with a smooth, giddy passion.  Hashtag is fantastically directed, flawlessly connected, and just heartbreaking.  Lastly, The Lake and Skin gently nudge at the desire to feel kinship and slowly break out of one’s comfort zone.

I’m grateful that a fiercely talented ensemble company like Broken Box Mime Theater exists.  In a world of artists seeking to peacock and proclaim their singular greatness, BBMT trusts in the work of its group to support and challenge one another.  SKIN is ultimately an evening of the collective prosperity such artists can yield within the rubric of an art-serving company, rather than a performer/creator-based one.

Skin runs until February 3, 2019 at A.R.T/New York (Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre (502 W 53rd St., NY, NY 10019) The production is 90 minutes with no intermission.

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3917497

The Mortality Machine Resurrects Itself with Great Success

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

Have you ever wanted to be a superhero? Or to be thrust in the middle of the action on Game of Thrones, not as a spectator, but as a real character with a real story and importance? If so, then you’ll love The Mortality Machine brought to us by Sinking Ship Creations. This is not ordinary theater! It is a theatrical roller-coaster of experiential drama that immerses you in the world of the play and you and, no one else, can make their own decisions that effect everything. It’s astonishing what the cast and crew accomplishes in the little space they have to work with.

Ok, so after the hype of Sleep No More, I was a little skeptical about this production, but I decided to give it a chance and I am glad I did. Everyone’s journey on this quest begins when you enter the door. You start by entering this dingy hole in the wall apartment looking building and I was hesitant to say the least. But then, (after two very nice men carried down my wheelchair for me) I was given a character. I read it, still wondering why I came out of my warm apartment for this.  But then the magic happened. And it was magic. The doors shut and we forced to play our roles or sit there idly for two and a half hours. I opted to give it a shot and join in. Hey I’m an actor, so why not right? But I quickly learned that you don’t need to be an actor to enjoy the event that unfolds before your eyes and that you partly create for yourself.

This will be a short review, not because Sinking Ships, cast, and crew are not praiseworthy, they are But, out of fairness for you and them, I don’t want to give too much away. Simply go see the “show” and give yourself over to it. It’s unbelievable fun when you allow yourself to surrender to the world they create. I must give my hats off to Kelsey Rondeou and Raphael Svarin who were unbelievably committed to their characters and whom I “chose” to interact with the most. This was a theatrical role playing event that I will not soon forget! Go see it now and don’t judge it until it’s over…things are not what they appear.

The Mortality Machine plays now through Feb 3, 2019 at 59 Canal St. www. themortalitymachine.com

The Seeing Place Theater and Their Border Wall

 Reviewed by Gregor Collins

The out-and-out doggedness that fuels The Seeing Place’s artistic choices is the theater company equivalent to Donald Trump and his border wall—they seem to have no misgivings about digging in to deep, dark, divisive material they know may only please half the audience. But as Gustav Klimt once said: “If you can’t please everyone with your deeds and your art, please just a few.”

Typically they do please me at least, but admittedly I had a better time at their previous work The Hysteria of Doctor Faustus. Their new work, though, two intense short plays in one evening, both two-handers, at least serves up the intensity you would expect from The Seeing Place: A Number, by Caryl Churchill, and ‘night, Mother, by Marsha Norman.

Churchill’s A NUMBER—a philosophical investigation into free will and the question of nature verses nurture—explores the issue of human cloning through the relationships between a father and his three sons.

Norman’s ‘NIGHT, MOTHER—winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama—begins with Jessie calmly telling her Mama that by morning she plans to commit suicide. The subsequent dialogue slowly reveals Jessie’s reasons for her decision.

Erin Cronican, Seeing Place’s Executive Artistic Director, directed the former and co-starred in the latter, and Brandon Walker, the Producing Artistic Director, directed the latter and co-starred in the former. These two are the hardest-working indie theater-makers in New York.

Despite the two scripts being penned by renowned playwrights, I wasn’t blown away by either show. Part of the problem, specifically with A Number, was that, for me, one half of the cast (again, there are only two people in it), was completely ineffectual. I’m still slightly flummoxed by why they wouldn’t have cast a better actor.

Brandon Walker, on the other hand—the “other half” of the cast, who adroitly plays three different “son” clones—much like a Joaquin Phoenix or a Colin Ferrell, has that innate dangerous quality to his work—you never quite know what he’s going to do next. That “unsettling” quality is not something you get treated to from most actors. There are moments his instincts fail him and he flirts with over-acting, but as he grows as an actor he’ll learn to harness that cauldron of chaos into consistently brilliant turns.

Regardless of what I thought about the evening, my relationship with The Seeing Place is like my relationship with one of my favorite filmmakers, Terrence Malick—though I don’t love everything he does, I’ll always see everything he makes.

A NUMBER / ‘NIGHT, MOTHER plays January 5-20, 2019

GENERAL ADMISSION – $30 (VIP tickets $40) 

http://www.TheSeeingPlace.com

The Seeing Place @ the Paradise Factory

64 East 4th Street, NYC

 

The Emperor’s Nightingale Soars

Reviewed by Jara Jones

How do you take a lesser known Hans Christian Anderson story (Nattergalen), which many have argued was the writer himself working through his frustrated feelings of unrequited love, and elevate the text?  What individual choices must be made to yolk the tale into a depiction of 18th century Chinese history, yet still make the production engaging for children and adults?  Pan Asian Repertory Theatre’s production of THE EMPEROR’S NIGHTINGALE pulls off the answers to these questions quite handsomely, delivering a work that’s as gorgeous to watch as it is delightful and thought-provoking.

In our play, it’s 1723, and the Emperor of China (a stoic, grounded performance by Brian Kim) must decide which of his heirs – Prince Bao (played well with charm and an honest imperfection by Jonathan Frye), or Bao’s older half-brother Prince Hongshi (Roger Yeh giving the character’s bullying actions a surprising vulnerability) should replace him to lead the Qing dynasty.  Faced with a test of leadership and the need to possess a deep knowledge of the country’s citizens, Bao and Hongshi square off to compete for their father’s admiration and his ultimate prize. Who will win – the prince with access to the favors and inventions of the Italians (such as a mechanized storytelling bird – the one of a handful of links to Anderson’s story), or the man who learns about the strife shouldered by China’s individuals with help from a magical nightingale?

Here’s what really got me; having seen so much children’s theatre, having performed so much children’s theatre Off-Broadway for years, you run into the common, tired tropes.  Audience participation, clear, unambiguous heroes and villains, sugary morals which dissolve in the mind soon after consumption of the performance. THE EMPEROR’S NIGHTINGALE ingeniously deconstructs every single one of these clichés; the hero we’re supposed to cheer is prideful and ignorant and cold at times. The villains are fueled by honest behaviors – estrangement from their father, a pragmatic approach to save the culture and customs of a nation by brokering deals with its potential colonizers.  When we’re asked to join the show and provide our voices, it’s a welcome break from the tense and overwhelming somber narrative of the play. And it’s so captivating and lingering how the play uses eight Chinese ideograms to bookmark each chapter of this story. When the final sentence using all these signifiers is revealed, you’ll want to rush home (like I did) to decode the message, which reveals itself to be a beautiful summation of the work.

You-Shin Chen deserves a huge round of applause for her austere, yet eye-catching set design. The framing nature of the set gives the production this indelible feeling like we’re watching the pages of a folk tale come alive. The choice to make the boundaries beyond the frame lush with paper lanterns adds a timeless quality to accent the weight of the ideograms, thanks to Chen and Leslie Smith (lighting designer).  Joseph Wolfslau’s sound design charges each scene with adult tension, and it’s one of many factors which gives this show so much depth and care. Lastly, Karen Boyer’s costumes (especially for the animals) burst with vitality and color.

I want to talk now about the actors, and how much I appreciated their contribution to this piece.  Leanne Cabrera as the Nightingale takes a role which, in the hands of a lesser actor, would have come off as syrupy and pouting, and instead hits you in the gut with her intensity and determination. This bird is not one to sing blithely; she demands that the troubles she’s seen be addressed, that the villages she’s witnessed broken and destroyed be made healthy and prosperous once more.  Also, every time the primary actors took on a second or third role, they astound you with the playfulness and commitment they possess; Brian Kim and Ya Han Chang’s transformation from Emperor and Empress to dopey, gossiping pandas, or scheming mechanical birds. Roger Yeh and Dinh James Doan’s deft tonal switch from their darker roles as Prince Hongshi and Minister Wu into a sultry, sassy, yet still dangerous tiger.  Here’s a powerful thing which I discovered two days later; it didn’t occur to me that Yeh was the head of the tiger. The giggling, suave predator felt so different in energy than his work as Hongshi that when the curtain call arrived, I was honestly upset that the actor playing the tiger wasn’t taking bows. Really. Yeh’s performance had me so glued to his choices, his affable menace, and I celebrate his work as an actor.

As you can tell, I haven’t had this much fun watching a show in quite a while. Pan Asian Repertory Theatre embarks on new ground by creating a production reaching out to children of all ages, yet never loses its determined, precise focus on Asian history and its artistic elements championed within.  You have to see this show. There’s nothing else being made in the city right now which will give you the same level of entertainment, educated insight, and disarming, heartfelt performances.

The Emperor’s Nightingale is produced by Pan Asian Repertory Theatre and runs until December 16th at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (410 W 42nd St) Running time is 55 minutes with no intermission.

https://www.panasianrep.org/emperorsnightingale/

Lured Lures us in and Doesn’t Let go.

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

The urge for revenge and justice can be quite strong in the face of trauma. But do two wrongs make a right? What happens when we take the law into our own hands? Well for LGBT+ people in Russia this is sadly a reality they fight against every day. To make matters worse the Russian government is sanctioning hate crimes, which further puts them at risk. Thanks to Frank J. Avella, we get a glimpse into the horror that plagues the gay community in Russia. This is happening today. It is real. His new play Lured exposes us to these crimes against humanity.

Enter Zhanna, whose brother was tortured horrifically by one of these underground extremist cults. Her Brother Dmitry fell pray to the unbelievable hate that Tatiana and Sergei, members of a hate group, are consumed with. Unfortunately, Dmitry dies due to the beating he received from them. This lays the ground for his sister Zhanna to plot actions against Tatiana and Serge, especially when the authorities did not act.

It is hard to watch the show because it makes you want to yell and scream at the inhumane treatment happening on stage. Tatiana must be a challenging a role for any actor to play. Yet, somehow Cali Gilman digs deep to unearth the heartless beast of Tatiana. My hat goes off to her, the actor not the character. David Joseph Volino is captivating as Yuri, ,Zhanna’s husband. He probably had the least number of lines and could have easily checked out. Yet, every time I watched him he was truly living in the moment and experiencing the absolute terror of the situation he finds himself in. He did not need to speak to communicate how scared he was by the shear insanity he had to endure.

My one slight criticism of this provocative, in-your-face play is when Tatiana speaks about her brother. I know the playwright, Frank Avella’s reasoning for including this. But instead of making the oppressed and the oppressor connect, it seems unnecessary and forced into the play. Avella has a powerful play and I didn’t want to be taken out of the moment of the main story and that is what it did. But, that withstanding is minor compared to this knockout play.

This isn’t a play for the faint of heart, but sometimes we need to be jolted back into reality and bare witness to the awful things happening in other countries. Lured is timely, relevant to our political climate, and heart wrenching. There were audible gasps of outrage throughout this 70 minute glimpse into Russian persecution. This is a prime example of Theater That Matters!

Lured plays now through Nov. 25, 2018 at Theater for the New City, 155 1st ave.

www. Luredtheplay.com