Ivanov Splits our Focus

15 Jun

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

 

Anton Chekhov is one of my favorite playwrights. Thus, I was more than excited to see Ivanov, brought to us by the Cherry Orchard Festival. Yet, my enthusiasm was short- lived because splitting my focus between the translations and the actions on stage was too difficult for me and I was lost much of the time.

The story begins with the audience being told about Ivanov’s money troubles, his sick wife Anna Petrovna, and his deep depression. We are told as an audience that his wife is a Jewish woman who came from a wealthy family, but once she converted to Russian Orthodoxism, she was disowned by her family. Now she is dying of Tuberculosis unbeknownst to her, and Ivanov must take care of her, his debt, and his uncle, the Count, who lives with them. Doctor Lvov, who takes care of Anna is also berating Ivanov for being cruel and short tempered with Anna who he tells Ivanov, is dying of Tuberculosis and must go to Crimea to get better, but he is both unwilling and unable to pay for her treatment. Needing an escape from his troubles, he flees to his friend Lebedev’s house to get some space.

That is not to say that the production is without merit. The cast is clearly talented. It’s a shame that the translations were so quick, that one could not capture what was happening on stage and understand the dialogue at the same time. Unfortunately, I felt like an outsider left in the dark for most of the evening. With better translation techniques, this could have have been a gripping piece of theater. Sadly, we are unable to sustain the energy it takes to divert our attention back and forth from the stage to translations.

Ivanov plays now through July, 17, 2018 at City Center 131 West 55th St.                                                           https://www.nycitycenter.org/pdps/ivanov/

Little Rock Wins Big!

15 Jun

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

 

There are things in history we should never forget. The Holocaust. Vietnam. Little Rock Arkansas Little Rock by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj provides us an unforgettable musical that shows just how far or not far we have come in ending racism between blacks and whites, This play leaves an indelible mark on you that makes you want to shout out and scream in rage about the senseless violence that the Little Rock nine faced as they tried to integrate into an all white school.

In 1957, President Eisenhower and the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in schools was unconstitutional. However, the governor of Arkansas did not agree and failed to provide the military support to enforce the court’s decision. As a result the Little Rock nine went through hell in their attempt to go to school. Finally, President Eisenhower, ordered troops to move into Little Rock to enforce integration and finally the black students were able to attend class, but not without consequence. And the rest they say is history.

The cast is phenomenal. Several members sing a capella and their voices cut to the core bring the audience to tears several times. The struggle and pain that they covey are tangible. Rebekah Brockman is stunning in her turn as Peggy Sue. Watching her journey from an optimistic girl filled with hope for a new world into a woman who realizes the brutality of racism is both palpable and heart breaking. When her dreams get crushed so do ours. Justin Cunningham provides the much needed comic relief that gives us a momentary reprieve from the high pitched tension that feels unending and overwhelming. And why should we get a break? These students did not.

My only slight quibble with this otherwise profound production, is that they keep referring to to the Little Rock nine. This means that there were nine black students who tried to integrate. However, this show only had six actors, playing the nine students. Everytime, the play referred to nine students, we are taken out of the reality of the moment because six does not equal nine. If they spent so much money on this show, why not get three more actors to play the nine students and sustain the reality of this tension filled world that we are in?

That is a minor flaw in this powerful [production. As you can probably tell, I’m riled up by this show. It’s not just part of our past history, it’s still going on today. And with our political administration, how far back are we going to allow this country to slide? I think we should be scared, no terrified! (I have tears in my eyes as I’m writing this) Go see this show in order to never forget their hard won struggle and to make sure we do not let our country regress back into the dark ages. Up stage center there is often an always illuminated door. It’s a door of hope that as a unified people we will walk hand in hand through, a symbol of progress that we need now more than ever!

Little Rock plays now through September 8, 2018 at the Sheen Center 18 Bleeker St www. https://sheencenter.org/shows/littlerock/

The Fourth Wall Poses some Questions

14 Jun

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

 

Plays about plays can be hard and often tricky to understand. However, Theater Breaking Through Barriers does an above average job making this play, The Fourth Wall by A.R. Gurney accessible and timely, in every sense of the words. Though it wavers at times, this is a mostly enjoyable production.

Peggy has redecorated the living room and her husband, Roger, can’t stand it. Peggy’s usual exquisite taste was overcome by a mysterious lapse which caused her to redo the room as if it were a stage set. Everything faces one wall, the “fourth wall,” which she’s left bare and which is really the audience. But what lies beyond this infamous “fourth wall”? These existential questions permeate the play

The cast does a fine job bringing this meta heavy production to life. The highlight of the cast is Stephen Drabicki, who plays an eccentric drama professor brought in to solve the ominous riddle of what lies beyond the fourth wall His stylistic choices all add up and brings great comedic life to his scenes. Nicholas Viselli does a fine job as Roger, who is definitely trying to save his marriage.

Unfortunately, there is some over-acting in this play that bogs it down. This play has music in it by Cole Porter. Vaselli and Drabicki have stellar voices, which makes them a delight to listen to. Yet, the vocal talent of the entire cast is not equally matched.

Again, what mostly hurts this production, has nothing to do with a lack of talent on stage. It is the play within a play conundrum which causes some confusion for the audience There are many dated political references that obscure what could be a timely piece of theater. This is no fault of the production team, as they tried to update the script but were thwarted by the Gurney Foundation. Still, the parallels are there, but it’s a shame they can not hit the nail directly on the head.

Still, Theater Breaking Through Barriers does not disappoint. There usage of differently abled artists show just how talented they are. Disability is NOT on display here! Rather, it’s just a group of very capable actors shining due to their incredible prowess as storytellers. They deserve our support and we should give it to them in abundance. This is definitely a piece of theater that matters!

The Fourth Wall plays now through June 24, 2018 at A.R.T. NY 502 W 55th St. http://www.tbtb.info

Cannibal Galaxy is a World Away!

10 Jun

 

Reviewed By Jara Jones

 

Elliptical galaxy NGC 1316, a solar system streaked with trails of ancient cosmic dust, highly suggests a violent past of having absorbed and discarded another collection of planetary bodies.  This play suggests that human misery, much like brute physics, is unavoidable and that only through community and messy growth can we possibly heal ourselves. While this production is lavishly designed and performed with compelling honesty, the lack of focus in its script and direction mars its many touching moments.

At the Washington Science Museum in DC, a tribe of employees and their supervisor are forced to ask themselves: What happens when a fixation on the methodology of the material world is upended by a random, bloody act?    It’s a gorgeous question.  To avoid spoilers, I assert that the playwright waters down the conversation with a shoehorned traumatic event.  Especially one that’s pretty difficult to pull off in 2015, let alone today (see for yourself – try walking into the Museum of Natural History or the Met with a backpack and not have it immediately surrendered, checked, and tagged)  Also, based on the personal struggles of each of the characters, we’re already witnessing them in the grip of suffering before the aforementioned horrific act takes place. Vadim (played with an aching, smiling heart by Jason C Brown) is saddled with caring for his dying father, while stuffing down any open examination of his identity.  Jo (capably portrayed by Robin Galloway) musters up a devil-may-care sensibility while pining deeply for the chance to give birth to a child. Chet (Dominic F Russo in a wheedling, yet engaging and fragile turn) is starved for companionship, feeling pressured to do well in college and finds himself unable to savor what awards he’s been given.  Claire (Becca Schneider, giving a master class on simplicity and presence, which is no small feat based on what little the script provides her – the less said about the sudden addition of a ludicrous lime-green ragdoll wig, the better) is itchy in her own skin, doubting her heart, her life’s path.

See these stories?  On their own, they’re more than enough to inhabit the play’s themes.  There’s a scene just before a major plot twist, where Claire, Chet, and Vadim are putting on a science puppet show for the museum, a perfect alignment of direction, scripting, character development, and truth.  I wish the play was brave enough to remain in that world, where we could still reflect upon these real and heartfelt concerns, instead of cheapening it with ripped-from-the-headlines affairs which feel less like an organic, natural choice honoring the characters and more like a desire to pontificate about current events.    The talking points the playwright so earnestly wishes to address would have far been better served taking place in a school, or filtered through the all too familiar brutality of unchecked aggression within the police system.

The details within a show are what separate true storytellers from disjointed artists. While the set design, projections, and ambient music (kudos to Tim McMath, Yana Birÿkova, and Jerzy Jung respectively) clearly show passion and a key attention to detail, there’s quite a few choices that the playwright, director, and actors make which undercut their hard work.   Any former West Coast resident can tell you that In-N-Out Burger can’t be found east of Texas, let alone in Washington, DC. The use of the office vending machine as a bellwether of life out of balance gets played with far too much to hold impact. Having Jo’s character reconcile her stress and anxiety with an absurd and grotesque depiction of stealing things feels hollow, and it should have been handled with much better care.  Finally, the existence and usage of practical set pieces like office lockers, could have been immersive as a way to distinguish characters in fun and eloquent ways (what sort of stickers would be on the outside of Chet’s locker? Does Vadim have a padlock or a combo lock? What pigeon-killing makeshift methods does Eloise have hidden in her space?) Instead, almost all the actors open and discard items from only the top middle locker, which defies reason and takes one immediately out of the play.

There’s two additional performances I’d like to single out as reasons you must see this show: Jo Yang (playing a recent widow, a grief counselor, and a mother burdened with mental health issues) endows every line, every role with gravity and precision. I wished the play could have used more opportunities to let this actor shine.   Lastly, Olivia Oguma (Eloise) as the super-intense, tree-house living champion of the earth is a rare combination of diverting, effortless comic skill and stoic vulnerability. Her work in the final monologue, as she continues to lean upon science and interplanetary discovery in an effort to drum up a gram of hope made me tremble (where not a single broad gesture of grief or angst (often in the form of Viewpoints-based tableaus) from the other actors failed to affect me).  Oguma’s captivating, gentle strength is the production’s greatest asset.

Cannibal Galaxy: A Love Story is produced by Between Two Boroughs and runs until June 17th at The New Ohio (154 Christopher St.)  http://www.betweentwoboroughs.com/upcoming/

Manufacturing Mischief Fails to Deliver as a Stage Play

10 Jun

Reviewed By Gregor Collins

 

A tall, dark and charismatic leading man is what traditionally sells tickets, but when it comes to the NYC-debut of Manufacturing Mischief—the play by puppeteer and sculptor Pedro Reyes running at The Tank Theater from June 5-24—it’s actually a short, pasty, anarcho-syndicalist that gets audiences pulling out their wallets.

“I met with Noam Chomsky and he agreed to become a puppet,” Reyes deadpans about his unlikely leading man, during the post-play Q&A, which, it pains me to say, was the most compelling part of the evening, due to a script not nearly clever and fluid enough to give Reyes’ delightfully irreverent vision the show it deserves.

Chomsky, the legendary philosopher, historian and political activist, headlines a satirical play featuring all puppet characters based on Chomsky, Karl Marx, Ayn Rand, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and, which seems just about right—Tiny Trump. It was conceived 11 years ago as Reyes’ residency as the inaugural Dasha Zhukova distinguished visiting artist at the MIT center for Art, Science and Technology.

Reyes, a professor at MIT, had the opportunity to meet with Professor Chomsky in 2007, to whom he proposed making a play—what Reyes tells the audience is a kind of “Marxist Sesame Street”—featuring Chomsky as the protagonist. Chomsky approved the synopsis but, to date, hasn’t seen the actual, living play. (C’mon, Noam, you’re 89… live a little).

Through imagined exchanges between some of the most fascinating iconoclasts in world history, Mischief is mostly interested in mocking the tech heroes at the vanguard of the techno-optimism movement (Musk is the brunt of this), questioning the destruction of labor through technology, and being caustically honest about the social costs that occur from embracing technology.

Reyes deserves kudos for his deftly handcrafted, Japanese-inspired puppets occasionally delivering highbrow, galvanizing insights about our current zeitgeist, but with a scattershot script, having no real narrative and no hero to care about or feel anything for—it’s a tiny bit heartbreaking to think that such an extraordinary concept is being made ordinary by what’s on the page. In Reyes’ defense he didn’t pen the script (it was penned by Playwright Paul Hufker), which is why Reyes would benefit from a better writer to give Chomsky a through-line and some motivation (ie What is he fighting for? What does he really, truly want? The lack of this underlying dramatic tension causes most of the exchanges to fall flat). Reyes would also benefit from professional voice-actors. Most of them seemed to lack even a rudimentary understanding of how to project and articulate to an audience.

But here’s the good news: You should see it. Not really for the show, but for what comes after the show. Meeting and listening to The Most Interesting Man at MIT, Pedro Reyes, commanding the audience Q&A with his endearing laconic, lighthearted wisdom, is alone worth the price of a ticket. Directed by The Tank Co-Artistic Director Meghan Finn.

 

Manufacturing Mischief: The ‘Marxist Sesame Street plays now through June 24, 2018 plays at The Tank 312 W 36th St. http://www.thetanknyc.com

Ben Dela Creme has Class, Sass and Talent to Spare!

3 Jun

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

 

When one thinks of drag shows, images of bawdy humor, vulgarity, and lip-syncing come to mind. What you don’t think of is a fierce, multi-talented performer giving you a moving theatrical performance. Ben Dela Creme’s Inferno A Go-Go is much more the latter than the first. Don’t get me wrong this wonder woman gives you plenty of typical irreverent comedy and she could stop there and we would be satisfied, but she goes much further displaying the depth of her range and talent.

Set in Dante’s version of the nine layers of hell, Ben Dela Creme takes us on a front seat tour of the underworld. Most layers are talked about in a light-hearted manner, but if you listen closely to this performer, she’s trying to tell us something. When she enters into one particular level, there is no escaping some introspection and feelings. But like any top-notch performer, she knows just how long to let us ruminate without allowing it turning into agony. She pulls us out of the depths of our despair and we are once again having a great time.

When I go to any show, I am generally looking for three things: clarity, talent, and conviction. Ms. Dela Creme has these in spades. She sings, not lip-syncs, dances, plays multiple roles (some through projections), and then tops it all with outstanding ventriloquism.  We are stunned by her never ending skill set that is so well put together that we aren’t aware of it until we have time to process it when the show is over.

The show’s conception and delivery, not only show off her skills (and fabulous legs!) but it shows us how intelligent this performer is. I was outstanded by the deep cleverness of this piece. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, most of the time, and the audience has a great experience. Go see this show and support this world-class performer, you won’t be sorry you did. Ben Dela Creme makes a big impression. She has class, sass, and talent!

Truth or Dare Dares us to Empathize

1 Jun

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

Four teenage girls go away for a weekend in the woods, but only three come back. It’s a harrowing nightmare that changed these girls lives forever. This is the premise of Project Y’s production of Truth or Dare byTori Keenan-Zelt. This is a powerful piece, but its organization can be tricky to follow.

Childhood friends, Maeve, Ursa, Linney, and Hannah embark on an all girls sleep away in the woods. The girls generally bond, but typical squabbles arise as these girls test each other. Finally they arrive on playing Truth or Dare, but that goes arriigh when some of the girls chicken out of the “dares”. Frustrated by their lack of conviction, Ursa makes plans to meet up with some boys and ditches Hannah and Linney. They are then left to fend for themselves and after a fight, Linney goes off by herself and sadly drowns after jumping off a very high cliff. The rest of the plays alternates between the immediate and future aftermath of that tragic incident.

The four actors a top-notch. Roma Scarano plays Ursa, the fiery, but deeply troubled girl with gusto. Her energy is vibrant and fills the stage. Emma Suarez plays the conflicted Hannah well. Watching her wrestle with her inner struggle is captivating. Essence Stiggers plays the innocently immature Linney with exuberance, making her demise all the more painful to witness. Nuala Cleary plays Maeve, the love-sick teen, with skill. She pitches her character perfectly.

My only contention with the piece, is its frequent time jumps from past to present. Although costume changes help make it clear, there is still a level of uncertainty about where we are at certain given moments.Yet the overall story is compelling and is a good opening to Project Y’s expose of Women in Theater. They are presenting 32 works in 22 days, an impressive feat. If all the pieces are as provocative and intricate as Truth or Dare, the series is bound to be a success.

Truth or Dare is presented as part of the Women in Theater series through June 24, 2018 at 154 Christopher Street. http://www.projectytheatre.org