Archive | October, 2013

Jinkx’s Vaudevillians Monsoon is One Heck of a Storm!

23 Oct

In the basement of West End Cafe, audiences get transported back to the 1920’s in all its glory. For the next 90 minutes we are treated to great comedy and powerful singing by Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales. These two brilliant actors star in The Vaudevillians. When you go see a drag show, Jinkx Monsoon was the last winner on Ru Paul’s Drag Race., you expect flashy costumes, campy humor, and lip-synching. Well, this show has two out of three. It’s full of comedy and the costumes are fantastic. But surprisingly, there is no lip-synching, Jinkx and Major sing everything live in true cabaret style.

 

The premise of the The Vaudevillians, is that these two weirdly matched lovebirds were frozen in an avalanche for the last 90 years. Now they have thawed out and are dismayed that most of today’s biggest hits were actually recorded by them. They sing new slowed down versions  of songs from Madonna, Britney Spars, and Momma Mia to name a few .All the while the wile, the couple is quarreling. The premise may be  far-fetched, but once this duo starts we are enthralled and no longer care about the plausibility (or not) of their story.

 

Most drag queens perform as themselves, getting by on being raunchy and able to lip-synch. But Ms. Monsoon proves that she is of a higher caliber. She plays Kitty Wittless, a woman starving for attention. Never once does Jinkx break character and rely on her fame to sell the story. She commits to her character like any actor would. It was a pleasant surprise. Her acting and singing chops are superb. She lets her talent,, not her notoriety, do the talking and, as a result, we are treated to a rip-roaring good time. Her amazing comedy has us rolling non-stop. Her comedy would be enough to fulfill the audience, but then she sings making her a tour de force. Her comedy is always well-played, never being too vulgar or mean. She is as gracious as she is funny.

 

Her counterpart, Major Scales, does his best to keep up with her. Although, it seems unfair to ask anyone to keep up with Jinkx. But together they don’t miss a beat. The Vaudevillians is definitely one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen  When the Monsoon hits, run for cover because its one heck of a storm!

 

 

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Sizzles

21 Oct

 

Tennessee William’s iconic play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is saturated with dramatic tension. This is, undoubtedly, a major reason that this play still resonates with people today. Mississippi Mud Productions, lead by Austin Pendleton’s strong direction, presents this play in a very intimate setting. With no intermission and a tightly packed room, the audience never gets to disengage from the story and its tellers,

 

The play opens with Maggie and Brick Pollitt getting ready for Big Daddy’s birthday, but more dramatically, the revelation that Big Daddy has cancer. During this intense first scene we see Maggie’s frustration with her husband Brick. Brick is a non-stop alcoholic who refuses to sleep with his wife after she had an affair with his best friend. We are never quite sure whether Brick had a sexual relationship with his best friend or not. Before we know it, Big Daddy enters and lays down the gauntlet. He is strong and intimidating. After a long verbal battle with his son Brick, the two finally open up to each other and share a few tender moments between father and son. When the actual birthday party starts there are more things burning then just the candles on Big Daddy’s birthday cake. The climax is strong and full of emotions, making the audience uneasy and provoked at the same time

 

The cast does a great job maintaining focus even when “off” stage (they sit along a wall in the room in complete view of the audience). However, I felt there were some inconsistencies in the actors portrayal. Jen Danby and Jamie Moore are electric as Maggie and Brick Pollitt respectively. Their scene is fraught with sexual tension and disgust for one another. No doubt that these two have chemistry and we follow their story without ever losing interest. Also, R. David Robinson is equally compelling in his turn as Big Daddy. Robinson is a tour de force. His presence is commanding and we are under his control from the minute he walks on stage. When Robinson and Moore share a tender moment as father and son, we tear up. These three actors are the heart and soul of this play and deliver amazing performances.

 

Yet, some of the other cast was not as convincing. Maureen Mooney, who plays Big Daddy’s daughter- in-law Mae, seems awkward on stage. Her accent is the least consistent which makes her unintelligible at times. Mae is pregnant throughout the play, but Mooney appears to be too old to be with child. Therefore, Mae’s pregnancy seems outrageous and downright unbelievable. We can never quite believe in Mooney’s state, which makes us disconnect from her Most of the actors brought so much energy and inner life to their characters, which made Charles Black’s performance stand out for the wrong reasons. Black needs to up his energy and volume to match his fellow actors. Lastly, there seemed to be sexual tension between Brick and his mother. Ginger Grace plays Big Mama and makes us uneasy by the way she acts towards her son, Brick. I was not sure whether this tension was intentional or not, but it seemed out of place.

 

That withstanding, this production is definitely worth seeing. Austin Pendleton understands this play well and taps into its rhythm with great skill. For the most part, the acting is riveting and profoundly humane. The intimacy and simplicity of the set allows the audience to invest in these characters without any distractions. If you want to feel like a part of a new family and go on a searching journey for two and a half hours, don’t miss this production.

 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof plays now through No. 17th at “Tom’s” The Alexander Technique Center for Performance and Development, 330 West 38th St., Suite 805, 8th Floor, New York (between 8th and 9th Avenues). http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/471755

A Girl Without Wings Soars High!

6 Oct

A condor, a hummingbird, and a ram. What do they have in common? They all talk; some more incessantly than others. These animals captivate us and provide much laughter in Jason Williamson’s new play, A Girl Without Wings. Based on an Andean Myth, this play explores forbidden love between a girl and a condor. IATI Theater and Dramatic Adventure Theater joined forces to bring us this play and this is a great partnership. The play hits on all the major chords: comedy,sorrow, romance, and some mischief.

 

The play opens with a Condor, played sincerely by Matt Stannah, as he describes his daunting task of collecting prayers and delivering them to the Gods. The Gods, in turn, send their answers to the people via the Condor. Everything runs smoothly until the Condor meets Chaska, a young girl who captures his heart. The Condor falls in love and disguises himself as a human so he can meet Chaska. Janice Amaya plays Chaska with exuberance and we fall in love with her just like the Condor . Amaya and Stannah have undeniable chemistry and we all root for their love.

 

 

But the play is not just about them, the ram, played brilliantly by Ivano Pulito. serves as a confidante for Chaska. Pulito is a gem, delivering comedy and compassion at the right moments. And the hummingbirds, who steal the scenes they are in, played superbly by Mike Axelrod and Christen Mandrazo. Although they are villainous, we still love them and their mischief. Axelrod and Mandrazo are excellent, never missing a beat. Their timing is incredible and we never want them to leave the stage. Surprisingly, Chaska’s father, played effectively by Andrew Clarke, does not speak. As much as we want him to talk, when we hear him sing its as if the heavens open up.

 

Director Kathleen Amshoff tells this story with limited set pieces. The behavior of the actors provides a lot of insight into the world we are in. Some of the funniest and most poignant moments came out of the actors physucalities, not the dialogue. Amshoff understands the heart and soul of Wil;liamson’s play and communicates it effectively.

 

 

I could go on ad nauseam about how wonderful this production is. One could attribute it to the acting, directing, and/or writing. But the truth is, none of these components stand alone. The sum is greater than all of its parts. Simply, A Girl Without Wings soars high!

 

 

Plays now through Oct 27th 2013 at IATI Theater 64 E. 4th St https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/928322

 

Bill W. and Dr. Bob Find the Courage to Change

5 Oct

 

“We’re all bozo’s on the bus.” This statement is at the center of a heart-warming production of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, The play, written by Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem, is an emotional roller-coaster about the ups and downs of alcoholism and recovery. The two central characters find each other, bare their souls, and consequently start a program that has saved millions of lives all over the world. These men were from different walks of life, but their common disease, alcoholism, unites them in a very profound way that changed how we look at addiction.

 

 

Bill W., played by Patrick Boll, is a successful business man and Dr. Bob, played by Timothy Crowe, is a renowned surgeon. Both of them have had their lives brought to a halt by their perplexing problem when it comes to alcohol. Once these men start drinking all bets are off and the result is horrific dependency, landing them in dark places and ruining their lives. In a moment of clarity, Bill W. discovers that the only way he can stay sober is by helping another alcoholic. In a chance meeting, he finds Dr. Bob, who has struggled with his drinking for many years. Once these two men meet and discover their unique bond, they proceed to look for other alcoholics to help. Interestingly enough, it is through helping others that they stay sober. This discovery becomes one of the cornerstones of Alcoholics Anonymous.

 

 

Boll and Crowe are top-notch and capture the hell of active addiction without sensationalizing or demonizing it. Their friendship grows and we see the strong bond between them as they help each other avoid taking the first drink.. They both manage to dive in to their characters fully and bring the conundrum of alcoholism to life. Denise Cormier plays Dr. Bobs disillusioned wife and Deborah Hedwall plays Bill W.’s wife. We get to see the devastation that living with an active alcoholic causes. We feel for these women and identify with their plight right away. Daniel Pearce and Sarah Nealis round out the strong cast. These two actors are the glue of the play. They play many smaller roles and keep the play moving. Their ability to shape-shift quickly is commendable. Pearce plays so many roles that I marveled at his ability to make each one specific and powerful.

 

 

The set is superb and done well. This is a great piece of theater and illuminates the good that can come out of bad. Go see this show and discover what two men can do when they come together for a single cause. Addiction and alcoholism are so prevalent today that everyone can relate to this story, which is precisely why this is a fine example of theater that matters. It’s an uplifting piece that leaves you with a sense of hope “one day at a time”.

Plays Now through Jan 5, 2014 at Soho Playhouse 15 Van Dam St. http://billwanddrbob.com