New York Deaf Theatre “Steps” Out and Delivers Great Comedy

Farce and slapstick comedy can be challenging for any actor. The timing must be precise, the rhythm must never drag, and the moments must be captured with crystal clear accuracy. If one of these components is off, even the slightest bit, it can be disastrous. Therefore, when I heard the New York Deaf Theater was tackling, The 39 Steps, I was very intrigued and a little concerned. Could deaf actors pull off a highly technical show in this genre? I had to see for myself, and the answer is a big fat yes!


The play opens with  Richard Hannay, a middle aged man suffering from boredom. He decides to go to the theater as an escape. Well, he gets more than he bargains for and after a series of coincidences he finds himself being accused of murder. The rest of the play deals with Hannay trying to escape the police and uncover the truth about The 39 Steps. Like most great comedies, Hannay finds himself in awkward situations that he is somehow able to squeal his way out of time and time again until the startling climax.


This is the basically the simple plot of The 39 Steps. However, its execution is far from simple. We have four actors and three of them play many different roles throughout the story. They are always putting on clothed something or taking something off, often in a literal blinking of an eye, This organized chaos provides a lot of the humor in the play. And for the most part, the cast doesn’t miss a beat. Actor and director, James W. Guido and  his partner Anna Tomasetti are stellar. The two go flawlessly  from one hilarious character to another. Their skill is quite impressive. Garrett Zuercher plays Richard Hannay very well. He is undeniably expressive and delivers in every scene. Although good, Carmen King lacked the same amount of high energy as her other cast members. This made her scenes fall a little flat. Yet, I was blown away that I could follow the story without any words being spoken vocally.


On the side of the stage were four speaking actors who provided audible language so that people who don’t speak sign language can follow the play. Don’t get me wrung the  vocal actors were wonderful, but the deaf actors told the story so well physically, that we could follow the story without voices. I left this performance feeling inspired. As a disabled artist myself, it was validating to see other actors in the same boat, steal the show. But don’t go see the show because of their disabilities, go see the show (like you would any other show) because it’s great!


The 39 Steps plays through Nov. 24th at TADA Theater , 15 W 28th St. 2nd Floor.



The Pillowman Will Definitely Not Put You to Sleep

Martin McDonagh is interested in giving audiences a theatrical experience, making the audience active participants, and therefore able to draw their own conclusions about the message of his plays. T. Schreiber Studio presents McDonagh’s, The Pillowman, and takes McDonagh’s advice to heart. The result is an utterly compelling production of this intensely layered work.

The Pillowman follows two brothers, Katurian and Michal, who are subjected to a horrible, twisted, and demonic childhood. Their parents are to blame for their torturous upbringing. When Katurian discovers that they have been abusing his brother Michal for seven years, Katurian kills his parents in an effort to free his mentally handicapped brother Michal. They manage to escape their childhood and Katurian takes care of Michal. The one blessing in all of this is that Katurian is a gifted writer. His stories are often dark, reflecting the pain that abused children suffer. Yet when someone starts re-enacting his stories, children start being murdered in the same vain as his writing. The next two hours of the play deal with the interrogation of the brothers and the startling discoveries made about what happened to the child victims.

Like a great painter, Peter Jensen directs this piece with just the right contrast of colors and emotion. It is easy to sink into a black hole of morbidity in a play like this, but Jensen avoids this pitfall and finds the humanity, love, and mercy that co-exist in this deeply dark play. As a result, we feel the pain and understand the psyche of the characters. It would be easy to disconnect because of the disturbing subject matter, but instead we invest in the characters and identify with their plight. We see the shades of gray, rather than merely simple black and white. At the the end of the play, we have a true catharsis, which is often forgotten about today. But the power of such a moment is riveting. I thank Jensen and his troupe for giving me that moment.

The cast is stellar. Josh Marcantel plays Katurian, with deep loyalty and conviction. We see the sincerity of Katurian at all times and fall in love with him. Equally strong is Alexei Bondar, who plays Michal. These two brothers have really found the unconditional love between them. Bondar plays Michal with great heart and conviction that we never doubt him. He often provides the comic moments that we desperately need in a play as dense as this. Don Carter and Tommy Buck play the two mysterious detectives that interrogate Katurian. Their interplay is strong and offer some great lighter moments in the play, while still delivering complex characters.

In a dark work such as The Pillowman, one expects to find intense emotions and disturbing conversations. What I did not expect was to find love, humor, and compassion. Yet, McDonagh and Jensen show that these two opposites can co-exist and when explored equally can have profound and unexpected effects. This production explores many opposing and complicated emotions that often are found on the same side of the coin, but rarely discussed. This, alone, makes The Pillowman worth seeing!

The Pillowman plays through Nov. 24th at T. Schreiber Studio, 151 W 26th St. 7th Floor.