Archive | January, 2014

Love Triangles Ring Supreme at The Seagull69

31 Jan

Who doesn’t like a good love triangle right? Anton Chekhov’s, The Seagull, is a masterpiece in thrilling melodramas about the painful pangs unrequited love Mississippi Mud presents this iconic work and sets it in Los Angeles in 1969. The result is an interesting adaptation that shows that matters of the heart haven’t changed from old times to modern day. Chekhov is a master of language and interpretations of his work are always dangerous. It must be done delicately or productions risk losing the beautiful poetry of his plays.

 

The play mainly follows Arkadina, a famous, narcissistic actress and her son Konstantin. Konstantin has a severe, love-hate relationship with his well-known mother. When Arkadina brings her younger, acclaimed author, Trigorin home as her lover sparks fly. Konstantin implores the help of his naive girlfriend Nina to perform his newest play, which he hopes will gain his mother’s respect. However, when Nina meets Trigorin she becomes infatuated with him and he with her. There are other love triangles to follow, but this one is central to the story. Eventually, these story lines come to a head and the climax is profound.

 

The cast does a good job telling the story for the most part. Maureen Mooney is fantastic as Arkadina. She is exasperating in all the right ways. Her high energy is great and serves the play well. Patricia Perales is stellar as the inconsolable Masha. Her love for Konstantin is palpable and thus, his refusal of her hurts us as much as it hurts her. We can walk a mile in her shoes and are glad to do it. Michael Arena does well with Konstantin. He is fiery and passionate, making him the loveable tortured soul that we all respond so well to Andy McCutcheon is great as the wayward Trigorin. His charm is undeniable and we see why Nina falls for him.

 

There were, however, some glitches with this production. Jen Danby is undoubtedly a fine actor. Yet, she comes across as strong and as someone who has been through a lot. As it is now, Nina is still written as a young, innocent girl who gets corrupted by Trigorin. It is hard to believe that Danby lives with her parents and is as untouched as the writing says she is. Instead , she comes across as a battle-driven survivor. This creates some disconnect for the audience. Since, they have adapted the text, I wish there was some changes to the way Nina is talked about. Also, her and Arena’s climatic scene seemed too one dimensional. I hope that Danby and Arena explore the many layers of their relationship. There is so much good writing there that needs to be used by the actors to color their performance.

 

I applaud Mississippi Muds production for its ingenuity. Austin Pendleton directs this emotional, roller-coaster of a play with great skill. His set is simple and he guides his actors in creating the world for us with very simple items. I love this, stripped-down, style of theater. The actors have no where to hide and are forced to deliver. In this case, they mostly fit the bill and give us an enjoyable re-telling of this classic play.

 

The Seagull69 plays now through February 17, 2014 at The Alexander Technique Center for Performance and Development, 330 West 38th St., Suite 805, 8th Floor, New York (between 8th and 9th Avenues).http://seagull69.brownpapertickets.com

 

WorkShop Theater is unRELENTing in its Emotionally Charged Production

25 Jan

What are the forces that draw us to unhealthy relationships? We seem to romanticize unrequited love, harbored jealousies, and destructive passion. Relent, a new-indie rock musical, explores these bombastic tendencies and cravings with raw emotional potency, The WorkShop Theater produces this work with a simple set and wonderfully tortured souls. Writer Jennifer Makholm and composer Ian Wehrle dive in head first, and we are so ever thankful that they let us explore our own dark side. Mixed in with this helter-skelter look at humanity, the pair find incredible humor and surprising moments of tenderness.

 

Relent follows Vera, a lead singer in a rock-band, and her love-hate relationship with Pace, who is more than just a little unreliable. Much of the action takes place in Vera’s apartment, which is shared by her lesbian roommate Dot. When Sam, a photographer, shows up to cover the band, he crashes on their couch. The next two hours are filled with horrible fights, lots of laughs, and unspoken love triangles.

The musical is a roller-coaster of emotion and no one knows what to expect next. And like all guilty pleasures, we don’t want it to stop.

 

The reason we crave more has to do with the stellar-cast. Very rarely do I see an ensemble of actors who all match each other so well. There is no weak link on stage. Shonda Leigh Robbins plays Vera with profound conviction. She is as natural as she is fiery. I applaud her ability to change emotions on a dime. Oh yea, this girl can also sing! Robbins is a tour-de-force and leads the play well. Her counterpart. Kenyon Phillips is captivating as Pace. His sincerity makes us root for this simple-minded, flawed man trying to do the best he can. Rosebud Baker, finds depth as Dot. It is obvious that she is in love with Vera. Baker gives us some sweet, tender moments of beautiful vulnerability. But, her overwhelming comic timing make her a force in her own right. David Goldberg plays the subtlety of Sam brilliantly and we root for him in his concealed pursuit of Vera. Ben Sumrall is a breath of fresh air as the jarring innocent guy. He reminds us that there is still purity and light in this otherwise dark play. Katherine Macdonald rounds out the cast well.

 

As much as I loved the cast, I could not help but wish that Makholm added so more depth to her songs. There were times where I wished that she gave us new verses instead of the same chorus. There is definitely a lot more emotional complexity to explore. As it is now, it is a little too repetitive and we lose interest at times. I hope that she will dig deeper and give us some different choices. Also, the climax of the play didn’t quite work. In a moment of passion Vera and Sam start to have hot sex. The actors were committed, showing saw Sam graphically penetrating Vera. Yet, they didn’t disguise the fact that the actors had underwear on. I understand the intent, but if we are to truly believe that this is hard sex, then we can not see that the actors have clothes on that would prevent the truth of the moment from happening. It is a shame because we are as geared up for it as Sam is, but can’t suspend our disbelief with such an obvious contradiction

 

Those are minor points. I still love the music and story of Relent and I hope it goes somewhere. It’s raw tenacity and lust make it irresistible!

 

Relent plays Jan. 16-28, 2014 at the WorkShop Theater. 312 W. 36th St