The Twelfth Labor is More than Just a Labor of Love

How far would you go to protect those you love? Leegrid Steven’s emotionally charged play, The Twelfth Labor tackles this unanswerable question. If blood is truly thicker than water, we would go to hell and back to protect our loved ones. Speaking of love, isn’t it safe to say that we all have a burning desire to be loved like “a flame in the darkness?” Stevens dives right into these deeply human yearnings and hits us right in the gut and heart.

During the horrors of Wake Island in WW II, matriarch, Esther finds herself alone trying to protect her family from going hungry by running the family with a firm unwavering hand. She appears callous and frigid, but simply calling her a “bitch” is unfair. She practices the hardest love of all; tough love. Her three children don’t make her life any easier. Her daughter Cleo, whom most of the play follows, has special needs. When Cleo is taken advantage of and impregnated by a unscrupulous man, Esther springs into action and hides Cloe away, to save Cleo from the torment from the town’s malicious gossipers. Esther bravely passes the pregnancy off as her own. The second and third acts are told from Cleo’s perspective. In act two, everyone speaks with a slur, showing the audience how Cleo hears the world around her. Act three is Cleo’s dream, which turns into a harrowing nightmare. Act four is filled with surprises. These two acts are the most interesting to watch because of their unexpected theatricality.

The cast is well suited. Lynne McCollough plays the domineering Esther, with constant ferocity. Yet, she gives us glimpses of the softer, more tender woman that she killed off in order to ensure her family’s survival. Erin Treadway steals the show as Cleo. She captures Cleo’s innocence and unspeakable pain excellently. She doesn’t give us a stereotypical portrayal of disability, but rather a human with all the complexities, trapped in a limited body and mind. The other cast members serve the play well. Tanis Rivera LePore makes for a great, Herk, Cleo’s son, although we never really know if Cleo knows that Herk is her child. I just wish that the creative team would have hid the fact that LePore is a girl better, when the play clearly states that Herk is a boy. In one scene, LePore’s hat is removed and we can plainly see Lepore’s identity. This is in no way the fault of LePore, and does not take away from her fine performance.

This play tackles a lot and runs a good two and a half hours. Most of the time, we feel as if we are following Cleo’s story. But act four, introduces new character developments that, although interesting, come out of nowhere and don’t serve the play. Stevens has a lot of good stuff, but act four seems wayward and disconnected from Cleo’s story. Following Cleo’s journey is gripping and engaging all on its own, therefore the other plot lines seem unnecessary and detract from the overall power of the play..

Stevens’ talent and prowess as a playwright shines through. His characters are rich. I hope that he will stream-line the story a bit more to further increase the play’s poignancy. The Twelfth Labor is not only about love, but it obviously was written and acted with love by everyone involved.

The Twelfth Labor plays now through Oct. 11, 2014 at the Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond St.NYC.

Fatty Fatty No Friends is FATastic!

There are two types of theater, one that makes you laugh or cry and one that gives you an unforgettable experience. Fatty Fatty No Friends is the latter. Once this fast-paced musical starts, it is like a tsunami of emotions constantly sweeping over you with unrelenting angst. We get caught in the storm, and have to ride it out. The show feels like one big gasp;you hold your breath and don’t let go until the show ends. I was so immersed in this play and emotionally provoked that I was speechless for about ten minutes after it finished because I was so internally stirred that I needed time to digest and decompress after witnessing this intense piece of theater

Bullying has become the plague of the 21st century. Kids are being confronted with horrific torment, that causes many of them to snap or, worse yet, commit suicide. Such is the life of Tommy, an obese child who gets picked on daily because of his size Not surprisingly, Tommy eventually rebels and takes revenge on his tormenters. However justified, Tommy’s conscience is bothered by his maniacal plan. This forces Tommy to re-evaluate his choices and decide on what kind of man he hopes to become.

I think everyone can relate to Tommy’s dilemma and the outrageous cruelty that kids can inflict on each other, Jason Sofge plays the broken Tommy excellently. His raw emotional connection to Tommy is captivating, which makes our identification with his character even stronger. Oh yeah, he can also sing the pants (pun-intended) off like it’s nobody’s business. He is a force to be reckoned with, not because of his size, but because of his immense talent. Mia Moretti Thomas has the unenviable task of playing Sally, the head bully. Moretti goes for the jugular in every scene and we hate her in the best sense of the word. There are two ominous demons who lurk around the stage, never exiting that further torment Tommy. Not only do they sing well, but they do it on stilts. My hats go off to Isaac Harold and Jessica Rose Furran who played these challenging characters very well.

The only slight qualm I had is with the unequal volume of the actors. Most projected well, but there were some whose sound was lost in the big theater. I can go on and on about the merits of this production. But the fact that it was brought back by the Fringe Encore Series, says a lot in and of itself. This is one of the best productions I’ve seen in a long time. Simply put, it’s FATastic!

Fatty Fatty No Friends plays noy through September 17, 2014 at Soho Playhouse 15 Vandam St.

The Flea is SMOKING Hot!

There’s a thin line between love and hate, but even a thinner line between pain and pleasure. The exploration of this delicate balance is the subject of Kim Davies, erotic new play Smoke. Director, Tom Costello, leads his cast on this tight rope with great precision, making the audience sit on the edge of their seats and gasp multiple times with fearful excitement. This play could be the replacement for Viagra and other sexual stimulants. Simply, Smoke is smoking hot!

What happens when a young, naive girl enters a sex party for BDSM and meets up with her father’s intern? This is the premise of Davies work. The next 70 minutes are a sexually-charged sparring match between Julie and John, the only two characters in the play. Their preferred sexual roles are revealed as John is a Dom and Julie a Sub. However, John and Julie don’t fit the stereotypical definitions of these roles. John can be tender and sensitive, while Julie can be fiery and combative. Watching these two actors negotiate the subtleties and nuances of their prospective re;ationship is like peeling an onion layer by layer. Their physical attraction is clear, but their mental angst and lust is thrilling to watch. Like a great tennis match, we see two worthy opponents battling it out and, in turn, displaying their vulnerability.

Madeleine Bundy plays the delicate, but deeply troubled Julie, excellently. She is a pleasure to watch. Bundy digs in deep and makes Julie a force to be reckoned with. Stephen Stout makes for a worthy partner in John. He is full throttle and fires on all cylinders. He is as scary as he is sweet, making him dangerously seductive. The two actors have a palpable bond, that makes for stunning theater. We gasp when they gasp and laugh when we laugh. They are truly a tour-de-force!

Watching this play is much like voyeurism; you want to turn away but you can’t help yourself from indulging in this erotic, almost fairy-tale like, early romance between two lost souls. The audience is in very close physical proximity to the actors, which makes it impossible to disengage. Costello is leaving his post as a Resident Director at the Flea. After seeing his dynamic understanding of this intense play, its safe to say that we are losing a top-notch artist and await to see his return. This production is stellar all around. (direction, actors, and playwright) The technical brilliance is remarkable and heightens the realism of the play. A play like Smoke can either go up in flames or smolder and singe everything it touches. I think its the latter of the two, but you should go see it for yourself and make your own decision.

Smoke plays now through September 28, 2014 at The Flea, 41 White Street.