‘BLKS’ RCKS

D5M8227.low-res-1400x875

(left to right) Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Paige Gilbert, and Alfie Fuller.

Reviewed by Gregor Collins

I wasn’t planning on writing a review of Aziza Barnes’ BLKS because no one was waiting for one—I was there as a civilian, having scored a ticket from Ruth Walker, editor of the wonderful w42st Magazine. But like an off-duty police officer called into action, I patriotically clocked in. Because here at Theater That Matters, good, provocative theater is a virtue and should be celebrated under any circumstance.

An unfortunate thing, though, is that the play, running at the MCC Theater since earlier this month, closed over Memorial Day weekend, so you won’t be able to see it, at least in the immediate future. But get excited for the next run.

I see a lot of White-People-Having-a-Bad-Day kind of plays that quickly wash over me; BLKS was the polar opposite—raw and illuminating, a tractor-beam of comic realness about finding tenderness in a city about as tender as a Tasmanian devil.

Set in Bushwick, the play opens with Octavia (Paige Gilbert) strutting out of her room post mind-numbing sex with her friend-with-benefits, Ry (Coral Peña). After Octavia excuses herself to take a pee, we hear a blood-curdling scream—Octavia has apparently found a “mole” on her clitoris. Ry is so grossed out she refuses to help examine it, and Octavia, taking thorough offense to this, kicks Ry out of the apartment. Roommate Imani (Alfie Fuller) materializes, and after hearing about Octavia’s growth grabs a bottle of liquor in solidarity. Roommate #3, June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) storms through the door in crisis mode after her boyfriend Jamal just cheated on her for the 11th time. It’s officially party time.

As the three roommates get ready to hit the clubs—two of them brokenhearted and one of them just along for the ride—the stage, we now realize, is a revolving circle, thrillingly transforming into a 360-degree peeping-Tom’s-view of these firecrackers getting ready, yanking up their miniskirts as they scurry from room to room, twerking to tunes, and snapping the occasional gratuitous bathroom selfie. Most plays are centered around the playwright and the actors—and this one certainly is—but Robert O’Hara’s entertaining direction is one of the most effective parts of the evening.

The rest of the night consists of: June getting slapped by a stranger and meeting a guy carrying a man-purse (Chris Myers) who ends up appearing at her window at 3 am, Imani meeting a white girl who keeps beating herself up for saying things she doesn’t intend to be racist (and then making out with each other on a Subway platform), and Octavia scrunched in a public restroom with a guy she wants “head” from who eventually admits he “doesn’t eat pussy.”

Barnes has crafted a physically-demanding play, borderline farcical at times, and the leads—Gilbert, Fuller, Crowe-Legacy and Myers—show their adept instincts for selling a laugh with their bodies, not just their mouths.

We’re flat-out grossed out at times. The evening is unflinchingly intense and crass. But that it alternates with unforced moments that show unbridled arrogance capitulating to sheer powerlessness, gives it pathos, and gives us the full spectrum of not only what women of color and what gay women of color confront on the daily in a big, crazy city—but what every human being undergoes in their do-or-die pursuit of a life of meaning. No matter who you have sex with or what color your skin is, we’re all broken inside, and we all feel the same things. Everyone essentially lives the same life; some just have more toys or make more mountains out of molehills.

A bonus to the evening is the ubiquitary hip-hop tracks pounding out of the speakers at unexpected moments, the kind of songs keeping even the whitest of necks (yours truly) grooving to the beats.

Keep this on your radar.

Shakespeare and Love

Tim Weinert and Miranda Jonte_Photo by Simon Raymundo

Tim Weinert and Miranda Jonte (photo by Simon Raymundo)

Reviewed by Kenneth Laboy

Breaking the Shakespeare Code is thrilling. It is also thrillingly well-crafted. John Minigan’s dialogue is fast paced, quippy and profound. He weaves in classical texts to explore how the two protagonists communicate with each other. But the narrative is not a simple revue of Shakespeare’s canon, it is a study on the power dynamics at play in the central relationship.

Through a running time of 80 minutes, Minnigan manages to hold your interest in this would-be romance as his protagonists’ clash and antagonize each other. Each scene deepening the dynamics at play as the two perform for each other and become increasingly aware of these performances. And what performances they are! Minnigan’s text is intensely actable, but there is an intricacy to the text that could easily falter in the wrong hands. It’s a two person show that necessitates a strong hold on pacing, a command of lines to achieve that pacing and a clear understanding of the complex emotional beats. Miranda Jonte and Tim Weinert take the challenge with gusto. Not only are they adept at making sure the forward momentum never lags but they avoid emotionally dishonest beats. They are always active on stage, always pursuing a response from the other and that dynamic is electrifying. It is an emotional tennis match with both Jonte and Weinert making sure their partner has what they need to keep their performances grounded.

The promotional materials assure the audience that “this is not a romance” but by the end I left entirely seduced. A standing ovation for all involved.

Breaking the Shakespeare Code plays now through Sunday, June 2nd in The Black Box at 440 Studios (440 Lafayette St.)

Tickets can be bought at Eventbrite.com for $20: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/breaking-the-shakespeare-code-tickets-60150474689

As Rare as a ‘Pink Unicorn’ is, so is the Auspiciousness of this Show

pinkunicornOOTB

Alice Ripley

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

“Heteronormative… Gender-neutral… Pan-Sexual… I hate diversity!” an angry Alice Ripley shouts. These are all relatively new terms we have to use now to define gender and sexuality. It can be overwhelming to keep up with all these terms and correct pronouns. Alice Ripley does an outstanding job grappling with this new terminology. A teenager, identifying as transgender, may not seem like a monumental issue in the ultra-liberal metropolis of New York, but in a small southern town in Texas where even forming a Gay-Straight Alliance at a high school and ordaining gay pastors makes the front page of the local newspaper, this is HUGE news. Ripley finds herself in the middle of this hot and heavy scandal. The Pink Unicorn looks at this major shift in our thought process when it comes to how we speak about gender.

As Ripley learns how to navigate these uncharted territories for herself, we walk alongside her every step of the way. It is no wonder she is a Tony Award-winning actress, she is truly flawless in her performance, her emotional depth, her commitment to every word.

What makes the evening even more moving, is that it’s timely. Our rights are coming under attack every day. We need pieces like this more now than ever. The stakes have never been higher. Diversity must be protected and celebrated, just like our founding fathers would have wanted. I try not to get excessively emotional in my reviews but shows like this, Dear Reader, make a profound case for the need for Theater That Matters.

The Pink Unicorn plays now through June 2, 2019 at the church at 1 East 29th St

https://www.ootbtheatrics.com/the-pink-unicorn

‘The Virtuous Fall of the Girls from our Lady of Sorrows’ Delivers More Joy than Sorrow

 

Sarah Rosengarten, Alia Guidry, Shavana Clarke, and Pearl Shin

(left to right) Sarah Rosengarten, Alia Guidry, Shavana Clarke and Pearl Shin

Reviewed by Mary Clohan

This spring, Spicy Witch Productions is presenting William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in repertoire with a new play, The Virtuous Fall of the Girls from our Lady of Sorrows, written by Writer-in-Residence Gina Femia.

Femia’s play follows a group of high schoolers at an all-girls Catholic school in Brooklyn as they attempt to stage M4M2, a controversial adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Throughout the rehearsal process, questions of morality, mortality and sexuality arise amongst the group as each of the young women attempt to forge an individual identity under the authoritarian rule of their Catholic instructors.

Anyone, like myself, who received a religious education, will immediately be transported (whether we want to be or not) back to high school in the first moments of the play by actress Mia Canter’s hilarious depiction of Sister Ignatius as she welcomes us, the audience, back for another school year.

From there, the play manages to gracefully navigate the line between hilarity and heartbreak, as we discover the year is 2002, the year after the 9/11 attacks, which have impacted many students in the school, including the play’s protagonist and playwright of M4M2, Minnie (Renita Lewis). Though it is hard to pick out a lead in this largely ensemble driven show, Lewis’ Minnie commands attention from the moment she enters the space and grounds the diverse ensemble with her raw and complex depiction of grief.

There is not a weak link in the ensemble of six high school girls, as each character emerges beautifully rendered and relatable to the core (a credit also to Femia’s playwriting), but special notice has to be paid to the show-stealing Pearl Shin, whose impeccable comedic timing as innocent freshman Mathilda had the audience roaring with laughter.

One of the play’s great achievements is its ability to shift from juvenile conversations about tampons or celebrity crushes to philosophical discussions about religion and human love in a way that rarely felt heavy-handed. In its well-observed depiction of teenage girls, the play conjures an association with Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, but, in my opinion, manages to surpass Delappe’s work in terms of the pressing and poignant nature of its content.

Though the characters in this play may be young, the questions they are grappling with are centuries old, and though no strict conclusions are reached, I was left, for the first time in a long time, with a joyous sense that the revolution is upon us in the form of young women.

The Virtuous Fall of the Girls from our Lady of Sorrows is playing select dates until June 1, 2019 at The Siggy @ The Flea Theater (20 Thomas Street)

Tix: https://www.todaytix.com/x/nyc/shows/15511-the-virtuous-fall-of-the-girls-from-our-lady-of-sorrows

‘Enter Laughing’ Brings the Old-School Charm

 

ENTER LAUGHING Production Photo 22

Chris Dwan (center) and cast. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Reviewed by Audrey Weinbrecht

To kick off its 50th anniversary year, York Theatre Company has revived Enter Laughing, one of the most successful shows in the company’s history.

Originally a semi-autobiographical novel by Carl Reiner, it was adapted into a play by Joseph Stein and then a Broadway musical under the name So Long, 174th Street which ran for two weeks in 1976. In 2007, York Theatre Company excavated it and turned it into a great success. Twelve years later, and this revival seems like it will duplicate that success.

Enter Laughing is a charming love letter to the classic musical comedy, old-fashioned in the best possible way. David Kolowitz (Chris Dwan) is a starry-eyed, girl-crazy delivery boy who dreams of becoming a famous actor in the 1930s. When he lucks into a part with a free theatre company, he must learn to hone his (non-existent) craft while not disappointing his parents, boss and girlfriend. What follows is a literal comedy of errors.

This is a musical for people who love musicals. David’s dreams of stardom are portrayed with a childlike giddiness that never falters. The exuberant cast is in fine voice and play off each other well. Chris Dwan anchors the show well, endearing through all of David’s mishaps. Another standout was David Schramm as the stately actor Marlowe (and in one hilarious fantasy number as the butler), trying his best to wring a halfway decent performance out of the hapless David. The highlight of the show is David’s debut performance near the end of Act Two—an extended scene that was a masterpiece of timing and physical comedy. The songs are cheerful and catchy, the minimalist set and three-piece band perfectly evoke the Depression-era theater David would have played in.

This show is light on character and plot, a confection rather than a hearty meal. But if you are looking for something lighthearted to make you laugh and forget about everything going on in the world, then this is the show for you. The two hour and twenty minute run time flies by and you will definitely exit laughing.

Enter Laughing opens on May 16th and runs until June 9th, 2019 at the York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s (54th Street and Lexington Avenue)

https://yorktheatre.org/

Not Much New in Jekyll and Hyde

 

Secrets - Jekyll & Hyde - Burt Grinstead & Anna Stromberg - Cooper Bates Photography (1)

Burt Grinstead and Anna Stromberg

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

I have always been a fan of the infamous story of Jekyll and Hyde, so when I heard about Soho Playhouse’s new production I was intrigued – the problem is, other than an outstanding shape-shifting actress, there is nothing either jarring or earth-shattering about the production.

When you take on a work that has been done countless times – even on Broadway – the challenge is to keep it fresh, or even unforgettable. And for some, perhaps, Anna Stromberg’s uncanny ability to successfully take on so many different characters makes this a stand out production. But I have seen so many actors required to shape shift on a dime that Stromberg’s portrayal alone was not enough for me to call it an outstanding rendition of Jekyll and Hyde.

Stromberg’s counterpart, Burt Grinstead, does a fine job portraying the classic Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by giving us a decent but unoriginal performance. Overall, this is a fine production with strong comedic moments that is worth seeing if you don’t feel inundated by the story and all its retellings. A groundbreaking production, this is not.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde plays now through May 26, 2019 at The Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St. http://www.sohoplayhouse.com

Luzia Loses Some of its Creative Flair

luzia

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

A few years ago, I was asked to review a Cirque de Soleil’s production of Kurios. I remember entering the tent and being immediately transported into a fantastical world of pure imagination and wonder. I recall the goosebumps running up and down my spine numerous times. I was in a constant state of awe. It was simply unforgettable. Thus, when I was invited to see their new show Luzia, my heart started beating rapidly as the expectant excitement infiltrated every inch of my body. Finally, the day of the show arrived and I could not wait any longer. Sadly, Luzia left me feeling somehow cheated by my experience. Maybe it’s unfair to judge one show against the other, but for me the bar was set very high, perhaps too high to be lived up to.

The acts themselves were adequate, but they had mistakes in them, especially the person who tried to fit their body through a ring and failed to do so many times. But more than that the genius that constantly amazed me previously was seriously missing from this show. I kept waiting to be blown away by jaw-dropping moments. I was depressed by the flatness of the show, except for the clown who brought energy and excitement to the production. I hope that the creative team will revisit the amazing originality of Kurios and infuse it back into their next work.

Luzia plays under the Big Top at CitiField through June 9, 2019 https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/usa/new-york/luzia/buy-ticke

‘Hurricane Sleep’ Kept Me Wide Awake

 

image

Starring Rachel Schmeling (front) and Neysa Lozano. (Photo by Mateo Lamuño)

Reviewed by Gregor Collins

Generally speaking, when it comes to a song, if I vibe on the first listen, it’s going straight into my ears during a hard workout at the gym—but a song that takes multiple listens to unravel its complexity is a song accompanying me on a Sunday stroll through a park on a crisp day.

Andrea Goldman’s Hurricane Sleep is the soundtrack to that crisp Sunday stroll, and the good news is that you don’t have to see the show multiple times to feel its gallivanting pathos—you need but once. And if you’re patient during the “set up”, you’ll eventually be girded with a seductive coalescence that come-hithers you into a hyperrealistic world that feels like if Alice in Wonderland and A Christmas Carol had sex in an abandoned New York bodega during hurricane Sandy.

Written by Andrea Goldman of The Box Collective (the theater company she founded in 2010), co-directed by Goldman and Julia Watt, and produced by the always exacting and provocative Iati Theater, Hurricane Sleep follows Sal (Rachel Schmeling) as she embarks on a sublime, psychosexual exploration into “letting go.”

Amidst the howling winds of Sandy, Sal (our “Alice”) stumbles into a bodega and meets a local girl named Ome (Neysa Lozano) whose devil-may-care approach to everything under the sun progressively frees Sal of her repressed sexuality. Along the way a cadre of endearingly irreverent characters—spirits, we presume—materialize to confront Sal about the squalid past and dreaded future she insists on clinging to, ultimately showing her, and us all, the magic of the here and the now.

Schmeling and Lozano play well together, at first as polar opposites and then, by the end, as one formless, shapeless body that, we’re pretty sure, will live in perfection for eternity.

Spirit #1 is the ghost of Ome’s mother (Heaven Stephens), who teaches, taunts and twerks her way around the stage, disarming the audience in a multitude of bombastic ways; Spirit #2 is Beer Pong Guy (Shashwat Gupta), whose soft-spoken wit unwittingly invokes “Pedro” from Napoleon Dynamite; finally, the formidable actor George Bass gives a scenes-stealing performance as Spirit #3: “Señor”.

The play is heavy on physicality, complete with carefully coordinated movement sequences, some feeling right out of a Tchaikovsky ballet, some out of a Marilyn Manson video, co-created and orchestrated by international movement coach Sara Fay George, who turns our deepest demons into dazzling dances. There are things in this life words simply can never do justice—and Goldman lets George run free, lending her visual artistry where words could never exist.

The set design (Mike Mroch), sound design (Matt Sherwin) and lighting design (Elizabeth Schweitzer) all pull together to seduce us into Sal’s dreams, seamlessly turning a gritty bodega into a playhouse of flashing lights and sultry soundscapes.

As Goldman shows us in her lilting script, it is ultimately through disaster that we discover our true beauty.

Performances will be held from May 2nd-12th on Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students and seniors. Tickets: call 212-505-6757 or visit http://www.iatitheater.org/

An Other-Wordly Affair

featured is Vin KridaKorn as Max

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

Throughout my years as a theater critic and avid theater-goer, I have never seen a play about the paranormal—that’s saying a lot, considering I’ve seen over 300 productions. So when I saw that Pan Asian Repertory was tackling The Brothers Paranormal, I, an admitted scaredy-cat, was as intrigued as I was skeptical. Despite a few minor glitches, I can definitely say yes. I was scared. But also moved.

This is the world premiere of a spine-tingling piece by Prince Gomolvilas. So where do ghosts, if they exist, come from, and why are they here? Max, who holds an MBA, has opened up a business to get to the heart of this question. With the help of his brother Jai, they will unearth these mysteries all together. Max admittedly is a non-believer and regards this business as a smokescreen, but a necessary way to make some money with his brother. Enter Delia, a woman in her 50’s convinced that her house is haunted by a ghost. Throughout the play, we see Tasance, Max’s mother, who committed suicide a few years ago. We are never quite sure if she represents a ghost or a sign that Max is mentally unstable. We come to understand that sometimes the dead stay because the living aren’t ready to let them go or are unable to cross over into the next life due to unfinished business here on Earth. This certainly seems the case in Delia and her husband Felix’s situation. But is their “ghost” real and if so, why is Delia the only one who can see it? These are just some of the dilemmas and circumstances we sit with at the end of the first act. Act two gives us some answers and some unexpected twists that leave us on the edge of our seats.

The cast is well suited to tell this story. Vin KridaKorn is excellent as Max. This actor understands his character, and the emptiness he feels inside is tangible. He is our protagonist and we are with him every step of the way. His pain becomes our pain—he is so vulnerable that we can literally walk a mile in his shoes. Dawn L. Troupe does an equally compelling job as Delia. Her sheer terror over her encounters with the malevolent spirit make believers out of the audience, which is no small feat. Both KridaKorn and Troupe have great comic timing, making for standout performances. The scenes between the two of them are tender and their developing friendship is worth investing in. Also, memorable is Emily Kuroda as Tasance. Whether she is a ghost or not is undetectable because she has just the right amount of allusiveness to keep us guessing.

What makes this play special is its ability to constantly surprise us with unexpected twists and turns. Not only does it have moments of pure terror, but it makes us feel the characters humanity. Most horror films go in for the shock value alone. This one goes a step further, allowing us to feel for three-dimensional characters. This show will intrigue and shock you simultaneously, but yet, fascinatingly, you somehow leave with a sense of hope.

The Brothers Paranormal plays now through May, 19, 2019 at Theater Row 410 W 42nd St. http://www.panasianrep.org

What Do You Consider Safe?

 

SAFEWORD_VERTICAL_5 (1)

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

One man’s pleasure is another man’s pain, so the saying goes. The world of BDSM scrutinizes this world and tries to unearth this fetish for those of us who may not be as familiar with this proclivity. Safeword, a new play by S. Asher Gelman, delves deeply into the psyche of one man’s overwhelming need to be a sub; that is to be submissive to a more dominant figure. If you can get past the all too convenient plot points, this play has rich material worth exploring.

What are the odds that Micah and Lauren live in the same building as Xavier and Chris, also a young couple? That seems reasonable enough until we learn that Xavier is Micah’s BDSM master, and they don’t discover this until they meet at a dinner party that Lauren threw because she befriended Chris somewhere, somehow. Somehow it is hard to buy into this premise. It is unfair to ask the audience to believe that Chris and Xavier live in the same building as Micah and Lauren, but are unaware of it. But if we can get past that, the dinner conversation between the couples is quite enlightening as we watch Micah squirm in the hot seat. Interestingly, Lauren adopts a surprising affinity for the world of Sadomasochism.

I don’t mean to set the wrong tone; the play is definitely worth seeing for the performances alone. This is a fine example of how talented actors can cover up a script that has contrived moments that are difficult to make believable. Jimmy Brooks is powerful as Xavier. He is scary as the dominant figure, but quickly shows us a completely different side as he plays the caring, sensitive aspect of his character as Chris partner. Traci Elaine Lee is superb as Lauren. Her role is emotionally demanding, but she proves that she is up for the challenge. She is stunning in her own right. Her journey from a young naive girl to a strong woman who can take on the world is praiseworthy. Also notable is Joe Chisholm as Micah. His need for domination and humiliation is palpable. He lets us in to a dark scary spot in his soul that shows incredible vulnerability. Maybe Burke does a fine job as Chris. He adds a sense of flair and lightens up this ominous place we find ourselves in, which is the heart of this play.

Maybe it was the fact that the plays runs 95 minutes without an intermission, but the play felt long to me. This holds true especially towards the end. Despite the momentary unearned plot points, I left this play impressed. It humanizes a taboo topic from which our society shies away. My hat goes off to scenic designer Ann Beyersdorfer for making an immaculate set that adds a layer of class to a thought-provoking play. So go explore your darker side. Who knows what you may find.

Safeword plays now through July 7th at the American Theater of Actors, 314 W St. https://www.safewordtheplay.com/