‘Hurricane Sleep’ Kept Me Wide Awake

 

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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?

 

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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/

An Invitation to Keep Believing

 

Zac Owens and Natalia Plaza in The Rare Biosphere_Photo by Jeremy Varner_Press Photo 3

Zac Owens and Natalia Plaza in The Rare Biosphere at Calvary St. George’s Theater.

Reviewed by Kenneth Laboy

The strength of director Christopher Domig’s choices precede the narrative of The Rare Biosphere. The audience enters the space through its set, a wonderfully intimate living space designed by Guy de Lancey, through the kitchen and across the living room into the seating area. This allows the audience to see the set as a home first and a stage second. As one sits to the sounds of Celia Cruz, a photo slips from the playbill – it is a family of five, their smiles as wide as can be. The empty living room with the music blasting takes on new shades. Loss, or the expectation of it, has settled into the audience, and then, lights down. The door opens. A joyous Sophie enters talking about her day to her absent mother. She is happy. The audience knows she will not be happy. Loss will settle into her. Domig has given the necessary tools to make this loss palpable from the start.

The play, written with incredible empathy by Chris Cragin-Day, explores the parallels of how society at large treats diversity as a nuisance and the microbial diversity of the ‘rare biosphere’, a marine ecosystem in which diversity is crucial. The play is not without its faults, but those are few and brief – the parallel mentioned above loses subtlety as the narrative progresses, with one character breaking the fourth wall and explaining why this metaphor is important and relevant. Scenes outside Sophie’s house exist outside the audience’s periphery and across the stage, muddying sightlines and competing with the concurrent action on-stage. But these don’t deter from the pure enjoyment one feels as the story unfolds.

It is an endearing piece of art, anchored by two fantastic performances by Natalia Plaza and Zac Owens. Plaza has the harder job. She sets the tone of the piece with an extended monologue that exudes youthful optimism. She is instantly lovable as the protagonist and this heightens the incoming dread of her discovery and subsequent survival. As the play progresses, Plaza deftly balances the limits of her strength and vulnerability, while maintaining the go-getter attitude she was introduced with. But all great heroes need an equally great foil and Owens delivers the goods. His Steven is an unwavering source of positivity in the face of adversity. An instantly quotable character, he is both comic and charming, as he tries to make sense of his privilege and his place in Sophie’s story.

It is through Steven that the audience gets, what I believe to be, the emotional thesis of this production. Costume designer Emily White aptly gives him a Journey’s t-shirt. It urges: “Don’t Stop Believing”.

The Rare Biosphere plays now through Sunday, May 19th at Calvary St. George’s (61 Gramercy Park North).

Tickets can be bought at http://www.seadogtheater.org for $30 ($20 student ticket).