With ‘BrandoCapote’, All That Glitters is not Gold

Jennifer McClinton, Rafael Jordan, Lynn R Guerra, Cooper Howell, and Laura K Nicoll

Jennifer McClinton, Rafael Jordan, Lynn R. Guerra, Cooper Howell, and Laura k. Nicoll. (Photography by Miguel Aviles)

Reviewed by Gregor Collins

Sara Farrington and Reid Farrington, who wrote and directed BrandoCapote respectively, should strut down Off-Off-Broadway Boulevard like they own it. Because on one hand they could make a case that they do. They’ve concocted a fairly original evening of theater that combines three seemingly incompatible elements: Noh Theater (a 14th Century Japanese performance art involving music, dance and drama), iconic Actor Marlon Brando’s filmography, and a 1957 magazine profile of Brando by writer Truman Capote. And visually at times it gave us something to grab onto.

But then there’s the other side of the coin: When something is too abstruse and ambitious to have any lasting resonance. To be honest, I walked out of this show feeling absolutely nothing. I’ll get to that in a second.

First, I’m going to include, word-for-word, the synopsis from their press release, and then I’ll tell you why I copy/pasted it instead of writing it myself:

“Disguised as an interview, BrandoCapote evolves into our own version of In Cold Blood, Capote’s true crime masterwork. In BrandoCapote, like In Cold Blood, Capote puts a human face on an inhuman act, exposing generations of toxic masculinity, abuse and violence, while exorcising the demons of American celebrity.”

Why didn’t I write it in my own words? Because, for all the money in the world, I would not have been able to tell you what I saw. I certainly didn’t feel what the press release wanted me to feel. Now, not achieving a firm grasp of what I saw wasn’t really the problem I had with it. For me at least, true art isn’t about clarity, or tying things up in a bow. No, the problem I had with BrandoCapote wasn’t the “not following what was going on” part—it was the part where no part of it made me look at anything in a new or different way. It was too cluttered and confusing for that.

Sometimes something that’s so visually dazzling and moving is all you need to carry it home with you. But this show wasn’t it.

Storytelling that is abstract and nonlinear, like BrandoCapote, shouldn’t sacrifice making you feel something. Here are four personal examples of  “abstract” art that stick with me to this day:

Paintings by Mark Rothko.

Films by David Lynch.

Songs by Guided by Voices.

Opera by Richard Wagner.

My intention is not to compare BrandoCapote to these four examples, it’s just that you can’t simply conceive something original, write an erudite synopsis, make an enigmatic poster, put it up on stage, and then fail to make it actually resonate with an audience. What’s the point? The Farringtons valiantly packed in so many interesting art forms—Brando movie clips, Capote sound bites, Noh costumes, discordant sounds, movement repetitions—that it became a wash, akin to standing in the middle of Times Square and trying desperately to find meaning in the chaos.

The only way I recommend seeing this show is if you want to walk away inspired to do what BrandoCapote, in my eyes, failed to do—come up with something that actually has you thinking about it.

Originality is overrated if it disappears into obscurity.

BrandoCapote at The Tank (312 W. 36th St, NY)

Nov 7-24

Direct Link to Tickets: https://rb.gy/d90865

Can Women Truly Be Friends with Other Women?

Ianne Fields Stewart and Sabina Friedman-Seitz

Ianne Fields Stewart and Sabina Friedman-Seitz

Review by Anthony Arcidi

Can women be universally supportive of other women in the mold of Ann Friedman, and eschew any female on female criticism whether it be slut-shaming or beauty bashing? This is the question playwright Lily Houghton attempts to answer in a most allegorical way.

The set is the basement of a trendy woman’s clothing franchise in New York City and becomes a womb-like bunker of sorts in which the workers, three white and one non-white women, form a bond that extends well beyond a clique of co-workers into a family unit with the comforts of tea, latte, glitter, candles and lipstick.

The imagery of seasons of the year and flowers that bloom are emblematic of the phases of the circular union. It opens pre-Spring in which Bluebell (Ianne Fields Stewart), Sweet Pea (Sabina Friedman-Seitz), Bleeding Heart (Carolyn Kettig), welcome Pumpkin (Kirsten Harvey) to the basement team. The banter between them can be overly sycophantic to caustically and privately insulting customers or mocking their boss Janet, played by Star Kirkland, over their headphones, and even switching to long dreamy floral romantic monologues.

The after hours get-togethers among their crew serves partly as a party, with weed and wine, to part ritual practice that becomes a fashion inspired incantation, to a confessional, to sharing session. Mini crises can be decided among them but usually deferring to Bluebell the non white leader of the circle. It’s possible this may be an updated play on the Aunt Jemima nurturing paradigm in which the oppressors are male dominance and abuse.

She engenders a familial and protected feeling among them in which they profess their commitment and love to one another and reveal their inner feelings to each other. It becomes a cozy emotionally intimate gathering that treats the outer world of messy relationships, sex and male dominance like an apocalyptic wasteland outside the store’s basement. Healing of negative body image residue and pursuit of sexual conquest without love is encouraged, if not demanded, as their right to pursue. It is their Eden.

The cheer of spring and summer yield to the cold winds of fall and winter as cracks begin to develop in the special enclave. Someone has stolen two pink thongs and suspicion and intrigue rattles their trust. The mood of the next after-hours goes from chatty to revelatory to accusatory to defensive in quick fashion. The answer of who and why will test the bonds and tenets that had been espoused earlier. This leads to the ultimate dividers of social engagement, economic entitlement and racial inequality, to blister any sense of cohesion and ultimately the groups existence.

The casting choice of a transgender woman as Bluebell adds another dimension to what the play’s author may have intended. The issue of transgender identity and inclusion with feminist solidarity can add another layer to any of the play’s dialogue. Sometimes it’s an awkward fit.

Of the Woman offers a glimpse into the mechanisms of how female relationships hold together, replete with the co-dependencies and need for mutual support in addressing their own healing and affirmation. It’s an environmental experiment with its own premise, potential and results to give so much to mull on about female social dynamics that make this play both a fascinating and challenging experience to take in and think about.

Of the Woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die.

Normal Ace’s Medicine show theater 549 W 52nd street, New York City. Running time 90 minutes no intermission

October 3 to 20

‘Monsoon Season’ Impresses

L to R Therese Plaehn (Julia) and Richard Thieriot (Danny)

Therese Plaehn (Julia) and Richard Thieriot (Danny)

Reviewed by Kenneth Laboy

Monsoon Season is an exquisitely crafted thrill-ride. Written by Lizzie Vieh, it is a series of vignettes of lost conversations, an almost one man-show, a two-monologue play. It follows a man at the end of his rope, until it doesn’t. The sense of danger ever-present.

The strength of this production resides in the sure-footed way in which director Kristin McCarthy Parker uses every aspect of production to make sure the audience goes on the expected emotional journey. You-Shin Chen’s scenery unfurls itself slowly, adding simple nuances to what originally was just clutter. Sarah Johnston’s lighting is superbly integrated to the narrative; she uses her design in delightful, constantly surprising ways that add dimensions to the established atmosphere of unease and suspense. The sound designed by Emma Wilk guides you seamlessly through the necessary emotional beats required by the text.

Added to the sensorial experience the design team has created, are Richard Thieriot and Therese Plaehn. The narrative hinges on the success of these performances, and Thieriot and Plaehn manage to soar. They step on stage with a sort of unhinged naturalism, and start conversing, sometimes with the audience, other times with unseen friends and foes, always with a deep need for connection that is withheld from them. That last moment, one where that need is finally satisfied, is catharsis at its finest.

No one part of the production overshadows the rest. There is a hearty balance to the parts that creates an exhilarating whole. This is a team of professionals seamlessly working as a unit, bringing their best to the table. And the result is one worth beholding.

All For One Theatre’s production of Monsoon Season plays now through Saturday, November 23rd in The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place, NYC)

Tickets can be bought at https://www.afo.nyc/ for $25