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

‘Quiet Enjoyment’ is a Simple Pleasure

QUIET ENJOYMENT by Richard Curtis - L to R Samantha Mercado Tudda (MERRY), Mario Claudio (BIMSKY) _ Megan Simard (KARMA), Photo by Mozinya Productions

Left to right: Samantha Mercado Tudda, Mario Claudio, Megan Simard

Reviewed by Kenneth Laboy

‘Quiet Enjoyment’ is an apt title for this comedy by Richard Curtis. Directed by Marcus Gualberto, the play centers on a fastidious co-op closing where everything that can go wrong, does.

Staged in the Playroom Theater, the small space is used eloquently with a large table being the centerpiece and quiet corners for the asides. There isn’t much space, but Gualberto doesn’t let the cramped stage get in the way of maintaining energy and movement required for the play. Even with as many as eight actors on stage, it never feels cluttered. And the players always have space to play.

His actors do a great job with Curtis’ snappy dialogue, and squeeze as much comedy from every moment as they can. The best thing about their performances? They are having fun up in that stage! They are enjoying every second, and it is always a joy to see actors engaged in their performances with such zeal.

The play text itself is dense with comedy – smart word play, incisive character choices, sort of, a farce without doors. And yet, for much of the running time I smiled more than I chuckled. It was constantly pleasant, but the enjoyment was somehow subdued. The culprit for this might be the running time. The production is slightly over 90 minutes. And while movement is constant on stage, the dialogue itself could be more tightly paced.

Conversations here had a realness to them that lacked the urgency demanded by the farce.

Quiet Enjoyment plays now through Sunday, September 22nd in The Playroom Theatre (418 East 46th Street, NYC)

Tickets can be bought at http://QuietEnjoyment.BrownPaperTickets.com for $25

‘Hope Hypothesis’ Asks a Question it does not Answer

Voyage Theater Company presents The Hope Hypothesis

Left to right: Mary E. Hodges, Soraya Broukhim, Greg Brostrom, and William Ragsdale

Reviewed by Audrey Weinbrecht

After a young law student named Amena’s trip to the DMV to finalize her immigration papers leads to her being held by the FBI under a ludicrous accusations of terrorism, she finds herself trapped in the break room with a DMV employee. Fresh out of rehab, he shares with her his unique theory about the world: “When a person loses hope they either destroy themselves or they destroy others.” This is the “hope hypothesis” from which the show gets its name and presumably is the main theme of the piece.

“So what’s the solution?” Amena asks but the conversation is interrupted by the entry of another character. The show does not provide an answer to this question, which leaves the story without a resolution. If anything, by not providing a solution to this problem, the show suggests that there is none which fits with the rather bleak ending. Despite the laughs, the story touches on a very real fear for many Americans. The cultural relevance is what gives the satire its bite. Amena’s situation is depicted as ridiculous but plausible. There is perhaps no more damning indictment of this country’s stance on immigration than to laugh at it.

But the show’s ending gives the impression of echoing a conversation without adding anything new to the discourse. A dark ending could have worked if it had tied up more narrative threads. Not learning what happened to any of the main characters makes the arc of the story feel cut off, not resolved. The reason the ending is so frustrating is that the majority of the show is excellent. It takes a clever, incisive wit to make scenes about waiting in line at the DMV and being interrogated by the FBI entertaining and hilarious. The dialogue is sharp and witty. The cast tears through the script with gusto and plays off each other with impeccable comedic timing.

Each character is introduced as a seemingly average person, then becomes increasingly neurotic as the plot races from one absurd scenario to another. Some standouts: Wesley Zurick as the peppy teller with Machiavellian ambitions, Charlie O’Rourke as Amena’s histrionic boyfriend, and Greg Brostrom as a buffoonish FBI agent. As the plot escalates, only Amena remains the same, grounding the story. Soraya Broukhim makes Amena the sympathetic, intelligent, accessible protagonist she needs to be. An ordinary, capable young American trapped by increasing layers of bureaucratic farce.

She ends up completely undone by it, but perhaps there was another ending that could have been imagined for her.

The Voyage Theater Company’s production of The Hope Hypothesis runs through Sunday, November 15th at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture (18 Bleecker Street).

Tickets can be purchased at https://www.sheencenter.org/shows/hope/2019-10-25/

The Sirens of Weeki Wachee Called out in Tira Palmquist’s Worth of Water… But it Was Not Music I Heard.

worth of water

 

Reviewed by Anthony Arcidi

Elle Masters, played by Clare Latham, opens The Worth of Water with a failed performance due to her inability to sing in public.  It’s an apt metaphor for her brewing emotional crisis as a woman seeking artistic acceptance and financial independence, wondering if the effort is worthwhile to express herself and pondering what her life will become.  There is no better backdrop to ponder this than her mother Ethel, confidently played by Emmy nominee Kim Crow, inviting Elle and her sister Rebecca, a strict conservative from Minnesota, played by Christianna Greiert, to Weeki Wachee mermaid resort in Florida to celebrate her 70th birthday.  Rules are established about sexual flirting and socializing but they are quickly broken as Ethel embarrassingly pursues the attention of the resort’s male staff. Rebecca and Elle watch in amusement and vow never to turn out like mom, discussing how they have turned out in love and career. Rebecca’s criticism seems misplaced, however, as she learns her husband is leaving her for a younger woman.  Her self-righteousness seemed so hypocritical that a meltdown seemed inevitable. Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house.

Despite the high caliber of actors I found the presentation lacking, either in the static dialogues that that seemed to go on and on, to failing to capture  the color, kitsch, and vitality of Weeki Wachee in the set design. At one point the audience watches cardboard puppets dangling in lit aquariums to represent the celebrating trio, but the stage is ironically empty of any supporting action or imagery, a bizarre juxtaposition.  Most disappointing is Elle’s discovery of her voice again, falling short in only singing a single extended note rather than any song or ballad to capture her resurfacing confidence, s bit of a letdown. The payoff in The Worth of Water left more to.be desired than the effort required.

the Worth of Water plays a limited Engagement at HERE Arts Center from October 4;to 20, 2019

 

 

Hey Man, Poe got Cooped? That’s Wild!

Makaela Shealy, Johnny Pozzi, Estelle Olivia, Dara Kramer, Brian J. Alford, Samantha Johnson, Aaron Latta-Morissette

Actors Makaela Shealy, Johnny Pozzi, Estelle Olivia, Dara Kramer, Brian J. Alford, Samantha Johnson, and Aaron Latta-Morissette

Reviewed by Anthony Arcidi

Who killed Edgar Allan Poe? The Cooping Theory 1969, an immersive theater experience at the club RPM Underground on West 54th Street, offers an alternative theory.of Poe’s mysterious parting on October 7th in 1849.

After initiation into the Poe Secret Society, audience and cast members alike gather in the bar where the Fab 4 are muraled on a wall, a backdrop for a small performance stage, lending a counter-cultural atmosphere.

After the first martini sinks in, the trippy mod look of the cast and saturated mood lighting in the dungeon-esque, gas-station themed club takes on an ethereal 60’s revival vibe with acoustic Beatles ballads and spontaneous speeches detailing historically accurate evidence of pre civil war corruption and the discovery of Poe’s body.  The stylish activist, and possibly a stewardess in a saturated orange outfit played by Samantha Johnson, easily transitions from prepared speech to answer impromptu queries from onlookers, deftly staying in character. The audience, drinks in hand, swarm around the actors and rove from room to room, gathering new facets of the puzzle, like Poe’s issue with alcohol and the clothes he was found wearing at his death.

Cooping, an apparent Shanghai abduction style of voting fraud, is introduced and adds to the revolutionary anti-government spirit with a group of gothic spooky characters, like the creepy couple played by Estelle Olivia and Brian Alford resembling a younger hip version of the Munsters, as your guides. The paranormal tone gets into high gear when Makaela Shealy’s seance medium reaches out to communicate with Poe himself, meanwhile other cast members, in trances, begin to spew revelations of their interactions or observances of the doomed poet.

The makeup and costumes are impeccably done, the flow of action across several rooms or simultaneously in different rooms give the curious audience members lots of options to watch and gather clues. The only drawback is there might be one or two critical links of information that were performed elsewhere from the viewer to make the connections to understand the theory. This problem is solved by the highly social atmosphere of the club and by design the production encourages social interaction to piece everything together and wonder if it’s all true.

The Cooping Theory should be popular for groups and couples alike as an antidote to the music club/karaoke scene. The first martini was the best I’ve had in five years, exactly like I wanted, but the second was a complete disappointment not worthy of a carnival boat bash. The wings were okay but never got to try the burgers and fries when the offer was strangely rescinded.

All audience members are required to set up a tab, I assume there is a minimum.

Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? The Cooping Theory 1969

Running time 2 hours 45 minutes

RPM Underground 244 West 54th Street, Broadway/8th Avenue