A Woman’s Place is in La Résistance

Christina Liang, Ashley Bufkin, Essence Stiggers, Kate Margalite, Ella Dershowtiz

Christina Liang, Ashley Bufkin, Essence Stiggers, Kate Margalite, Ella Dershowtiz

Reviewed by Audrey Weinbrecht

Three Musketeers: 1941 is presented as a part of the Women in Theatre Festival, which was founded to give a platform to women writers and performers in response to widespread gender parity in the industry.

This world premiere play is a feminist retelling of the classic novel set in Nazi-occupied Paris. Five young women join together to resist the Nazis occupation of their homeland and the French policemen collaborating with them. Nerve-wracking and inspirational, this is a timely piece about ordinary people making a difference fighting radical regimes.

The first act struggles with pacing problems. It takes awhile for the show to establish a sense of danger and high stakes. The act ends with the death of a major character so abruptly that the audience seemed a bit confused. However, the aforementioned death brought a real sense of urgency to the second act which flowed a lot better.

Much of the first act’s trouble with raising the stakes results from ineffective villains. The script relies perhaps a bit too much on the audience’s familiarity with the Nazis history to provide a sense of danger. Yet the protagonists spend the show fighting not the Nazis but their French collaborators who fail to pull their weight.

Inspector Richelieu (Zack Calhoon) is a French policeman working with the Nazis in order to advance his career. Yet most of the time he comes across as an exhausted bureaucrat struggling to meet the demands put on him by his superiors. It’s hard to focus on his willingness to persecute his own countrymen to get ahead when you’re treated to yet another scene of him being berated over the telephone. Milady (Helen Farmer) has more charisma but plays like a clichéd femme fatale. Rochefort (Javan Nelson) also seems more inept than dangerous.

Our heroes fare much better. Athos, Aramis, Porthos, D’artagnan and Planchet are all compellingly written with small flashes of backstory and interiority that lead to significant emotional payoff. The actresses have great chemistry and are individually excellent as well. Their performances make this play one to see despite the unevenness of the plot.

Above all, the decision to portray the famous musketeers as women is powerful but understated. These characters aren’t fighting for women’s issues because they’re women. They’re fighting for freedom because they are human beings living through hell. Gender bending at its most successful illustrates that women’s stories are universal.

Three Musketeers: 1941 opens on June 8th and runs until June 29th at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres (502 West 53rd Street)

https://witfestival.brownpapertickets.com/

I Wanted ‘God of Marz’ to be Epic

Poster - God of Marz

Reviewed by Gregor Collins

Temerarious twenty-somethings are cranking out dystopian farces set in space these days by the truckload. It’s one of my favorite genres of theater—there’s something epic about achieving absurdity and profundity in the same play, sometimes even in the same scene. Eat the Devil, one of my favorite Off-Offs this year, comes to mind as a production that achieved both in a big way.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for God of Marz. It felt oddly caught between two worlds, not fearless enough to be balls-to-the-wall inane, and too slipshod to have any lasting dramatic effect. It was neither Ben & Jerry’s nor Haagen Dazs; it was Breyers. And the only time you buy Breyers is if there’s no more Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs.

The play follows two astronauts (Ray Farara and Rachel Sheen, the latter of whom wrote the play) who crash land on Mars and find themselves in the abode of God (Laura Leigh Carroll). The two space travelers agonize through kooky and acerbic interactions with the Almighty and her son Jesus, as they plan their perilous escape back to earth.

The script wasn’t a total disaster, it had its stretches of entertainment, but my main issue with the evening had less to do with the script and more to do with low-talking. I had trouble understanding several of the actor’s lines. It almost seemed they didn’t much care that we couldn’t hear them. Often words were swallowed at the end of lines. I’m all for filmic realism in theater, but when someone (me) is sitting in the very front row and has to lean in several times to wonder what they said, there’s a problem. I could only imagine what the folks sitting in back were experiencing.

The script thought it was daring and shocking, but it was actually safe, and there were several stretches that felt devoid of energy. On the contrary, the actor Ray Fanara brought a consistent energy to his role, with the boyish charm of a movie star. The rest of the cast felt like it didn’t live up to what Fanara was bringing. Carroll, who played “God”, had some comic chops, but she was probably the worst of the low-talkers—it’s like she was shooting a film. Several punchlines of hers were lost. I can’t have been the only one.

There were a few jokes that landed, but the majority of them were tepid or lazy. A couple of lazy jokes were when Jesus (Adam Chisnall) ambles into the living room saying: “Oh my mother… oh my mother,” instead of saying “oh my God… oh my God” (a joke that’s been done a million times), and at one point Jesus guilted someone by saying “I died for your sins.” Can we just not put Jesus in any comedy from here on out? Unless we can truly tread new ground?

For me, the music was the best part of the evening. Kudos to Mark Lazeski’s original soundtrack, a pulse-pounding, psychedelic goulash of sounds and tones that kept me engrossed from beginning to end—sadly it was set against a play that couldn’t quite live up to its pervasive power. At the end, Sheen, the playwright and co-star—and, who would have thought, a professional aerialist—gave us a dazzling, Olympic-caliber routine on a large ring hanging from the ceiling. That was almost worth the price of the ticket.

All said, and this is something a theater critic who has never worked in the world of theater could ever point out, Sheen should be proud of what she’s accomplished here—writing and starring in a play that will be running for 28 performances in the most important theater city in the world. How many actor/playwrights can say they’ve achieved that? Certainly not this one.

May 30 – June 15, 2019 (28 Performances)
Monday-Sunday at 8:30 p.m.
Thursday-Sunday at 6:00 p.m.

TBG Theater
312 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10018

Tickets are $35 for adults; $20 for students and seniors.

Direct ticketing link: https://godofmarz.com/

‘BLKS’ RCKS

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(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/