AI celebrates the “serious artist” and that starts with the playwright. What guides their pen?

ArtsIndependent celebrates the playwright and author. 

All facets of the arts are of-value but – to us – in the end – they who create the characters and the situations have our undivided attention. Let’s hear about what some authors do to make magic:

Gary Morgenstein Photo

Gary Morgenstein, playwright, author

As William Faulkner said, “a writer must throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph.” My new novel, A Mound Over Hell, clocked in at 800 manuscript pages. I wrote and rewrote, always looking for the honesty in who the characters were, because at the end of the day, the novel belongs to them, not the writer. And then ultimately, it belongs, most of all, to the reader.

 

12208538_10154443885709782_1084773263112678843_nPatrick Hickey, author, journalist, interviewer, professor

My writing process is one that is entirely selfless. What would make someone stay on the page? Why should they care? Those are the things running through my head. It’s a journalistic approach as well since I’m a nonfiction writer. I don’t have the luxury of making things up. Long before my own hits the paper or my hands hit the keyboard, I’ve spent hours with the people and sources needed to write the story. So by that time, I’m invested far more than any fiction writer.

10526104_10203686074049025_8673573741316030814_nKate Gill, playwright

The core inspiration for my writing is usually one small thing that inexplicably stops me and makes me see something in a new light – a newspaper item, a personal story, a scientific fact, or an odd comment – and I begin to imagine a story…then it can be a long time fermenting as I “meet” characters in my story and get to know them. When I sit down to write, I have the story and characters in mind but the process of writing impacts what I ultimately write – things change and evolve. Then I need to hear my work and get input from trusted colleagues as well as audience members. Filtering the feedback is hard work – what do I take and what don’t I take – I don’t always know what’s best right away.

23843457_10213127673919168_5229172706083237160_nAnthony J. Piccione, playwright, interviewer, reviewer

I usually start with a specific subject or basic scenario in mind. Sometimes, it might be inspired by an event I witnessed in my own life, but other times, it might have been inspired by something I read about or saw in another show, or in a film, or in the news. Sometimes, it can be completely random and hysterical. Other times, it might deal with a very serious or even controversial topic. On some occasions, it may even be a combination of both! Then, from there, I usually write out some sort of basic structure for how I want the story to go, and that can also vary, depending on the play. Then, after having written out an initial draft within that structure, there’s time to go back and change dialogue, potentially reorder scenes, and also make plenty of cuts or additions. After that, all that’s left to do is hope that a great director and great actors come along to take what I wrote, and turn it into great theatre.
download (1)Ilia Volok, playwright, adapter
Nicolai Gogol is one of my favorite writers. His ability to show the depth and the complexity of a common,”little” person is beyond words. This masterful combination of a realism, specificity, attention to detail and a heightened reality, as well as humor and drama of it was always extremely appealing to me. The process of bringing the nuances and the authenticity of an original material into a translation is not an easy task!
The main challenge was to adopt the “Diary of a Madman”, which is written in a form of a short story, and not specifically for stage, to a theatrical piece. Diary of a Madman has always interested me, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it until I started working with the director Eugene Lazarev. Together we were able to find our own voice to interpret this wonderful material.

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Dorian Palumbo, playwright, author, reviewer, article and blog writer

I won’t get too elaborate about it, but there are a few things that I’ve found useful as my process has developed over the years.  This applies to the dramatic writing and not to prose pieces, by the way.  First, I find that it helps to take Shonda Rimes’s advice – I can write anywhere as long as I have a set of noise canceling headphones.  Mine are Bose over-the-ear type, and I find that I can sit in the Public Library or a restaurant and still feel as if I have a bit of privacy.  As I’m writing, I sort of toggle between working with a computer-based draft and working with a paper one.  The story break develops first, and then gets filled in, directly in Final Draft, but once I have the first draft, I do the moment-to-moment work by slowing it down with a paper copy of the draft.  Once I make adjustments on the paper draft and incorporate them into the net online draft, I print out again and read through for one character’s arc, then another characters, etc., making notes all along.  Around draft 3 is when I usually send the draft to two of my trusted readers (I’m lucky enough to have four now, and use the two who are most suited to the type of material I’m working on), to see what kind of notes I get back.  I address those notes in whatever way I think is appropriate, depending on what aspects of the script they target, and use them to get to draft 5 or 6.  At that point, I may approach a director, or I may send it back to a trusted reader for another pass.

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Lynn Navarra, playwright

I generally find a subject I’m interested in and see what I can do with it. My plays are all character driven, so my main focus is always on who my characters are and create situations that put them to the test. Once I know who they are, I can begin to see what they would do in a given set of circumstances, how they handle things. What always matters is what’s in the mind of the character, what motivates him or her to move forth the action of the play, what is the path they must take to see their way through the given predicaments put before them and how to make them stay true to themselves, which one can only do by intricately knowing who they are.  I am also a linear writer. I begin with Act I, Scene I, and follow through to the end. However, this comes only through numerous drafts, revised scenes and dialogues with constant reading and updating. “Hearing” them is essential to determining whether or not they are reflecting of who they truly are. Whenever I find myself stuck I take a long walk and give it a good think and remain determined to crack the nut that is proving to be difficult at the time. The trick is always to keep them all on track and not allow them to get lost or diluted in conversations nor in the action of the play.

L-R_Lipman_Maloney_Inn_bed5Jake Lipman, playwright and artistic director

When I sit down to write, I often reference multiple sources of inspiration. The most challenging and rewarding play I’ve ever written was my 2015 adaptation of the book THE INN AT LAKE DEVINE by Elinor Lipman (no relation)​.​ The story follows a girl named Natalie, who is growing up in New England in the 1960s and 70s. Her family had hoped to stay at the eponymous Inn at Lake Devine, but early on, they received a letter letting them know that as Jews, they would not feel comfortable staying there. This enrages Natalie, and when she meets a girl named Robin Fife at sleepover camp whose family stays at the Inn every summer, she finagles an invitation along with the Fife family. Once there, Natalie is entranced by the handsome sons of the Inn’s owners, the beautiful grounds, and a kind groundskeeper. Years later, Robin is getting married at the Inn and invites Natalie to return, and once there, Natalie finds herself falling for one of the sons of the Innkeeper who had denied her family entry all those years earlier. I had a great map for the highlights in the story from the source material, but I also had a couple of tricks up my sleeve. I wanted to incorporate music (I’m married to a composer, Philip Rothman), which was quite fitting with the story, because the Fife family is musical and their singing is a source of humor and celebration of milestones in the piece. I also wanted to borrow some stylistic touches from OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder, which was a tremendously creative piece of theater when it first graced the stage. I allowed Natalie to directly address the audience, and had all the actors pantomime their actions. ​The true test of the fruits of my labor was the staged reading for an invited audience, a few months later. There, the novelist, Elinor Lipman, sat in the second row, watching as we read the play aloud. When the music played, underscoring a tragic moment in the piece, I could see she was crying. At intermission, she said, “I’m freaking out” — these words stopped my heart for second, if I’m being honest — but then she continued, “I love it.”​ Every show I create is different, but I think my process of borrowing ideas from other great works, coupled with the ace up my sleeve of my husband’s music, led to a piece which had a great deal of my ideas interlaced, too.

24129760_10154983228052623_2349620260516171606_nDoug DeVita, playwright, professor, reviewer, article writer

Jeez, I hate questions like this. Trying to answer them is torture, much like my writing process. But here goes: There’s a lot of staring at the paper. Or the computer screen. Or the computer. Or out the window. Or at the sky. Or my nails. There’s a lot of thinking involved. Probably too much thinking. There’s a lot of coffee involved, too. Perhaps lunch, as well. Perhaps too much of both, which then requires napping. (The food negates the effects of the caffeine on me. How lucky is that?) Let’s not even talk about Facebook or Turner Classic Movies. Do you know how many times I’ve seen “Ma & Pa Kettle Go To Hawaii,” and then boast posted about it? Occasionally I’m desperate enough to avoid that blank page (and brain) by cleaning the apartment. Or getting a mani/pedi. Or walking the dog. Well, that has to be done regardless. And he always needs to go out right when I’m at my most creative and ready to commit to actually writing something. (I tell myself that all the time. Most times it works. Most times? Oh, who are we kidding?)
If I’m really at my wits end, I might even go to that place I pay money to in case I might ever want to swim again. And then, just like when I’m getting ready to plunge into the pool, I fake myself out, sit down at my computer, and lose all sense of time as an endless load of crap pours out of me. (Don’t worry, I don’t actually crap in the pool, I just meant that I have to jump into that cold water when I least expect I’ll do so. Seriously, you thought  I’d crap in a pool?) And then I’ll step back, read what I wrote, flee in horror to the nearest bar in my living room, think about what I’ve done, and punish myself with another martini. (And, quite possibly, another nap.) Then comes the fun part, my favorite part, the best part: revising. That’s when the real work gets done, because that’s when I’m most excited about writing. The hard part is over, the groundwork has been laid, the hangover is gone, and the endless possibilities for creative solutions to the problems I’ve created are ahead of me.

And THAT’S my writing process, right there.

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Powerful Piccione Play

We spoke with Anthony J. Piccione about his latest work, WHAT I LEFT BEHIND. 
23843457_10213127673919168_5229172706083237160_nThe prolific playwright adds another thought-provoking drama to his eclectic canon of works. WHAT I LEFT BEHIND explores teen suicide, its impact, and repercussions it has on those left behind.
THE PLOT: The play focuses on a young high school student, in severe depression brought on by bullying at the hands of classmates, who shocks everyone by taking his own life. In a unique retelling of the events leading up to the decision, we see what – and who – brought him to make this life-ending move … and how they are forced to deal with it.

SEE IT: January 25th @ 9:00 pm; January 26th @ 6:15 pm; January 28th @ 8:30 pm.
Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 West 26th Street, New York City
Tickets cost $23 and can be purchased up to one month prior to opening night by visiting www.newyorktheaterfestival.com/winterfest-festivals.
Click HERE to go to the Direct ticket Link

Tell us about this latest work?

What I Left Behind is a short drama about a young teenager who has committed suicide, and is now forced to exist in a fictional afterlife and reflect on her decision, and the impact it has had on others who she left in her wake. I wrote it with the purpose of starting a conversation about bullying and youth suicide, and also the role that we can play in doing a better job at helping others who are dealing with mental health issues. It’s my 2nd play that I’ve put up at the NYWinterfest, and my 5th overall production in New York, and it’s quite different from most of the other one-acts I’ve put up so far. I’m working on it with a wonderful director, Sarah Jane Schostack, and a relatively large cast – compared to some of my past productions, anyway – of talented actors. I’m intrigued to see what people think of it, and I hope it proves to be a very thought-provoking experience for the Winterfest audience.

Your plays pack powerful messages. Do you feel compelled to write on such topics?

I think it just comes naturally, for me. Early on, when I start work on a play, if it’s dealing with a specific issue or debate topic, then of course, I’m writing about it because it’s something that I feel very strongly about. That said, I will say that I don’t necessarily see it as my role, as a playwright, to lecture or preach. Rather, it’s to start conversations and possibly provide different perspectives about an issue – whether it’s mental health or the environment or media consumption or even the existence of God – that deserves more attention than it may be getting from politicians, pop culture, or the broader society. Many people will have their own strong views on certain subjects, and I don’t pretend that my plays will always be able to get every single person to agree with my own personal views. But if I can get just a small handful of those theatergoers to start thinking seriously about something that they weren’t thinking about before, or maybe even to at least consider a viewpoint other than their own, then I’ll have considered my work a success.

Give us your thoughts on the importance of Indie Theatre and Film?

For starters, it feels like there’s a certain level of creative and artistic freedom that flourishes in independent theatre and film. Unfortunately, that isn’t always available for artists who may be working with a big Broadway producer or a big Hollywood studio. Especially in the case of theatre, the indie scene is where some of the most original and thought-provoking writing is thriving, and I’m not just saying that because I myself am a playwright working in independent theatre. If you look at most commercial art today, either in theatre or film, there’s some good work being put out there, sure. But there’s also a lot of shows and films that are completely unoriginal, and are often made for the purpose of making profits over great storytelling. Furthermore, when there is commercial art that turns out to be great, it’s often when there is a certain level of creative freedom that is granted to the artists. With commercial film, one example I like to use is with the Batman movies, where studio interference on the part of Warner Bros. was a big part of what led to the monstrosity that is Batman and Robin, but after that, they pretty much let Christopher Nolan do whatever he wanted with the franchise, and we got the masterpiece that is The Dark Knight Trilogy. I could throw out other examples, too, but that’s one good example of how allowing artists to have creative freedom – which is far more common in independent art than with commercial art – can make a huge difference, and I think that’s just as true for theatre as it is for film. I hope maybe we’ll eventually get to a point where that’ll change, but for now, even if I am ever lucky enough to have a play produced on Broadway or adapted into a blockbuster movie, I’ll still be putting up new plays in venues and festivals like where my work is being produced today, for those exact reasons.

5 - What I Left Behind

It Ain’t Just Pac-Man!

The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Video Game Developers

12208538_10154443885709782_1084773263112678843_nPatrick Hickey’s long-awaited and highly praised tome on the evolution and revolution of Games featuring interviews with the creators of 36 popular video games–including Deus Ex, Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Wasteland and NBA Jam is now on pre-order. This definitive book on they that have helped form the industry that Gaming is today gives a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of the most influential and iconic (and sometimes forgotten) games of all time. Recounting endless hours of painstaking development, the challenges of working with mega publishers and the uncertainties of public reception, the interviewees reveal the creative processes that produced some of gaming’s classic titles.

While Mr. Hickey – or rather – Professor Hickey is an accomplished writer and editor, this is his maiden voyage as a book-writer. After a whirlwind tour that included the customary stops like book stores and radio programs and the more colorful stops like conventions and game stores, we wanted to ask Patrick one simple question… how’s it feel?

It’s a great feeling. I’ve been promoting this book just as long as I’ve been writing it and along the way, I’ve gotten so much support from the indie video game community and video game journalists. To be accepted into those fraternities has been huge for me as well and has opened up so many more opportunities. Away from the birth of my daughter and marriage to my wife, I’ve never been so excited for anything in my entire life. This book is without a doubt the most important thing I’ve ever written and something I feel the world needs more of. I hope this plays a part in people understanding just how unique and passionate video game developers and the industry is. It’s so much more than fun and games. 

Final Cover (1)Pre-Order:

https://www.amazon.com/Minds-Behind-Games-Interviews-Developers/dp/1476671109

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-minds-behind-the-games-patrick-hickey/1126605556?ean=9781476671109

Playwright Kate Gill to the “Rescue”

26195417_10214114064502269_8069255310317941152_nComing off of a triumphant run at TheatreLab of her play, Soundview Summer, playwright Kate Gill goes from scaring us about the all-too-real threat of nuclear radiation to the near-distant future threat of lab life ala science fiction. This focused article writer shared a few comments about art and life and its intersection.

10526104_10203686074049025_8673573741316030814_nTell us about this latest work?

My play, “Rescuing Reagan”,  is a comedy in which this government-funded, scientific experiment at a University lab has reached young adulthood – he’s Reagan, the hybrid ape/human aka “Project Gunga Din”. Although he lives in a cage and has never left the lab, he’s moody, difficult and focused mainly on food and sex (not unlike most of the University students.) Now the government wants to claim him for use in medical experiments. Can he be rescued from this fate? Can he find his way in the world? Can people embrace him as one of them.

Your plays pack powerful messages. Do you feel compelled to write on such topics?

The inspiration for this was a rumor years ago that people were seeing these giant chickens running loose in northern Connecticut. It might have very well have been the drugs these people were taking but it did get me thinking about what might be secretly going on in government-funded labs.

There was a so-so sci-fi movie a long time ago called Night Of The Lepus about giant rabbits and then there’s H.G. Wells’ Food of the Gods. Go-on…

It seems likely they have created hybrid humans. Which means we may need to deal with the moral and social issues these “experiments” create. Sometimes it’s easier to laugh about things that scare you so I guess that might be why “Reagan” became a comedy.

Of course these days you don’t need a lab to create an underclass that is not seen as fully human and given the rights and dignity they deserve – including food, house, education, work and freedom to decide how they will be governed and they will worship.

Give us your thoughts on the importance of Indie Theatre and Film.

Indie Theater and Film are on the cusp of being mainstream. If you look online you can see that the advances in technology (and the decrease in its cost) have made film production accessible to almost everyone. And technology is also transforming the theater experience in exciting and cost efficient ways – get a space and a couple of projectors and your play can be anywhere.

 

 

This is for a more serious site about playwrights and productions called Arts Independent

1) What is your creative process?

It takes time for me to create something, whether it be original work or just the concept.  I have to be properly motivated.  I know so many great directors and writers who can just start and subscribe to the “just start writing and it’ll come.”  Sadly I’ve never been able to do that.  A lot of my ideas come when I see the actors do their thing.

2.) Does this play have any special – or personal – purpose for you? Example: are there elements that are autobiographical? 

Two Gentlemen of Verona was the first play that I got to produce in the New York International Fringe Festival, and it’s always had a special place in my heart.  It was the first time I really discovered my love of Shakespeare.  It’s not autobiographical though cause I’m a little past the “young-men-finds-themselves” phase.

 

3) What’s the parable or universal message we will come away-with?

Along with even Shakespeare can mess up a play…that love and friendship still mean something.  Valentine and Proteus both grow up in the show, and find themselves through a lot.  And I’d like to think a few original ideas thrown in will give a little nod to feminism and LGBTQIA members.

4) How does it feel to be a part of something like this?

It’s always a wonderful experience to be a part of Shakespeare, and this show has been no different.  It’s been an honor to have a fresh take with Ariel at the helm and a new cast to bring out some freshness.

5) When I say “being your own boss” what goes through your head immediately without thinking?  

Success.  Being able to call your own shots, pick your own projects.  Control your own destiny.  Things like that.

6) Final Thoughts? 

Come see Two Gentlemen of Verona: A Swashbuckling Comedy!  It’s safe for young audiences, and has a little something for everyone, from the novice who has never seen Shakespeare to the experienced scholar!

Songs and Poems

Rachel Rocano reviews “See You at the Funeral!” & “Village Orpheus” at the Fresh Fruit Festival 

“See You at the Funeral!” a musical comedy, about three women – Dina the charming gay compulsive liar; Medusa, the washed up Diva determined to make her comeback; and Gittel the Holocaust survivor and oldest living dominatrix. In the show Gittel takes the audience on an unforgettable ride of choosing to go upstairs or downstairs because you only die once.

All played by Tova Katz.

Amusing, hypnotic in an odd way, and engrossing, Katz, had an amazing voice and played three distinct characters. Every time Katz came out, there was a fully-formed (and different) person.

This enjoyable event is worth a second look, simply for Katz’ wonderful voice rolling all though the theater. One persons-shows can seem sparse but here, we met a chorus.

“Village Orpheus” was about sexual celebration in Greenwich Village. Frank O’Hara is the poet whose work lit up the neighborhood throughout the 50s and 60s. I really liked the poems and how all the characters talked in sync at some points. The actors were very entertaining and for every scene they choose a song that perfectly matched the it. The show was well organized and would recommend to those who enjoy poems.

Christmas with a Twist

A different Christmas twist? Many Christmas shows are about happiness and how wonderful life is. Christmas with a twist? From a talking Christmas sweater in The Illustrated Xmas sweater, directed by Janelle Zapata all the way through a post apocalyptic view of sex in Brocreation directed by Maria Aladren, featuring Darian Bencosme, Mateo Lamuño, Lacey Andreanszky, Sara Minisquero. , . a Night of Unusual Christmas Stories will put you on edge with devilish themes as in The Mall Satan,directed by Janelle Zapata, with Sara Minisquero and Samantha Gloven, Satan does exist in malls.  These theater shorts are bound to sway your old fashioned views of Christmas. In each of the six shorts a bunch of great actors are pounding the boards. Comical Lara Fox will bring you to wonder how things can get so incredulously out of limits when she listens to a bizarre Xmas sweater in The Illustrated Xmas Sweater. Can the Invisible man get a lapdance? Sam Lopresti, Jason Michael Dick and Jazmyn Arroyo make the attempt despite missing parts in Lapdance for the Invisible Man also directed by Zapata. Becky’s Christmas Wish directed by Benjamin Abraham with Dana Searing and Gabriel Spector are not prepared for the usual childhood hopes revealed by little Becky. Black Lipstick, also directed by Abraham has another unusual plot with Yvette Chin and Vivian Aladren where the child gives permission to her mom for a night out but only if she dons black lipstick, evoking abomination and evil. These theater shorts bring awe and humor to a visionary view of this 2016 Holiday Season. By Joseph Leone
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COMPELLING COLLECTOR
Reviewed by Robert Liebowitz
A play begins; a man speaks directly to the audience. He is middle-aged, bald, and frumpy, and we wholly expect a familiar or unfamiliar tale of woe to leave his lips. Not so. Within minutes, he has eagerly, in a quietly plaintive way, informed the gathering that he has kidnapped a young woman named Miranda right off the streets, and goes on to explain why he has done so.
Thus begins the odd but compelling play The Collector,  adapted for the stage by Mark Healy,  from John Fowles’ novel of the same name, at 59E59.
What compels the character, the perfectly creepy named Frederick Clegg, to do this? Not really sure. Clearly, no matter what he says, there will be no sympathy.  He has committed an atrocious act, and hopefully,  through the journey of the play, will suffer.
Mr Clegg, superbly played by Matt De Rogatis, has little going for him. Plain, humorless, a second rate ne’er-do-well who had the dumb luck of winning the Lottery,  he has swept a young girl (the brilliant Jillian Geurts, matching her colleague line for line) off her feet, but in the worst sense of the world, because he purportedly loves her. How? He doesn’t even know her, except a few scant biographical anecdotes.
What is Fowles saying? Is love stupid? Is it shallow? Does it even exist?
As the characters learn about each other, and the threat of violence dissipates,  Miranda’s character emerges and dominates the action, and one thing has become abundantly clear–Mr Clegg has received more than he bargained for.
After a kind of talky first act, the second act picks up the pace.  Shortly, with quicker intercuts and the plot now humming along, the play rides to an appropriate conclusion (no spoiler here).
The subject matter might be questioned here, but there is no such hesitation regarding the two players, and their interplay with each other. It was masterful. DeRogatis, calm yet menacing, his voice rarely rising beyond normal stage speech, his accent perfect, his movement suave and dashing and pitiful and hopeless.
Guerts, like a trapped cat,  looking, looking looking, using all her guile, her wits, her sexuality…the role requires all of this, and more,  and Ms Guerts is more than up to the task.
The play is directed by Lisa Milinazzo with expert usage of the playing area, effortlessly guiding the two actors to deal with audience on three sides;  perfect pace and rhythm as to the authors unwritten wishes. Really well done.
The work of the designers–all first rate and subtle, especially the original music composed by Sean Hagerty,  which had the right combo of melancholy and menace. The point of all of it? Not sure…except be careful when you cross the street.

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ROBERT LIEBOWITZ AND THE PARABLE OF THREE

AMY M. FRATEO, guest reviewer

Everybody’s a playwright. Every day there are new works appearing in festivals and black box theaters throughout New York – everything from 10-minute quickies to two hour tomes. That why it was gratifying to see a revival of some excellent works from the heyday of OOB.

This group of works was all written by Robert Liebowitz, a member of the off-off Broadway circuit for decades.

The series went backward like the Sondheim musical cult favorite, Merrily We Roll Along, kinda-sorta showing us who we are and why we are.

The first play, Seven Scenes of Grande Grande Blah Blah Blah, written just a few years ago, featured Kevin Hauver as a beaten-back administrator with nothing to look forward to except the mortality of a dear friend (maybe something more) and Molly Callahan as a snarky millennial with no patience for him. Mario Claudio brought up the rear as a coffee house server with miseries of his own. The meat of the matter was good, showing us a preamble of what the new world looks like to old people, with Callahan handing us the worst of the new generation and Hauver utilizing everything from brains to brawn to show her the error of her – and undoubtedly his – ways. The ironic use of seduction was obviously there to show societal ignorance as Callahan’s character announces early on that she is a lesbian. Joe Pitzvalty could have done more with staging especially the very funny and eloquent Claudio, whose character had the ability to move much more.

Bus Ride Home, a little longer and a little older (the 90s) gave us Cathy Noonan-Sturges and Ken Coughlin as a disenfranchised working class pair on their way from the ritual of going to Atlantic City. Pair and not couple as they are not married … to each other. The concept of an “affair of need,” common in many dramas these days (even British drama like Call the Midwife), is depicted with Coughlin quite engrossing as a civil servant in a life change. The surprise ending totally reversed the idea that Noonan-Sturges was the villain of the piece.  Directed by Ioan Ardelian, the show maintained a dark slow pace that made really feel like we, too, were caught on this endless bus ride home.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda, obviously the main attraction was a powerful play about the people on the fringe and at OTB – a now extinct way of getting your gambling fix in NYC. The play – staged in noir no nonsense by Allan Smithee – gave us the last hours of the life of Allie Neiterman; played by TJ Jenkins, with engrossing desperation, as a once-high-roller, now nobody, who, with his slow-witted partner, Bobo, played with smile-inducing childlike detail by Ted Montuori, try for that last lucky win. The play, an obvious star vehicle for several character actors, played like a old-fashioned sermon on the mount with lines that run the gamut between smart cliché and deep parable.

The play, set in 1985, when connected to the others shows us the aging of the American dream and what it looks like today.

Tommy Sturges insinuated the concept of unwitting narrator well but the playwright should have altered the ethnicity of the role to fit Sturges own culture; not so with the flawlessly authentic Anthony J. Gallo, who moved, motioned, and mannered himself into a role that could have been written for him – down to the clever injection of Italian language toward the finale. The same can be said for the commanding Michael Ruocco, truly superb as the next level of degenerate gambler. He, too, gave us neighborhood guy in all its provincial detail. His inner world was all there in his eyes and was a strong juxtaposition to his goonish demeanor.

Serving as the big number was Jay Michaels as the monster-in-a-pinstripe suit, loan shark Barney Cutley. Michaels’ level of acting was truly powerhouse with a demonic first appearance that silenced the unwitting crowd – both on stage and in the audience – and then a tortured second appearance provoking the tragic finale where you saw a back-story in nothing more than his back. Michaels gave us a “Negan-esque” portrayal (see the Walking Dead to know what this means) with a sense of fulfillment at being the black-hat in this western.

Robert Liebowitz writes excellent dialogue and creates powerful and quite unique situations. Allan Smithee missed the mark by putting so much of the action in obstructed areas and let lots of sitting happen. Only Michaels seemed to utilize the well-planned set and stage.

Of the three parables this evening, Coulda Woulda Shoulda, stands as one for the ages. Something that should be seen more and more. Ironically, maybe the other two will also, when we become a period piece like the 80s is now. Regardless, the credible complement of character actors gave us a evening of real art and performance.

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Comfort in Silence
Art is a many-splendor’d thing; on a practical matter it also comes with a list of requirements. One of those requirements is almost a pre-requisite : simply, go where no one has gone before. Go where are no footprints in the snow. Go, where no one has dared.
There is, at the heart of Comfort in Silence, a very beautiful play. Why? It explores out loud the endless possibilities,  and the obvious obstacles, when someone who can hear falls for someone who cannot. It is a wonderful premise; it is due; it is overdue; it is fresh footprints in the snow.
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Playwright Timothy Patrick Walsh has many tender and profoundly moving moments on stage; his character (Walsh serving double duty as the lead Patty) has met someone (Ray, superbly played with great humanity and understatement by Jose Vasquez) at a party, and when the play explores their courtship and subsequent difficulties, the Gods of Theater look down and smile from ear to ear.
Mr. Walsh has surrounded this tender love story with several cliches associated with the affairs of a gay man living in NYC. Patty is having a mid life crisis, and starts to see a therapist (a voice over). He is egged on and teased by his friend Stevie, adequately played by Christopher Springer, and his other friend Mary, portrayed with great humor by Katarina Vizina. Stevie is obviously gay, wayyyy too obvious. This is unnecessary, and employs clichés to punctuate that fact. Mary is a typical “fag hag,” hanging around gay men, without any rhyme or reason. They drink, they go to parties, they drink some more.
No one seems to work. No one has any issues or internal civil wars that needs to be addressed. No, just one care free time after another. This portrait of this homosexual lifestyle went out with The Boys in the Band, and that goes back to 1970.
The play is a stunning love story — the friends can supply color but with a lot less stereotype. Given the dramatic set up you have provided, the love story is enough and is a  ride no one will soon forget.
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On Film: THE WATCHTOWER

Allan Johnston, Guest Reviewer

Crime and criminals on television and film are always attractive, daring, even sexy. In other words … fictionalized. However, auteur Steve Silver has given us a riveting, unapologetic tome about what it really means to be a criminal.

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The Watchtower, a new feature film, written, directed, and starring Mr. Silver (from his original play), is not a vanity piece as one might imagine since much of the spotlight is focused his way.

 

What we have a fascinating character study lensed in an old-fashioned style giving us a harder look. A brilliant touch when one meets the denizens of Hell’s Kitchen, in the 80s.

The premise is familiar. We are there at the end of an era. We see Irish and Italian mobsters trying to hold onto a piece of territory the only way they know how, through the eyes of one of their own – who’s not so sure he wants to be there.

And that is the unique part.

This film explores those who were involved in “that thing” … and why. You leave the theatre with a new understanding of what people needed to do to survive then … and even now.

It’s not surprising the level of power Silver himself brought to the role as one feels a sense of autobiography coming off his tense portrayal of of an Irish hood grieving over the effect this life has had on his family. It’s refreshing to see an ensemble share this level of power. Notables include D.J.Sharp, absolutely spot-on as a Russian immigrant who comes to America to be a success … and as a loan shark … he is; Thomas J. Kane as the Irish mob leader – possessing all the needed grit but with excellent acting chops; Ken Coughlin as a Mafia Don who understands what it means to be a Roman Emperor; Caroline Smith, understated as Tommy’s long-suffering wife; and Laurie Rae Waugh, engrossing as Tommy’s sister-in-law by day and a cold-blooded assassin by night.

Watchtower initiates a program under Silver’s command dedicated to putting powerful off-off Broadway plays on film.

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If they’re all as good as this one, then we may see history being made.

Ms. Smith and Mr. Silver in the original stage production of The Watchtower.

 

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 Why Water Falls
 “Always be closing”, exclaims a salesman in David Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, and Leigh Curran, author and performer of ‘Why Water Falls’, has taken that axiom to heart. After a slow start, Ms. Curran’s solo piece rumbles, and by evening’s end she has provided a solid one two punch of riveting theater.
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After some necessary but confusing exposition (needed but…) the writing becomes concise and focused, and now, we know why we are here; we know what story Ms. Curran wishes to tell–she has aborted two pregnancies, and is having great difficulty living with the aftermath.
Ms. Curran is a first rate performer, an accomplished actress, and is able to call on all sorts of emotion that the play requires. There is a certain….polite confusion that hovers over the stage, and makes the character endearing. Most people are always heroes in their own stories, but not here. There is blame to go around for everyone, Ms Curran included. The play has a certain rhythm that is attractive and compelling; while one wishes that there was more humor on stage, Ms. Curran plays several different characters with expert ease, and makes a potentially difficult indecipherable journey  an easy one to follow one.
Ms Curran’s life story is a compelling one, with dramatic highs and lows, and this is wonderfully captured on stage. Ms. Curran has ‘closed’ sucessfully, and has made her mark on this United Solo Festival with flying colors.
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THE TEMPEST – PRESENTED BY IDENTITY THEATER

REVIEWED BY ROBERT LIEBOWITZ

tempestOnce in a great while, an evening in the theater becomes more than going to see a play, and even more than a theatrical experience. It transcends any and all art, and makes a statement, directly, about life itself.  The last such event was in 2006, when the Classical Theater of Harlem produced Waiting for Godot, but set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Rather than the two hobos passing their time near a tree, Vladimir and Estagon were seen clinging to life on a rooftop of a flooded home, as the infamous tree passed them by in the muddy Mississippi…and, as in the original story, no help was to be found. Godot was not coming. What an immensely creative interpretation, that was wholly relevant and heartbreaking.
The Identity Theater Company’s version of The Tempest offers a similar experience–an event that leaves the play, and theater itself, behind, and trespasses ever so wonderfully into the Universe of Things That Need To Be Said.
As a play, Shakespeare’s last, The Tempest is not much–trite, clumsy, silly, and forgettable. Set on a remote island, exiled sorcerer Prospero (remarkably played by Erin Mansur)plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place in court; he conjurers up a storm (the Tempest), to  lure his usurping brother Antonio and his underhanded clan to the island.
Right. Who cares.
14212749_1100411876679589_8325742055188583941_nHowever, in this production, one must care. Several members of the cast have various and assorted disabilities, and the producers have masterfully woven them together seamlessly with other actors from the Shakespeare Forum; together they have provided this humble scribe with one of the most moving experiences in the theater, ever. It is must-see theater.
As the afternoon, wore on, it became abundantly clear what was going on–simply, a call for tolerance and open-mindedness. A third of the way through, enter Caliban, in a wheelchair. No one, in 400 years, has seen such a sight, or even thought of one. What an amazing sight it was. Once Nicolas Linnehan started speaking, everything stopped. There is no other word for it–stopped. Mr. Linnehan looked the part, sounded the part, acted the part, The wheelchair soon became just another level to the willing suspension of disbelief, nothing more. Would there be a wheelchair is such a scenario? Of course not. Did it matter? Of course not. Mr. Linnehan fit in perfectly, and now was just another actor portraying another Shakespeare hero (villain, actually), and all was right with the world. A man in a wheelchair was portraying  a lead character in a play by the Bard, and no one really cared. And that how it should be.
The notes in the program asks–can Blanche DuBois be played in a wheelchair? Maybe, maybe not…but that is a matter for another place, another time. A Good house Seal of Approval must be stamped on this wondrous production, from the outstanding Diana Benigno as the magician Ariel, to Guy Ventoliere as the drunkard plotter Stephano. All performers bar none were successful in their roles, and on a bare stage, save for 3 area rugs on the floor, all costumes, filled with life, color, and excitement by Renee Salierni, sparkled on the stage.
Near the end of the first act, a frustrated Caliban, tied of being called a ‘monster’, a ‘mutineer’, ‘this thing’, or, worse, ‘the Beast’, has a monologue spoken directly to the audience. In it he utters this brilliant line of utter poetry–“I tried to dream again.” And there, in that crystallized moment, was the play at hand. The Tempest had started, and it had ended, on this one lonely sentence. People in wheelchairs are none of these things. Actors in wheelchairs playing characters like Caliban are none of these things. There is a place for performers with disabilities in the theater, and they must be welcomed with open arms. For, after all, if art is to remind people how to live their life, then surely it is an easy stretch to realize the importance of this production. One can only hope for an extended run.
ADDED WORDS “I saw The Tempest last night a wonderful cast co directed by Tyler Moss who gave his actors beautiful tempo pacing and just the right exuberance to call this production a winner Erin Mansurwhose work is always wonderfull exciting takes home the Tony with her PRospero Pat Pat Dwyers Antonio was played the best its ever been as Ben Dworkens Adrian was smooth and organic Hats off to Nicholas Lineman co director founder of The Identity Theatre and his Caliban was exquisite this production runs Friday Saturday and Sunday through September 18 a must see with a well deserved standing ovation.”  Jane Steele‎The Shakespeare Forum
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REMEMBRANCE DAY had all the ingredients to create a wonderful, tasty salad of theater.

Remembrance Day, a one-woman show written and performed by June Ballinger at the 13th St. Repertory Theater. Had a versatile performer, a decent script, and a compelling unique story; a firsthand narrative about a woman who in the bowels of Great Britain  secretly worked on Colossus, a gigantic computer whose sole mission was to break the Nazi code and save the world from speaking German during WW II.

Director Janice Goldberg, however used a risky stage device that doesn’t always work – Pantomime.

Every single reference in the text that could be accompanied by a physical invisible gesture WAS accompanied. The frequency of this technique wound up looking foolish more often than not. Truly a shame as the playwright/performer was superb and deserved so much more.

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Ioan Ardelean serves as guest director for one of the productions in THREE BITES OF THE APPLE: A revival of Robert Liebowitz’ canon of works. “he’s fascinating” says Ken Coughlin, one of Ardelean’s actors. Fascinating is the right word. it will be interesting to see how his European sensibilities enhance Liebowitz’ hard-bitten NY prose.

We hear a lot about inspiration – or Muse – that drives an artist. What inspires you?
In Greek mythology, the Muses are the inspirational goddesses who symbolized the arts and sciences. Nowadays a muse can be a person who serves as an artist’s inspiration. We know that writers, painters, musicians, poets they have muses but when we talk about actors or directors inspiration and creativity must come from thinking, reading, liberating the monkey mind, etc. In my case, Muse is a deeply thinking about an idea. Deeply thinking on certain ideas for years not only for five seconds.
What is your vision and process for the play/part?
As a director and actor I have to tell a story, which cannot be separated from the playwright story, but has to be my story. I must have in myself an unmoved and disinterested onlooker. From my point of view as a director and actor, I must have a good deal of judgment, penetration and very important according to Denis Diderot “no sensibility”.
What do you want most in your chosen profession? It’s OK to say “fame” or “wealth.”
I sacrificed a lot to be an artist and such a dedication, effort, and benefits of my acting are not like sharing a piece of cake among thousand people, and each person gets only a few crumbs. I would like to think that every person receives the whole piece of cake and allows the constructive energy created by my work and all my positive acts to be perpetuated.
Sally Field and Paul Newman both said of their profession… “it’s all I can do.” Is this all you can do?
It is what I can do and what I know how to do. I do not see myself doing anything else than acting, directing and teaching.
Along those lines, if you couldn’t do this, what would you do?
Try again to be an actor.
How do you want [legit] history to remember you?
A good storyteller, an actor who stayed naked on stage and moved very slowly so the audience could see every side of my personality breathing and leave with my characters.
Last words?
I invite everyone to come to see different sides of my personality becoming alive thru my characters and my work. See Three Bites of the Apple.
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WHY WATER FALLS Commercial CLICK HERE

[Excerpted from LEIGH CURRAN: AN OVERVIEW]

I’ve spent my life in the Arts and while I started out as an actress I soon added playwriting and later founded the The Virginia Avenue Project  a non-profit using long term, one-on-one arts mentoring to give children growing up under difficult circumstances the skills to think creatively, critically and courageously about life goals and choices.  Project kids join at age six and stay through high school working alongside caring, adult mentors throughout their growing years.  The Project’s longtime community partner is the Santa Monica Police Activities League in Santa Monica, California. I was the Artistic Director from 1991-2013.

I’m also the author of three full length plays: The Lunch Girls (finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award; world premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre, Arvin Brown, dir.; Off Broadway at the Grove Street Theatre , Stuart Ross, dir.); Alterations (Off Broadway at the WPA Theatre, Austin Pendleton, dir.; world premiere at the Whole Theatre Company, Olympia Dukakis, dir.) and Walking the Blonde (world premiere Off Broadway at Circle Rep, Paul Benedict, dir; and Off Broadway at La Mama, Leonard Foglia, dir.)  The Lunch Girls and Alterations are published by Samuel French.

Going Nowhere Sideways CoverMy first novel, Going Nowhere Sideways, was published in 1999 by Fithian Press and was highly praised by Publishers Weekly, Spillway, and Inscriptions Magazines and is available on Amazon.com and other on-line bookstores.  It is a coming of middle age story that traces one woman’s evolution from Woodstock in 1969 to the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  My poetry has appeared in Slant: A Journal for Poetry, Onthebus, The Bark, Spillway, and Rattle Magazines as well as in the on-line e-zine, The Junkyard.

As an actress, I’ve performed on, off and way off Broadway working with the likes of Kathy Bates, Arthur Penn, Paul Benedict and George Abbott.  In Los Angeles I appeared in my own play, Walking the Blonde and in the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed productions of Romeo and JulietOthello and Measure for Measure.  TV/Film credits include: West WingJudging Amy,Once and Again, LA Law and Reds.  

Leigh at 6 months - Photo shoot for Sunset MagazineI was born in 1943 and grew up in California and Connecticut.  My father taught at the Thacher School in Ojai, California where my mother, younger brother and I spent the school year but come summer my father would load up our DeSoto station wagon and we’d drive across the country to Salisbury, CT where my father had a summer cabin – kerosene lamps, outhouses, well water and all.  During the school year, my father taught French, Latin, Spanish and motor mechanics at Thacher.  My mother, an actress/singer, performed with the Chekov Players in Upper Ojai until my father died in 1954 – at which point, my mother took over my father’s classes until the school could find his replacement.

I graduated from  Santa Catalina School in 1961 when I was 17 and in 2001 received the school’s Distinguished Alumna Award for my work with the Virginia Avenue Project.  In 1962, after a year of working odd jobs in Ojai that included taking care of the studio of noted ceramist and friend, Beatrice Wood and teaching arts and crafts to first graders at my first alma mater, Monica Ros School – I headed for New York City to begin my career in theatre.

From 1962-64 I attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.  I studied acting with Sanford Meisner, Bill Esper and Robert Modica; dance with Hanya Holm and music appreciation with Lehman Engel.  After I graduated I studied acting privately with Ludwig Donath and later at HB Studios with Uta Hagen.

Leigh as a Gaslight Girl

To support my theatre habit, I waited on tables predominantly at the Gaslight Club – a key club similar to the Bunny Club but with a gay-nineties feel.  Because I was tall and strong I was relegated to working lunches and because the club was in a brownstone, all the lunch girls carried heavy trays up and down flights of stairs while trying to look sexy in fishnet hose, scant costumes and six-inch heels.  Ten years later, this experience which always felt disconnected from my intended life would become the inspiration for my first play, The Lunch Girls.

I got my Equity Card in 1968 when I was hired to be in the chorus and understudy Brenda Vaccaro in the Broadway musical, How Now, Dow Jones. Shortly thereafter I began making TV commercials and by the mid 70s had become one of the top on-camera commercial artists.  Making commercials made it possible for me to explore lesser paying jobs like playwriting, alternative theatre and life in general.

Edward Herrmann on the Set of Beacon HillIn 1974, I met actor, Edward Herrmann.  Shortly after we moved in together, I took up playwriting.  I’d had no formal training as a writer but I had a good ear for dialogue and understood dramatic tension.  Basically, I asked myself all the questions I’d ask myself when creating a character as an actress – what do I want and why is it so important I get it now as opposed to later?  And if the characters had opposing Wants – there was plenty of room for conflict.  In time I began to realize my characters would lead me to the story rather than the other way around.  This was the adventurous part of writing – I never quite knew how things were going to turn out and, therefore, neither did the audience.  And, in addition to writing parts for women that were meaty and off-beat – I also discovered that with writing, unlike acting, you don’t have to wait to be hired to be creative.

The Lunch Girls w Suzanne Lederer, Pamela Payton-Wright, Carol Williard, Phyllis Somerville and Susan SharkeyMy first play, The Lunch Girls, was produced at the Long Wharf Theatre in 1979 under the direction of its Artistic Director, Arvin Brown.  Throughout my playwriting career, I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful directors in addition to Arvin – who taught me about play structure, timing, audience attention, etc.  Some of my director/mentors are Austin Pendleton, Olympia Dukakis and the late Paul Benedict.  Other influential mentors include playwright, Michael Weller; director, Dan Petrie and producer, Dorothea Petrie.

In 1978, Edward and I bought a house in Carmel, New York and were married in the fall of that year.  In the country, I discovered my love for vegetable gardening and while that didn’t seem important at the time, it would become a major part of my life later on.

Alterations-Cynthia Nixon and Gretchen Cryer

While Edward was enjoying considerable success in theatre, film and television, I wrote my second play, Alterations which was ultimately produced Off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre featuring Cynthia Nixon and Gretchen Cryer in the cast and Austin Pendleton as director.

Edward and I separated in 1986.  I returned to New York City where I wrote and performed in my third play, Walking the Blonde. It had its world premiere at Circle Rep under the direction of Paul Benedict then The Barrow Group picked it up and produced it Off-Broadway at La Mama, directed by Leonard Foglia.  During this period, I began exploring alternative theatre.  I wrote and performed in my own pieces at PS122 and the Wow Cafe where I was fortunate to work with Lisa Kron and the Five Lesbian Brothers.

In 1988, I was invited to write a short play for the 52nd Street Project‘s One-on-One Program.  In this program, a professional actor is teamed with a kid to perform in a short play written by a professional playwright.  My actor was Paul McCrane and my kid was an eight-year-old boy from a neighborhood housing project.  I was so taken with the experience I began volunteering for the Project as an actress, writer, collaborator, director, class mentor, stamp licker, whatever – because in my heart of hearts I sensed the 52nd Street Project was changing my life.  The change became real when I was invited to learn how to teach kids to write plays.  The process, called Playmaking, was created by Daniel Judah Sklar – it was creative, smart, loaded with integrity and as much fun for seasoned playwrights as it was for kids.  At the end of the training, I knew I had to teach kids how to write plays and, for that matter, how to act in them and it was then I got the idea to replicate the 52nd Street Project in Los Angeles.

In 1991, newly divorced and feeling the wind at my back, I moved to Los Angeles to found the Virginia Avenue Project.  At the time I knew nothing about non-profits and little more about kids.  I was lucky to have the former Executive Director of the 52nd Street Project, Marsue Cumming, to guide me through the grant writing and set up process.  Daniel Judah Sklar, my great mentor when it came to working with kids, flew to LA to get Playmaking and his advanced playwriting program for children, Replay, off the ground.

I started the Virginia Avenue Project in a leaky lean-to behind my house – a scrap of paper hanging over my desk with a phone number to call if I ever needed an Executive Director.  When the Virginia Avenue Project’s first production, Strangers in Paradise, opened in April, 1992, I called the phone number and the fates brought me Kendis Heffley who became the Project’s Founding Executive Director.  Kendis and I were opposite halves of a whole and great friends.  We guided the Project through its first eight years adhering to the belief that who we were in the office would trickle down to our kids so if we wanted the Project to have legs we needed to practice what we preached.

Walking the Blonde - Beach Scene with Lee Garlington, Diana Castle, Leigh CurranDuring that time, I also starred in a production of my play, Walking the Blonde at Theatre Geo in Los Angeles.  My first novel, Going Nowhere Sideways, was published to enthusiastic reviews by Fithian Press.  I began studying with Jack Grapes of the Poets and Writers Collective and writing and publishing poetry.

In 2000, Meryl Friedman became the second Executive Director of the Virginia Avenue Project guiding it through its adolescence for seven exciting, creative years.  Meryl and I expanded the Project’s horizons by augmenting our Outreach Program and instituted new programming to challenge Project kids in ways that were relevant to the changing times.  We also started the Project’s creative tutoring program, Smart Partners, designed to make learning fun again for Project kids who were struggling in school or kids who wanted to maintain strong grade point averages before applying for college.

At the end of 2013, I retired as Artistic Director of the Virginia Avenue Project and returned to my first love, writing and performing.  I began reading personal essays around town and in June, 2015 my solo show, Why Water Falls, had its World Premiere Production at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  This was followed by a successful run Off-Off Broadway in the fall of 2015.  Why Water Falls enjoyed a return engagement in Los Angeles at Highways Performance Space in April, 2016 and will be having its final performance at the United Solo Festival in New York City on September 30, 2016.  Stay tuned!

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Nine Theatricals at the 13th St Repertory Theater’s version of Shakespeare’s HAMLET opens with a new character: ‘The Teller’ (played by RJ Lamb), who serves as a sort of “Living, Breathing Cliff Notes Guy”. It is a convention invented by the Greeks, and, for this reviewer, a welcome addition to guide us through the incessant, beautiful-but-wholly-unnecessary poetry that mars all of Shakespeare’s’ works. However, if indeed ‘”…the play is the thing…”, then it is a dubious achievement to actually present a character that Mr. Shakespeare did not actually write (unless he did, in earlier quartos/folios). But we digress.

Hamlet, despite some obvious misgivings, some odd casting choices, and some anemic costumes, was moderately successful, and many times sustained the drama at hand and held our collective interest all the way through to the tragic end.
Leading us into battle is Matt DeRogatis, who portrays the noble Dane.  He makes a striking mark on the stage, and  has excellent command of the language. Unfortunately, there is wayyy too much shouting, which is incorrect for three reasons: One, it is hard on the ears; two, it is hard on anyone’s voice to be that angry for that long; three, the conversations are held in the court and assorted ante-chambers of the kingdom–in other words, they are intensely private conversations, for no one else’s business. They are many other emotions besides anger, and there are many other numbers besides the numeral 10–in fact, there are nine other numerals. These are the tools, these numerals, that an actor must convey, and that an audience longs to hear.
The rest of the ensemble were all capable players, all talented individuals, just miscast. Polonious and Claudius should’ve been switched. Lorraine Mattox as Orphelia was also adept at the language, and also a striking figure on the stage–but displayed no sense of the character’s frailty, humility and general innocence. These qualities are essential, because it enhances the notion that Hamlet drove her to suicide by bullying and insulting her, a disgraceful action,. This prompt her brother to seek revenge. However, as played, no such bad behavior existed; Ms Mattox may have been better off playing either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. Who? Yes, in this production, they are played by women, a wonderful stroke of genius and highly imaginative. Now, the characters bring a lot more to the table that their wry wit–there is wonderful sensuality and sexuality, which now clearly motivates them to come to hamlet as double crossing spies for the King, using all their feminine charms. The stage felt a bit empty when they weren’t on it.
Technically, the costume designer left a lot to be desired, and did nothing to enhance the production. Hamlet was sleeveless at one point, which would be fine, except the actor had modern tattoos all over his arm. However, composer Mary Micari, underscored vital scenes with just the right mood with her library of exotic instruments and a minimum of notes.
Singled out for praise would be Greg Pragel, who was terrific as Horatio. Unfortunately, he was dressed like a 19th Century country barrister, and completely removed from the play. But his acting ability transcended all of it. Well done.
On the whole, an interesting, innovation production with some hits and misses, and moderately successful.
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Andrew Gelles and Renee Bang AllenTom Rowan is talented – that’s for sure. An excellent dialogue writer (Renee Bang Allen’s entrance line, “Who turned the sun up so high?” gives immediate insight into the title character, which she played quite well) but more focus was needed to the entire piece.

At first the drama concerns the foolishness of a convenience marriage; then becomes a mystery; then a tale about forbidden love; then a matter about a young man (played well by Andrew Gelles) coming out for the closet, and standing up to the callous, shallow, contemptible heterosexual world. He seems to be the hero as the other characters seem stereotypical.

Jevon Blackwell, Caleb Schaaf and Andrew Gelles

But make no mistake, Mr. Rowan has talent, which includes a good ear for dialogue, a well-structured play, and masterful exposition, but he should be mindful of those stereotypes. The women seem too bitchy and the men, too – well – too much like Donald Trump (A thumps up for the performance of Peter Reznikoff, playing the billionaire husband)

Peter Reznikoff and Renee Bang Allen

With some fine-tuning, Faye Drummond could really say something to its audience.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Photos by Jonathan M. Smith

Ernest Barzaga started a theatre company, rented a theatre, raised $25,000, and presented a seminal American classic in one of Indie Theater’s last bastions of cutting-edge theaters. And he hasn’t graduated college yet.

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MILLER’S MASTERPIECE in NEW HANDS

‘Death of A Salesman’ by Arthur Miller is an unquestioned masterpiece of American Drama–it is, by far, Miller’s best play, and it belongs, with three others, on the Mount Rushmore of Great American Plays (the others being ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, ‘Long Days Journey…’ and the combination of ‘Glass Menagerie and ‘Streetcar’)

A thousand before Ernest Barzaga and his company have analyzed the play to death since its premiere in 1949; it remains a towering piece of art, for so many reasons, because of its never ending timeliness, but in a larger sense its devotion to its mission–which is, destroying the lies that people live. The play, at its essence, is a journey, to reveal the lies for what they are–lies and myth-making, nothing more–and discard them. If a definition of art is to remind people how to live their lives, then this is the poster boy for such a proclamation.

Miller also created one of the most memorable characters in all dramatic history–the aptly named Willie Loman, a salesman/husband/father/Chaser of the Fake and False American Dream who has suffered one too many lashes at the mast, and has consistently bet on the wrong horse.

In this production, at the John Cullum Theater, Ian Cooper tries to tackle the role and does it justice. Yes, he’s young – the entire cast is younger than any of the roles in the production. Clearly, with this role at such a young age, he has jumped into the deep, deep end of the pool. But Mr Cooper’s performance is boulder-solid. He is compelling to look at and listen to. He knows how to stand on a stage, and give space to his fellow thespians when necessary. He belongs on a stage, any stage, doing any play. To quote Miller himself–‘Attention must be paid.’ Mr Cooper has accomplished something fairly remarkable–he has, though no choice of his own (the play demands it), taken this gigantic, man-mountain of a  play on his back, and has successfully, sometimes spectacularly, carried it across the finish line. This makes us forgive his inapprpriate hair style (one must wonder if he needs his hair long in life thus was reticent to cut it for such a short run).

After a rocky start and some volume issues, about the 15 minute mark, Mr. Cooper talks about the longing for his 1928 Chevy–and then it were over. Mr. Cooper had won over this humble scribe, from that very moment until the end of the play. Swimming against the current, against the dying of the light, Mr. Cooper forges on and on and on and on, and doesn’t stop, never stops. His almost insatiable desire to – what – succeed … sell stuff … teach his children about manhood before he croaks on the Interstate?–is fascinating and harrowing to watch, since we know from the outset that Mr, Loman is doomed in his quest. Why? He has a skewed vision of what constitutes manhood, and is listening to the one man–his brother (superbly played by Caycee Kolodney, who gives Mr. Cooper a real run for his money with his performance), a land baron of the 19th Century, of the Gilded Age almost, who has no problem robbing from everyone he encounters (‘You cannot deal fairly with strangers’, he proudly boasts), who will steer him down the wrong path.

Joining the triumvirate of superior performance was Anna Paone, playing the tortured, fierce, loyal, Linda Loman. From her opening moments, sleeping (again) by herself, to her final monologue at Willie’s graveside, Ms Paone demonstrated a world-weariness and an inner strength that was completely appropriate for the character and in line with what Mr. Miller wrote.

Gianni Damaia was masterful as Willie’s neighbor Charlie. Their scene alone–which both defines their relationship and also creates new question about it–was the high point of the play. The timing, the direction, the pace, the rhythm, the stakes involved, the passion–all first rate and compelling theater. It also raised a question which we don’t think had been explored before–did Charlie have a thing for Linda? Interesting insight.

The brothers were not quite as successful, but acquitted themselves as the play went on. David Levi as Happy has talent but was missing Happy’s shallow view of the world, and his need for shallow things–like chasing girls to the exclusion of everything else (wonderfully highlighted by the steak house scene in Act II).. His parents pay him little attention for a reason. There must be an understanding from the actor to the character, and give it basis.  He, like Mr. Cooper, needed more period-perfect make-up and costuming.

Aaron Ogle as Biff gave a good, earnest performance. Mr. Ogle, like Mr. Cooper, affected a tone in their voices that had a Lower East Side flavor. Maybe this was meant to show age or time-period but wasn’t needed. Biff has a powerful journey – as a man doomed to the abyss because he learned his father was a lying hypocrite, a devastating discovery for any child. Authentic tone optional. .

Alexander Gheesling as Howard was well-cast, his time on stage is in a vital scene on which the play pivots, so he could have done even more in his moments. David Melgar as Bernard played both his scenes well, and the latter one, with an ailing Willie, was touching. Now, about that hair… (these aforementioned problems (hairstyles for most characters were incorrect for 1949; costuming was inconsistent) were fixable and a lesson learned for next time).

A tip of the hat to the director, Mr. Ernest Barzaga. At its essence, a director’s job is to address the individual art of the actor, and to bring the assorted arts of the other actors and designers together in a cohesive product – and in this task, Mr. Barzaga succeeded. Matters of pacing and staging will only grow stronger and stronger, that is obvious.

The best of success to a fledgling theater company…and maybe next time, into the ocean, where there is no bottom, and no limits. This group has proven, with little hesitation, which it can tackle anything the Theater Gods present before them.

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SUMMER SOUL SOUNDS

There are some lovely words in the English Language. ‘Sound Bath’ would be one.

When this dazzling combo made its entrance about 10 minutes into the Healing Session/Performance, butts shifted in chairs, and attention was paid.

Mary Elizabeth Micari hosted this innovative, unusual, well-meaning experiment–both a ‘session’ and a ‘performance’–and on the whole, despite a few trappings of the modern world sneaking in, was a successful endeavor.

This is an evening of healing, as advertised, by trained sound healers (a wholly legitimate science and art, with schools and degrees dedicated to its teachings), and the healing will take place by any means necessary. It is also a performance of sorts–after all, you’re here, and the healers are ‘up there’. Because of that fact, because the ‘stage’ was dressed so elegantly and appropriate for the tranquil evening planned, a certain level of performance is expected.

Once in awhile the lines became too blurred–sometimes a ‘session’, sometimes a ‘performance’, and sometimes, unfortunately, an infomercial. We are here for meditation, for inner peace through music, that should be the entire agenda.

13958023_10208911395154969_3898281669742306896_oThe evening started with a session by Daniel Lauter, a thoughtful, gentle soul who shared his talent in a caring, giving, touching way. One was free to join in, or not; the decision was entirely ours.  His assorted collection of “singing” bowls was beautiful and elegant and lovely to listen to. He was a man of few words, and had nothing to offer except himself, his energy, and his art. Unfortunately, the next performer was not as gracious a host. After an amusing story as a 5-year-old learning the sax, Erik Lawrence regaled us with one tale after another of who he played with, and where. Even if this wasn’t his intention, it seemed as if he was attempting to find new clients in the audience.

13932947_10208911395794985_6612453857441100488_nFortunately, Act I was saved by George Brandon–a man filled with spirit and soul, and the possessor of a wonderfully sonorous voice, a voice so powerful we could listen to him recite the Yellow Pages without getting fidgety. A commanding presence on the stage, properly dressed for the occasion, you had no choice but to listen, and enter his world. His musical piece–in which all performers joined, including the hostess–was required listening. His mantra–“Don’t Waste Your Life” was short, sweet, and to the point. If only the rest of the world was listening, we’d all be better off.

Act II brought another infomercial. Malia Culp might be successful amongst those she knows well, but on a stage, performing for a group of strangers, she seemed pretentious. Her talents may or may not resonate with her clients, but it’s hard to believe spending half her evening sounding like a bumble bee would work. She acknowledged her ‘…beautiful Erik’ and then began her own commercial much like he did. Sadly, she, too, decided to talk of her talent was better than to show it making her contribution to the evening amount to nothing.

13962524_10208911396354999_2162749278884117239_nThat left the ‘finale’ to Ms. Micari. She saved the day. There is a reason she hosted the event, and a reason she went last–she has the talent the others have, but also a personality that is second to none. She sang beautiful odes of healing brought down to her from her ancestors, and they did not disappoint–from the Gaelic Hills, to the lovely land of Calabria, her voice lifted the evening all by itself…then, it a fitting conclusion, led the audience members out of their seats and into the lobby of the theater, for a wholly satisfying conclusion.

As Hostess, Ms. Micari must be a little mindful of the ramblings of her company but otherwise, a splendid time was had by all, and a big fat tip-of-the-hat to her for organizing such an innovative evening of healing and performance.

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SANDMAN: Potential and Promise
“Novice Playwright Cannot Quite Get out Of Her Own Way”
The Sandman” has potential and promise, but disappoints”
It is no shame; most playwriting debuts fall short because they are afflicted by ‘The Curse of The Shoehorn’…that is, they are determined to get everything they wish to say into one play, even if it needs to be ‘shoehorned’ in. ‘The Sandman‘, running now at American Theater of Actors is, despite several strong stretches of dramatic action and well-written characters, another victim of this malaise.
New York City, 1979. Having escaped from filing bankruptcy and having the Mayor sell apples on the street corner, the pulse of the city turns decadent by decade’s end–discos, cocaine, designer jeans. Easy free living, easy free money. The Irish Mob in Hell’s Kitchen (the Westies, one presumes, although that moniker is never mentioned) gets a scent of this, and wants in–loansharking, prostitution, the rackets out, Columbian Marching Powder in.
Tommy and Diane Cassidy (decently played by veteran Ken Coughlin and Meredith Floor Rust) own a bar on the West Side, ‘The Sandman‘, and are trying to make ends meet. Enter corrupt cops, old hangers-on from back in the day, and of course assorted gangsters pursuing their latest misdeeds. Add several clever plot twists, some excellent dialogue (good ear by Ms Navarra), and some mostly decent performances (especially Greg Valiante as the Head Hoodlum Ian O’Rourke, Dan Lane Williams as the ne’er-do-well Donny Finn, and AJ Converse as Jake Sands) , and there are the ingredients, the makings of a solid new American Play. (Great names, by the way)
But…
It’s Ms. Navarra’s first play, and it shows. The characters are overwritten. There are way too many instances of characters explaining themselves why they do what they do. People, especially these types of people, simply do not explain their ‘feelings’; they simply impulsively act. There is too much action that happens off stage. There is too much dialogue that is realistic but not dramatic–it doesn’t advance the telling of the tale.The second act should be shorter than the first, but here it is in reverse, therefore nullifying and sanitizing the potent dramatic affect. There are too many subplots which get in the way of the drama–a would-be illicit love story (corrupt cop lusting after bar owner’s wife),  a lush lamenting her wasted life in the theater (beautifully played by Valerie O’Hara), and the second act is plot-driven, not character driven–in other words, better suited for television or the movies, but not the theater. (Actors pantomiming getting into a car and following the bad guys looked particularly foolish and amateurish, quite frankly)
There are other disservices that compromised Ms Navarra’s work that had nothing to do with the writing: A lead actor should never serve as the director for any reason–the production had a palpable lack of timing, rhythm, and denouement. The production lagged. Ques were not crisp, and it doesn’t help when actors drop lines about 15 or 20 times, an unforgivable sin.The actual playing space, the theater, was far too large to do justice to this intimate play. The first act takes place mostly in the bar; yet half of the playing space is, except for the opening five minutes, completely bare, unused and unattended. The (Keystone) cops (played by Michael Bordwell and Ben Guralnik) unfortunately do not pass the wind-tunnel test, and because so much dialogue and dramatic action are devoted to them, they take the play down with them.
The first scene in Act II, in Donny Finn’s Office in his pool hall, is a complete breath of fresh air, and after the relative staleness of Act I, seems to be a sign of things to come. It is wonderfully written, without any fat or extraneous diversion; it is superbly acted and staged; it brings with it hope for a better day. Alas, this scene was the high point of the play; the rest of the play was anticlimactic and wholly predictable.
Ms Navarra has a keen sense of characters, a good ear for dialogue, and knows what she wants to say–now comes the matter of another pair of eyes (dramaturg time), and removing the fat, so what we are left with is a better, well-rounded shorter play. Brave for the effort, Ms Navarra, the American Theater Welcomes You!