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As You may or may not Like It

As You Like It

By William Shakespeare

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

Shakespeare Sports Theatre Company presents "As You Like It" © Basil Rodericks 2018Rosalind, Orlando and the rest of the merry band of lovers and miscreants in As You Like It who take refuge in the forest of Arden encounter “hippies” and homeless people in Carrie Issacman’s zero-frills staging of William Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy for the Shakespeare Sports Theatre Company.

STC is primarily a traveling theatre, and specializes in an aesthetic self-described on the official website as “unrehearsed Shakespeare.” It’s an apt description. The notion of having the cast read their lines from handheld scrolls instead of bound scripts could not disguise the fact that most of them hadn’t memorized their halting speeches or built much of a coherent characterization beyond eye rolling and hand waving. More than once the action paused while actors glanced nervously at each other waiting for someone else to give the next line. The tactic might work better with plays by Brecht or Foreman, but didn’t really do Shakespeare or the audience any favors.

Among those who acquitted themselves honorably were Charles Lear as the imperious Duke, Joe Crow Ryan as a grizzled Touchstone, and Roger Stude as a disheveled Jacques who stood out with his slapdash but strangely effective “Seven Ages of Man” speech. Director Issacson herself provided a highlight as the coquettish Audrey. Donna Stearns and Melanie Gretchen (who also played Hymen) composed music for Shakespeare’s lyrics.

Some of the actors were in costumes or partial costumes. Most were in street clothes, supposedly circa 1968, when this production is listed in the program as being set. The stage was almost bare, backed by black curtains which the actors sometimes fumbled through, searching for the gap to make their exit.

As You Like It appeared at the tiny Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre space at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village through December 8.

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Broadway: The Lifespan of a Fact

The Lifespan of a Fact

By Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell.

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

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One of the curses of journalism is the act of “fudging.” Not the wholesale falsifying of stories, but the adjusting of seemingly small details—“insignificant” details—to make a story more exciting, more resonant, perhaps more literary. But which only make it untrue.

If recognized, these fudges undermine the public’s faith in the story, and, ultimately, in journalism itself.

Costarring the Rushmore-like three-generation trio of Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale, and Mr. Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, The Lifespan of a Fact, now on Broadway at Studio 54, dramatizes this issue by presenting just such a situation as it happens at a New Yorker-like literary magazine. Jones plays the editor, who believes she has found the once-in-a-generation story about a young woman’s suicide, written by a renowned author, played by Cannavale.

The story seems like a slam-dunk prize-winner for her and for her magazine, so she assigns the pro-forma fact-checking to Jim, a promising recent college grad, played by Radcliffe. But this first-timer turns out to be more dogged and thorough than either of the veterans expected, and keeps finding tiny but significant fudges in the story that give it sweep and resonance, but which turn out to have been made up by the author.

The author is annoyed and the editor is dismissive at first, but, as the fudges pile up, the situation turns from problematic to disastrous.

It took three playwrights to adapt an essay written by two journalists (Jim D’Agata and Jim Fingal), but these too many cooks have managed not to spoil the broth. The play moves energetically and decisively as Jim keeps discovering more and more inconsistencies. The power of the play comes from the way the audience’s attitude shifts from comic annoyance with the gumshoe-like youngster, to respect for the youngster and alarm at the casual dismissiveness of the two veterans who should have known better.

Directed by Leigh Silverman, the play never gets dry or didactic. It finds plenty of humor in a situation that asks serious questions about whether journalists are less careful than they were years ago? And, if so, are their editors and other gatekeepers, like the authors of this play, equipped enough and dedicated enough to do something about it?

The Lifetime of a Fact is scheduled to play at Studio 54 in Manhattan through January 13, 2019.

An Englishman, an Irishman and an American Wake Up in Plato’s Cave

A review by Joshua Crone

Animus_11142018-13.jpgWhatever political realities may have prompted Animus Theatre Company’s captivating revival of Irish dramatist Frank McGuinness’s Someone Who’ll Watch over Me, the universally human dimensions of the play are what ultimately justify its extended sentence.     The unrelenting image of two, sometimes three, men chained to a wall burns itself into the brain in the course of the play’s considerable runtime until it becomes less an illustration of the characters’ plight than a symbol of the human condition, a dramatization of Plato’s cave allegory or a sly foray into Beckettian theatre of the absurd—sly because the absurdity is achieved naturalistically rather than imposed formally; it is earned through the suffering of the characters and the fully committed actors who play them, their arms weary from set after set of pushups, their legs and eyes red and raw from real and mind-forged manacles.

Driven to distraction, they toast with invisible glasses, drive imaginary cars, play tennis in the presence of the Queen, hop around like bunnies to a childish little song. And these manic games, alternately amusing and disturbing, express their desperation far more effectively than the occasional tearful breakdown. Their unseen captors are referred to, even shouted at, but never seen or heard. In a Kafkaesque twist, the reason for their imprisonment can only be guessed at. And in perhaps the most potent symbol of all, the door to the cell stands open.

There is much to recommend in this gritty, visceral production, from the dirty floor and ochre walls of Scott Tedmon Jones’s set, realistic yet bleakly surreal in the manner of de Chirico, to the masterfully orchestrated ebb and flow of speech, action and emotion under director Alan Langdon’s baton.

But by and large it is the brutally honest performances of the actors that keep this infernal machine in motion. As the American, Leif Steinert’s Adam ranges from stoic voice of reason to blubbering defeatist.

As Michael, the disoriented latecomer and quintessential Englishman, Michael Broadhurst follows the opposite arc, his upper lip gradually stiffening to deliver some of the play’s funniest and most incisive lines.

Animus_11142018-29 (3)And Jonathan Judge-Russo’s Edward, chained to center stage and just as central to the story, drives the action in ever-tightening circles with controlled intensity and an impeccable Irish brogue.

 

The production could benefit from a sound design that does more to suggest a world offstage, perhaps a few ominous sounds at key points to lend credence to their fear of the unseen captors. And there are moments when the tears flow a little too freely, where an effort to restrain them would be more believable and affecting. Finally, the text itself suffers at times from being overly schematic, as it plays out all the possible permutations of persecutor vs. victim in a cell with precisely three anchor points.

But there is so much life and lyricism and breadth of vision in both the text and the production that minor shortcomings are quickly forgotten. What remains, long after the play has ended, is, to quote the director’s own note, a sense of “the resilience of the human spirit,” even under absurd conditions. And since life itself is arguably absurd, regardless of the political or material circumstances under which it plays out, what could possibly be more timely and relevant?

Running thru Decemver 9 – https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1001209

 

 

Dancing Shadows in Love

Shadows

Direction & Choreography by Joey McKneely; book by Randall David Cook; music and lyrics by Julia Frodah, Maxim Moston, and Karen Bishko

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

fullsizeoutput_248Broadway director/choreographer Joey McKneely (Smokey Joe’s Café) has put his personal stamp on a great first draft for a dancing musical, titled Shadows, being showcased Off-Off Broadway. If he brings the first two hours of the show up to the spine-tingling last 15 minutes, he could have a hit on his hands.

Shadows is the story of an unhappily married woman named Claire (Janine DiVita) who is trying to sell a spooky old apartment she inherited from her grandmother. Claire is very attracted to Alex (John Arthur Greene), the hard-charging and hunky real-estate salesman who is handling the sale—and soon is handling Claire as well.

But Claire has a secret to share. Something happened in that apartment long ago. Not just a murder, but three murders plus a suicide, all involving her ancestor. The apartment is haunted by their ghosts, and this is where McKneely really makes his mark and creates the central conceit of this musical. The ghosts (the tender Irina Dvorovenko, the graceful Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva, the brooding Nickmil Concepcion, and the jagged Naomi Kakuk) are portrayed entirely through McKneely’s balletic choreography.

After we learn the backstory behind the quadruple tragedies, the granddaughter and her lover gradually begin to relive the events leading up to the terrible past.

fullsizeoutput_262.jpegIt’s a bold and ambitious idea for a musical. The problem is that, as written by librettist Randall David Cook, the dead characters always seem more interesting and distinctive than their rather generic and non-dancing descendants. DiVita, who has Broadway credits in revivals of Anything Goes and Grease, and Greene, who was featured in the last season of American Idol, have real chemistry and appeal, but aren’t given much in the way of a backstory to develop their characters.

Things finally get interesting in last minutes of the musical, building to a startling and truly creepy final twist. That kind of tension needs to start building from the show’s first moments, but doesn’t yet.

Julia Frodah (of the band Edison Woods), contributed songs to the busy score, along with Maxim Moston and Karen Bishko). Perhaps with better orchestrations the beauties of the score will become more apparent.

Shadows is scheduled to play at the Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4thStreet in Manhattan through December 15.

Chorus Line Stars Old and New Unite at TRU Benefit 

By Robert Viagas

tru 2.jpgStars of the original production of A Chorus Line appeared alongside members of the 2018-19 international touring production at the Nov. 4 “TRU Love” benefit for Theatre Resources Unlimited (TRU) at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City.

 

Tony Award winner Priscilla Lopez (the original Diana Morales) was among those who paid tribute to her onetime castmate Baayork Lee (original Connie Wong). Lee, now a director, choreographer and co-founder of the National Asian Artists Project, received the TRU Spirit of Theater Award for “a lifetime of creating opportunities for Asian artists.”

Lopez recalled Lee during the original A Chorus Line rehearsals as “the brightest spirit in the room,” and after describing Lee’s little-known efforts as a surrogate parent for her own niece and nephew, saluted her for her remarkable abilities to inspire others, saying, “she’s always ready to make miracles happen.”

tru.jpgAccepting the award, Lee recalled how, her very first Broadway audition, at age 5, for the original cast of The King and I, she told her mother “This is where I want to be.” As an Asian-American artist who has opened to door for so many others, she said, “The door opened little bit [for me] and I stuck my foot in…. We are here to stay!”

Observing that A Chorus Line has been lauded wherever in the world it has played, Lee said, “I think we’re going to go to the moon someday, because A Chorus Line is everywhere.”

Members of the current ACLtour, choreographed by Lee, sang the show’s signature song, “What I Did for Love.”

The theme for the event was “The Power of Community,” which well suited Lee’s fellow honoree, John Chatterton, founder of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, who received the TRU Entrepreneur Award for “providing 17 years of developmental opportunities for a range of independent theater artists.”

Chatterton spoke briefly about his lifelong desire to provide opportunities for artists through the Midtown Festival, and also to provide much-needed critical attention to their work through the publication OOBR (Off-Off-Broadway Reviews).

That mission lined up well with that of the awards’ hosting organization, Theatre Resources Unlimited, which gives money to help jumpstart the careers of young producers, directors and other theatre artists. To support those activities, TRU held an auction at the event that raised more than $5000 with bids on Hamilton tickets, a Uniworld European River Cruise for two, and two pairs of Yankees Legend Suite tickets.

Directed by Jonathan Cerullo, the event also included performances by the cast of the Off-Broadway musical Sista, the song “Superior” from Thrill Me, the song “Take Me America” from the musical of the same name, and Brenda Braxton performing “Family” from Dreamgirls. As an opening number, Xander Chauncy and the young actors from A Chorus Line set the tone of the event by singing Stephen Schwartz’ “(We Can Build a) Beautiful City” from Godspell.

Johnny B. Dunn’s FREE RANGE is back in the saddle.

[This articled first appeared in BroadwayWorld]

Earlier this season Frank Calo and All Out Arts in conjunction with The Wild Project presented an LGBT Film Event as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival: a reading of Johnny B. Dunn’s new screenplay, FREE RANGE.

It’s a bullying story with a few new twists. National rodeo champion and local hero, Chad Raines, returns home to his father’s ranch after a bull-riding accident to contemplate the end of his career. Father & son are tormented by the loss of Chad’s mother and his brother, whose cries for help went unanswered … until it was too late. Unable to reconcile with his guilt, Chad turns to drugs and liquor.

Here is where Dunn’s tome becomes even more topical and unusual at the same time. The heterosexual rodeo champion – plagued by memories of past actions – seeks redemption by coaching a group of bullied LGBTQ high school students in his state’s rodeo competition. Chad agrees to coach the local high school Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) to prepare them for a rodeo. Meanwhile, this rodeo would be pitting another brother against brother. Toby, president of the local GSA will compete against Mark, the president of the Rodeo club. They, like Chad and his deceased brother, don’t see eye-to-eye … to say the least, with Toby battling for respect and Mark, emerging as one of the harassers of the GSA. With the seminal event (the Rodeo) impending and haunted by the memory of his brother, who – because of bullying – committed suicide, Chad must decide – like his father and the entire town – what side he’s on.

The reading received highly positive mentions from Jed Ryan of LavendarAfterDark, Evan Meena from Indie-Pictures-Blog, and this commentary from celebrated journalist and playwright, Doug DeVita:

“As a story, “Free Range” builds and sustains interest through its atmospheric dialogue, colorful locations, tense action, and the people one just plain loves, loves to hate, and/or hates to love. And as a potential film, the screenplay has that emotional arc that grabs its audience right from the beginning and takes them along for the sometimes wild ride, getting them rooting for Chad and the students right up through the exciting, and emotionally true, finale. With bullying – of all stripes – once again on the rise, it’s time for a story, and film, like “Free Range” to be told, and shown, to the widest audience possible.”

Interest in turning the screenplay into an independent film has grown greatly in the last few months with producer, Connie Hoy, joining the team.

Connie has worked in the film industry for over twenty- five years. She began her independent film journey by working under such directors as the Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmusch, and Kathryn Bigelow. Her most recent film, BATTLECREEK was released theatrically a year ago. It was directed by Alison Eastwood and starred Bill Skarsgard, Paula Malcomson, Claire van der Boom & Delroy Lindo. Connie produced the 2010 documentary THE HEART IS A DRUM MACHINE which looks at why humans make and love music. In 2010 Connie produced the upcoming feature film QUEENS OF COUNTRY. QUEENS stars Lizzy Caplan, Ron Livingston, Joe Lo Truglio & Matt Walsh. Connie was presented with the 1998 Arizona Women in Film “Vision” award for her contributions to the Arizona film community and her directorial debut HACK. Connie’s credits include Jim Jarmusch’s DEAD MAN starring Johnny Depp & Gaberial Byrne, MYSTERY TRAIN starring Steve Buschemi & Joe Strummer, RAISING ARIZONA, BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and NEAR DARK Directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow.

Sizzle reels and Look Books are being coordinated through the offices of Jay Michaels Arts & Entertainment. JMAE has overseen the promotion of independent films including the documentary, HEART OF THE COMMUNITY (about media mogul Steven Ross); film shorts, TWELVE FINGERS; NORMAN; feature lengths, BENEATH THE ROCK; THE WATCHTOWER; and Creative Ammo’s Downtown Urban Arts Film Festival at the TriBeCa Film Center. As a producer, JMAE credits include SLINGS & ARROWS (based on Hamlet); the short film about the automotive industry, CODE RED, and the period piece, EARTHMEN. Currently JMAE has FREE RANGE and filmmaker, Marc Baron’s MEGGABALLS on solicitation.

Screenwriter, Johnny B. Dunn, known for his unique stories, characterization and dialogue, has several awards on his own gun-belt. FREE RANGE: Winner, One in Ten International Competition; SOULS IN A VOID: Winner-First Place, Gemini International Playwriting Competition; FINDING ROOM: Finalist, 2011 BlueCat Screenplay Competition; LOVE RESTORED: Finalist in the Buffalo/Niagara Film Festival screenwriting competition.

“It’s a story that needs to be told,” said Dunn, to Jed Ryan of Lavender After-Dark. Citing similar works, Dunn mentioned the success of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN: “… research showed that people drove in for miles to see it.” But Dunn is very clear whom he wants his audience to be, “It needs to stay PG-13!  It needs to stay at a level that would be welcome to anyone.  I think if you had something rated PG-13, it would really be cool if parents went with their kids to go see it, as a way of beginning to build acceptance.”

To learn more, contact Jay Michaels Arts & Entertainment at 646-338-5472 or JMAE.events@gmail.com.

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The cast of FREE RANGE at the Wild Project reading of the screenplay. (From l to r – Frank Calo, Johnny B. Dunn, and seated, Jay Michaels)

 

 

 

Adam Belvo and the Brutes

After a powerful run at Planet Connections 2018 Theatre Festivity, spit&vigor – helmed by a genuine theatre professional, Adam Belvo, revives THE BRUTES, a gripping piece of history and drama written by Casey Wimpee. The new production will be at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street. If that address rings a bell, it is the old haunt of the legendary Wings Theatre, now in another pair of capable hands.

Sara Fellini returns as director bringing Mr. Belvo, and other members of the original cast with her. Performances are November 23 — December 9 (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm). Tickets are $30. For reservations, please visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/999133.

We get a tour of the backstage (literally) goings-on of an historic performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar featuring the renowned Booth theatrical family – brothers, Edwin, Junius Jr. and John Wilkes, Booth. There’s another familiar name.

This was the first and only time the three brothers shared a stage together. Events that shaped the world prohibited them from a return engagement. The backstage drama becomes the focus of this portrait of a tempestuous relationship fraught with political conflict ending in an American tragedy.

Fellini stages THE BRUTES in-the-round with a minimalist set pieces that transforms into a theatre, a dinner table, and a nation on the brink of sweeping change. Civil strife, family devolution, and a country sharply divided – 150 years ago or right now – the parable of this drama remains strong.

Ai and other sites under the Five Star Arts banner will discuss the play and the players.

So let’s start with the brother that stayed in the theatre and not in the President’s box …

Adam Belvo, who plays EDWIN BOOTH.
adam-belvo.jpgTell us about yourself as an artist.
I am an actor/producer who has been working in the NY Indie theater scene for the past 13 years. As a performer, I began my NY career as more of a character actor, but as I get older I am finding myself rooted more in straight-man/leading roles. As a producer, I like to choose projects that have unique stories and interesting, complicated human relationships with untidy resolutions. I like plays and productions that start passionate conversations that continue late into the night, conversations that water thoughts and grow you as a person and an artist.
 
Tell us about your role in The Brutes
I am playing Edwin Booth, with a twist; I get to portray him as he is rehearsing for and playing both Brutus in Julius Caesar & Hamlet, so Hamlet and Brutus via Edwin. Edwin’s drama is the struggle to overcome his father’s legacy, survive being besieged by the tensions and fallout that arise over political and familial grudges during his family’s Thanksgiving dinner and benefit performance, and trying to keep his mind (and sanity) intact all the while. It’s an elegantly written role, and the challenge is to simultaneously portray extreme confidence and control onstage while also showing that internally, he’s cracking under the weight of enormous psychological pressure.
I am also a producer on this project, and that poses an entirely different set of challenges. However, by assembling an incredibly talented and dedicated cast and crew, our burden has been made light and the process has been a lot of fun thus far. We’re skin of yr teeth in some ways, but that’s my preference. I started out with small companies where everyone pulled their weight and wore multiple hats (design/direction/costuming/etc.); in these circumstances, everyone pulls together to make something good absolutely incredible. I feel like we continue to foster that philosophy and work ethic with our current company, spit&vigor.
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Share with us your thoughts on independent theater. What is its significance to the skyline of entertainment in NYC?
Indie theater in NYC is the flower growing up through the sidewalk pavement; hardy, resilient, economical and creative. I feel that while we may not have the commercial backing or space opportunities that larger productions uptown might, we make up for that in creative solutions, ingenuity, and pluckiness. I’ve seen brilliant stagings in the backs of bars, kitchens & churches, and new companies rise up from the ashes of old ones like the phoenix. We represent the heart and soul of this city; we rise to meet its challenges every day, regardless of the hardships that might be posed, and we’ll continue doing so as long as we draw breath.