Introducing Matt Frenzel

I’ve been acting non-stop since high school. Theatre simply feels like it has always been a major part of my life. This is actually my first major role and show in Manhattan and and it has been a fantastic experience,” say Matt Frenzel, who just graduated from Queens College and embarks on a professional acting career in the same month.

Frenzel plays Jack-of-this-trade in celebrated play- and screenwriter, Rollin Jewett’s new work, THE BIG DREAM. This surreal piece follows an actor on the brink of a nervous breakdown whose life begins to circulate around him. Or is it his exaggeration of his life? Or is it all lies? Or is he a lie? or is he real?

A lot to unpack first time out of the gate. Ai spoke briefly with Matt after one of his few live rehearsals about this challenging role and the life of an artist.  

Frenzel with Zara Zeidman. A devastating break-up propels our protagonist into a mental spiral

What are the challenges of doing an interactive play? And what are the challenges of doing one NOW?

While doing a play or musical, involving the audience very directly is always a fascinating dichotomy of intensely daunting and so extremely fun. The main challenge is, well, the audience doesn’t know how the show is supposed to go, so once you pull someone into this, you really have to be prepared for anything. I try to not think too hard about what they MIGHT do because I genuinely have no idea. I’ve always been pretty good at thinking on my feet so I generally enjoy the interactivity. The challenges NOW, however, are of course amplified because of social distancing and masks. We have to be extremely careful because, yes, we are interacting with our audience, but at the same time we have to remember that we are still very real people who are living through a very real pandemic and we have to make sure we are being safe. 

Donna White appears as a therapist to help get into Jack’s head … or is SHE all in his head?

Elaborate on your feelings and concerns about returning to the live theater.

I am extremely excited to return to live theatre. It’s incredibly surreal. I feel so lucky to be a part of one of the first shows that people will be experiencing post-COVID. At the same time though, naturally we have to keep in mind COVID safety and health precautions. As much as we all love the theatre and it is a major part of our lives, the health and safety of our community and of our city are most important. But I am confident that all of the proper precautions are being taken and this will be a very safe experience. 

What’s next for you? 

As an actor who has mostly only done community theatre and high school theatre before this, I just hope more opportunities like this are next for me. This experience has been truly life changing and I would love to be able to build an actual career as an actor. It’s what I have to do. It’s who I am. 

The cast of THE BIG DREAM

A film of Pandemic Proportions

Review by Lew Antoine

As we see the light at the end of the tunnel we start breathing a sigh of relief over the CoVid-19 pandemic. While not over, we start applying hope.

But what if that wasn’t what was to happen.

Roy Shellef’s film “Alone” talks us to the seventh-year anniversary of the pandemic – with no end in sight. Can we call this a horror film? Sure. Can we call it horrific? Definitely. Shellef, four languages, as many monologues, some creepy camera angles and effects plus some lonely guitar chords provides us with a cautionary tale of nightmarish proportions.

Make no mistake, there are no gory scenes, no eerie creatures, just four people alone on different parts of the world … thinking they are the only ones left. The simple dialogue serves to frighten more than any ghoul.

Joshua Wallace starts us off with command as an americvan – looking like a student – whose only friend is a recording devise allowing him to philosophize his terror; Eli Sunder perfectly sets us up to go around the world looking the part of a poet from a far-off land writing his final prose of the end of the world. Sunder gives us the feel of art dying; Chantal Casutt – particular devastating as a young french girl in the throughs of dying from this disease. Vacillating betwene madness and introspection the rash-ridden Casutt was a disconcerting harbinger of things to come for them all; Mariana Sanjuan, face dirty sitting in front of a chalk board counting the days of loneliness tells a story with the power one might feel when talking of any war; and Yijing Liz Song as a young woman who seems to be living in total terror. One might think that if she feels so alone why must she cower in the corner … what is she waiting for?

Each portrayed a different facet of loneliness. Interesting that there are five. Are these the stages of grief? If so, then Casutt might be acceptance and that would make the film even more terrifying.

Writer/Director/Producer/Cinematographer, Shellef seemed to hold the camera too close on his actors or cut away a bit too soon or revealed them in the middle of a sentence, making the film appropriately claustrophobic and morbid. Shellef kept it real and that made all the difference.

This really compelling work should be seen as the well-made film it is; as a cautionary tale; and as a chance to open a dialogue about what we are doing to ourselves and to each other.

Alone is currently touring the film festival circuit

“What kind of life do we want to live?”

What kind of life do we want to live?”

Review by Brendan McCall

untitled: an exploration of grief

Created & performed by J. Bouey

(stream of live performance)

Part of La MaMa Moves! Festival, curated by Nicky Paraiso

12-23 May 2021

Fourteen months in. Have you ever paused and thought about what we have been through–from the impact of covid-19 on our health, professions, and communities, to the continued police brutality against Black and brown people; from misinformation and confusion over simple facts, to an insurrection against the nation´s Capitol in the name of the Big Lie. Sadly, stresses continue to plague our global society with alarming normalcy, from tighter voter restrictions to a new conflict between Israel-Palestine, from violence against Asian-Americans to the India´s staggering lack of resources to combat coronavirus.

How has all of this this affected our mental health? Our bodies? How do we move forward?

J. Bouey´s piece, untitled: an exploration of grief, invites viewers to participate in these questions, to reflect along with them during a performance which was live-streamed from the downstairs theater of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club on Friday, 14 May, as part of their annual festival for dance, La MaMa Moves!, curated by Nicky Paraiso. Just as New York City begins opening up many businesses before we have even reached 50% vaccination rate, this year´s festival is a hybrid of dance films and streams for live performances.

The piece opens with J. seated, cross-legged, guiding the audience through a simple kind of guided meditation focused on breath. One advantage of this evening´s live-stream format is that the camera´s POV permitted us to close in on J.´s body, creating a far more intimate viewing experience than would be possible in the theater (although, at times, it was challenging to hear his soothing speaking voice, as he was not wearing a body mic).

After striking the edge of a meditation bowl, J. asks, “What kind of a life do we want to live?” As they answer in an elliptical, seemingly stream-of-conscious string of thoughts, J. simultaneously uses various props familiar to any dancer to massage their back, their legs, their neck. They emphasize the connective tissue of fascia as the individual body´s “first responders”, and encourages a metaphorical parallel to our collective body. The fascia connects all of our muscles with one another, as well as with the surface of our skin; just like our human nation, right? Aren´t we all connected?

The bulk of untitled: an exploration of grief is sharing time and space with J. It´s a bold act, having the performance be, essentially, J. stretching and listening to music and sharing some of their thoughts. However, by sustaining the boldness of this artistic choice for the duration of the piece reminds me of the “small dance” of Steve Paxton, or John Cage´s 4´33. Those pieces challenged what we think of as music and dance, but removing sound and movement from what we expect from the form. If there we witness J. “only” talking and resting, are they still “doing” something? Is this still a performance?

In untitled: an exploration of grief we witness J. Bouey take the time to rest, leading by example how each of us may prioritize or value rest, and to do it with purpose and intention. As things start to open up again, J. encourages each of us to take the time to explore not only what kind of life we want to live, but how we can live that life harmoniously, together.

The Naked Truth with Sean Stephens

Sean Stephens is an actor/singer/songwriter who hails from South Carolina. He peppers his vast litany of characters, comedy, and compositions with what he learned growing up in the south. 

Sean is part of the revival of Queer musical comedy, CAMP MORNING WOOD, returning Off-Broadway, JUNE 4-20
AT ASYLUM THEATRE, 307 West 26thStreet. Conceived and directed by Marc Eardley, the critically acclaimed musical comedy features a book and lyrics by Jay Falzone, music by Trent Jeffords, Derrick Byars, Matt Gumley and Jeff Thomson with arrangements and orchestrations by Gumley and Jeffords. It also features nudity!

Camp Morning Wood tells the story of Randy, who – at a crossroads in his life, AND after a hellish 30th birthday – finds himself (thanks to a blown tire) at the front gate of a humble nudist camp. The camp itself is at a crossroads thanks to threats of closing by a tyrannical, right-wing Christian Senator. Randy is launched into a weekend adventure of titillating tunes, quirky campers, and soul-searching. Together they must find a solution to save the camp … and accept themselves. Randy and the campers bare it all – inside and out – in this wild cross between Rocky Horror and Wizard of Oz. Morning Wood takes “camp” to a new level.

Featured in the cast are Anthony Logan Cole, Thomas Delgado, Da’Merius Ford, Shelton Lindsay, Chris Ogren, Sean Stephens, and Brady Vigness. Premiering June 4 at Asylum Theater, 307 W 26th St, New York City. Evening and matinee performances and even late night showings include: June 4 @ 9:30; June 5 @ 11:00 p.m.; June 11 & 18 @ 9:30 p.m.; June 12 & 19 @ 2:00 & 5:00 p.m.; June 13 & 20 @ 2:00 p.m. Produced by Get Naked, LLC; General Management by Lyle Sterne, Anthony Logan Cole

Ai spoke with Sean before he put on his costume-er-make-up.

Is this the first time you’ve done a nude show? AND how does it feel to do a show like this?

I originated Derek in the last production so I’m excited to return in a new role. Honestly, the main focus is what you’re doing character wise. When you’re in the moment it doesn’t really even feel like you’re naked, you’re too focused on doing what you have to story and job wise.

OK, so we’re coming for the dicks and staying for the story… What’s the story of Camp Morning Wood?

It’s just an incredibly gay musical. It’s such a funny and out of left field story that I think it works. The absurdity is the point.

What’s one thing that makes this a show suitable for everyone? Or is there?  

The resonating theme that we all want to be accepted for how we are. Baring it all (your heart) and being yourself is the most important thing you can do. 

What’s next for you – clothed or not?

I’ll just be riding the re-opening wave. I’m looking forward to being able to make art after such a long break.

Emerging from plaything to person: QPAC presents Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”

Article by Alice Greenwald, PhD.

What was once a stop-gap has grown into its own art-form. The Zoom-Play is now de rigeur among the theatre doers and goers and – while we’re patiently waiting for the vaccinated to outweigh the unvaccinated – we can rest assured the Zoom-Play is not going away.

The negative of it is that everything – good, bad, indifferent – can be recorded and displayed. That can make for countless hours of monotony. The really good part of it is that great works of the stage normally not shown for myriad unacceptable reasons can be shown.

Case in point: Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. This groundbreaking classic work is more timely today that during its premiere and in some ways even more daring.

Susan Agin and the Queensborough Performing Arts Center knew that and deftly produced a Zoom-Play presentation of it initially as a learning tool for its students and then made it available to all aficionados of fine drama. This alone shows their forward thinking and drive. They then handed the reigns over to Jay Michaels and a superior cast of professionals.

Ibsen’s seminal work tells the story of the Helmer family – Nora and Torvald – and those in their immediate stratosphere. As the 19th century comes to a close, we watch its ideologies begin to crumble – along with those of a subservient wife suddenly coming face-to-face both with her [actual] worth and how worthless she has really been. Her shock at learning the consequences of actions done in love and devotion to her husband send her through a maze of epiphanies that question her life and love. One might discuss how times have changed … very very slowly.

Director Jay Michaels is known for putting his own twist to the classics. His productions of Shakespeare’s canon and his contemporaries have won acclaim for inventiveness. Ironically, the wink that he normally applies is not part of his production of Ibsen’s masterpiece. Instead, director Michaels guides us through an intimate and deeply engrossing simplistically (but effectively) designed production allowing the material to breathe. Behind his excellent casting is a hint of period through virtual backgrounds and clever cutaways. This inspired departure from his wheelhouse delivered a definitive rendition of this play.

The cast supplies us with a sense of realism that delivers each punch with precision. Lydia Kalmen as Nora, the lady of the house, begins the play with a sense of naivety that is equal parts engrossing and heartbreaking. With every realization, we see her break and rebuild. Kalmen’s use wide-eyed innocence and lilting tone that so easily became resolve, was masterful as the three acts moved forward. She presented a litany of complex emotions worthy of tour-de-force. Paul Sheehan as Torvald, her husband, was a sea of gusto and bombast. In the wrong hands, the role could seem nefarious but Sheehan supplied the same level of innocence to his station as Kalmen allowing us to realize that all he was doing was living the privileged life he was supposed to live – allowing us the privilege of both fury and empathy toward the character. His flawless speech pattern allowed us to suspend electronic disbelief putting us in Victorian sensibilities and his powerful presence stepped through the camera. Their final exchange (the play’s true meat of the matter) was brilliant.

The other couple in this tale of emerging individualism is Rose Zisa and Pete Feliz as the widowed Mrs. Linde and the down-on-his-luck Krogstad. Choosing to tell her story in a symphony of side glances and pauses, Zisa provided brilliant commentary to Nora’s unwitting glee in being an elitist. Her desire to simply stand behind someone even though she was smarter than all around her should serve as a ponderous lesson. Zisa’s whispered tone gave us the feeling she felt she was always interrupting. Feliz knows what a “lean and hungry look” is and supplied us with some stunning confrontation scenes filled with it. Rumpled and looking a bit sweaty under his frock coat, Feliz’s exchanges with Nora over her indiscretion and how it looks no different that his own were to be savored. Krogstad is oft-called the villain of the play but here he a painful reality that we still face in this post-Trump era.

Dancing through the intimating and the comical, Vincent Ticali imbued freeloading family friend, Dr. Rank, with all the classic and classical nuisances making him a joyous addition and a mirror of a time gone-by and for good reason. Ticali cleverly used his camera making him seem larger (than life) and thus he served as the play’s “musical number.”

Peppering this soufflé were two servants – one a nanny to Nora’s children and the other a perfect Downton Abby style domestic. Donna White and Zara Zeidman as the nurse and maid, retrospectively, gave us fully realized characterizations of the underbelly of the class system of the time.

It will surely take an extra few minutes of scrolling to find stunning virtual experiences such as this on your computer but the search is well worth it. In the storm of viewing that is monopolized by Tiger King and endless Marvel movies, A Doll’s House produced by QPAC cuts through the noise to offer a powerful lesson handled with grace.

Creating Within the Carceral Surveillance State

Creating Within the Carceral Surveillance State

Review by Brendan McCall

Language Reversal: Move Past What We Know

Co-created by Aaron Landsman, Clarinda Mac Low, and Ogemdi Ude

With Natalia Tikhonova

12 April 2021

Online performance & discussion

Abrons Arts Center

Earlier this month on the 58-year-anniversary of Cosmonautics Day, Abrons Arts Center presented the third and final instalment of Language Reversal: Move Past What We Know, an online collaborative project that seems to fuse performance, discussion, and social activism. Co-created by Aaron Landsman, Clarinda Mac Low, and Ogemdi Ude, this latest episode also featured the contributions of multidisciplinary artist Natalia Tikhonova from St. Petersburg, Russia.

(To read my reviews of this creative team´s earlier Language Reversal performances, please go here for their collaboration with Milan Vračar; and here, featuring Amrita Hepi).

Like its two predecessors, Language Reversal opens with each contributing artist posing a series of questions, framing the piece as both a dialogue and an art work. In response to how her community is policed in Russia, Tikhonova asks what is needed, distinguishing what can be expected from the government versus what must come from a local community. Mac Low then follows with a recitation of a letter written in code to Tikhonova, speculating if any form of communication is truly safe and secure anymore. Landsman recalls his communication with Nicolai Khalezin of Belarus Free Theatre from a decade earlier, and how initially naive or idealistic he was about solutions to their politicized theater in Minsk. And Ude quoted a letter from June 2020 written to her alma mater at Princeton, regarding her earlier graduate thesis, and how she would write it differently today.

These articulate and humble offerings segway into the first pre-recorded video segment. Featuring excerpted conversations between Tihonova and Mac Low during the beginning of 2021, when different insurrections were running near simultaneously in both countries. The two discuss the high proportion of police to citizens in Russia and the United States, and wonder what are effective means to create mutual aid for incarcerated protestors when institutional resources fail us. Images of protests from both countries intertwine, becoming nearly indistinguishable. The the dense black helmets of police in riot gear evoke the lightness of the black balloons which Mac Low tosses in slow motion.

Maps of the two countries emphasize the daunting scale of the problem: how to create mutual aid for local communities when each country, especially Russia, are so huge? Tikhonova´s hand diagrams some possibilities, her vertical and horizontal lines appearing elemental, or like atoms, or perhaps snowflakes. “My practice is just drawing dots, and looking for the connections,” Tikhonova says at one point. “How can we make an impact, to change the situation?”

From the outset with this series, Landsman, Mac Low, and Ude have described Language Reversal as a means to examine oligarchy and translation. Collectively, these pieces are a toolkit, a kind of connective tissue between art, activism, and inquiry. Each of iteration of these succinct online works merits repeat viewings, as their questions and provocations can only be answered off of our screens.

The Burdens of Silence

Review by Brendan McCall
Written, performed, scored, and designed by finkle
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Premiered October-December 2020
8-part online audio theater
Keen Company

“Genius is not a gift, but the way out one invents in desperate cases.”

–Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr (1952)

Theater companies, like individual theater artists, have all needed to adapt and change how they produce theater during the course of this pandemic. To kick off its 21st season, Off-Broadway´s Keen Company pivoted from presenting live productions into offering an online-only season of audio plays in a series entitled “Hear/Now”. The first, 1993 by the multi-talented finkle, is an eight-part radio drama

Hold on a sec: 1993´s not really a radio drama. Maybe it´d be more accurate to describe this piece as…an online musical? The piece has a number of original songs which appear throughout the episodes, all written & performed by finkle.

Sorry, no, “musical” isn’t quite right, either. 1993 feels closer to a concept album, except this one is wrapped in the digital pages of a Playbill. One of the characters is spending that year recording an album on a 4-track, and listeners could interpret the songs in 1993 as excerpts from that demo recording. And, like quintessential examples of the genre (“Quadrophenia”, “American Idiot”, “Sgt. Pepper´s Lonely Hearts Club Band”), 1993´s audio episodes feature characters (all played by finkle) and scenes (in a script he wrote) that unfold like tracks on a double-LP, interconnecting by theme more than dramatic action. Rather than progressing forward in a realistic linear narrative, these eight almost psychedelic episodes fit together like tiles of an almost psychedelic mosaic, perhaps describing a dream or a memory whose logic remains elusive. finkle´s piece is about sex, about identity, about AIDS; it is also about the burdens of silence, of memory´s complicated intimacy between the past and the present. Listening to 1993 feels like a raw, intimate conversation with a stranger.

But finkle isn´t a stranger–not to me, anyway. We went to the same university, and he graduated one year ahead of me, so basically we´re part of the same extended experimental theater family for life. During the time of finkle´s eponymous world blending fact and fiction, where his primary characters resided at 512 East 5th Street, I was living at 122 St. Mark´s Place. Practically neighbors. Each of the episodes inspired me to revisit my own personal geography from that year, which also held a potent yet complicated importance in my life.

So what happens?

1993 is set mostly in the East Village of Lower Manhattan, a neighborhood and scene that doesn’t quite exist anymore. The characters inhabiting finkle´s piece–Steven, Byron, Loreena, Jean Wayne Genet, a younger version (or two) of finkle himself–pass through a variety of remembered spaces in this time-capsule along kaleidoscopic pathways. There’s Wonder Bar and The Tunnel, as well as Leshko´s and Kiev. There’s a key scene in an elevator at the Twin Towers, as well as a fateful late night trip into the deep regions of New Jersey. We flip through the pages of the Village Voice, hop onto phone sex lines, and check out the Robin Bird Show on Channel 35.

As a script, 1993 is raw. It’s like re-reading pages from that journal you kept the year you graduated college, while trying to describe to someone who wasn’t there what it was all about. Generally, finkle´s story is one of gay adolescence, of coming out, of clumsy and occasionally hot sex with other men, of the experience of a first kiss after many earlier fucks.

But more than this, 1993 is also about memory–about looking back on who we were then, and how this informs who we are, now. Within the world of his audio theater, finkle plays all of the characters, collapsing biography and artifice into a dynamic blur. Events largely occur in 1993, of course, but a few happen in 2013, too. Further, there’s also a frequent layering between our current coronavirus pandemic with the AIDS epidemic during the early ´90s. The author´s “present self” also interrupts 1993´s dramatic action frequently to speculate, interrogate, and reconsider what happened. It’s an invitation for the listener to reflect upon our own past choices, and how we recollect them. How were we during this year–what do we remember, and how do we remember? What events changed us?

With any narrative work that places memory as a central subject, it is tempting to reference Marcel Proust and his seven-part novel À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27). While previously translated into English as Remembrance of Things Past, the more current (and accurate) translation of Proust´s magnum opus as In Search of Lost Time points to one of the novel´s central themes: a quest, through recollection, to find a kind of redemption. Such a theme seems fitting, at least in part, with finkle´s 1993, which breaks a series of important silences through his work.

But perhaps a more fitting comparison can be found in the writing of another Frenchman, one who is referenced a number of times throughout 1993: the brilliant outsider, Jean Genet. Inside the younger finkle´s apartment, Steven notices a poster for Querelle, Fassbender´s 1982 adaptation of Genet´s 1947 novel. While in prison, finkle explains, Genet´s manuscript was destroyed, and so he rewrote it on toilet paper. “It was a kind of porn for him,” finkle says, before popping the cassette he got from Kim´s Video into the VCR, “he needed to jerk off to his own writing.”

finkle´s 1993 ultimately offers more questions than answers, its fiction and facts frequently having unsafe sex. True, the narrative time-line gets a little squishy sometimes, but the themes of the piece can always be touched and felt. Instead of seeking the objectivity of cold hard facts,1993 celebrates subjectivity, warmth, contradiction, even confusion. It’s warmer. While 1993 recalls events (real or imaginary) from a defining year in finkle´s life, there´s plenty of room within this tactile audio theater for each listener to feel and experience.

Look At Me: A response by Brendan McCall

Indelible: Christine Blasey Ford as performance artist

By Holly Hughes

Lecture & Performance via Zoom

8 April 2021

Department of Gender, Women´s, and Sexuality Studies

University of Iowa

Depending on which invitation you may have seen online from the University of Iowa’s Department of Gender, Women´s, and Sexuality Studies, Holly Hughes´ Indelible: Christine Blasey Ford as performance artist was billed as a webinar, a talk, or a lecture/performance. Given the rigor with which Hughes has approached her own work, both as a pioneering American performance artist as well as a thinker and academic, it can certainly be framed in any of these categories. This is less a review, more of a response to this engaging and stimulating talk by one of America’s most incisive artists.

Performance art is notoriously difficult to codify or define, Hughes admits early on, but she emphasizes that the form´s concerns tend to be less about beauty, and more about ideas. Unlike theater, there is no artifice in performance art, no rehearsal in preparation for the event; performance art occurs between the artist and the audience, together.

This important point connects us to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in September 2018, when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford challenged the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on the grounds that he sexually assaulted here in 1982. This event is not only about these two individuals, but to larger systems of sexism and patriarchy held in place by power and violence. Dr. Ford is an endurance artist, Hughes contends, demanding that all of us look at her when she speaks to us. But if performance art, like feminism, cannot happen by oneself, what are we collectively doing? How many more stories like Dr. Ford´s do we need to hear, or to experience, before meaningful change occurs?

During this piece, Hughes references a number of exceptional performance artists whose work takes seemingly simple actions and reveals the deeper ideas inherent within them. In creating a link with the testimony of Dr. Ford, however, Hughes highlights two disturbing works in particular: Cut Piece (1964) by Yoko Ono, and Marina Abramovic´s Rhythm Zero(1974). In both instances, these women create a space filled with sharp objects, and invite the audience to do whatever they wish. The power of their work is a form of martyrdom, as they commit to incredible endurance and passivity, despite having their bodies stripped, injured, threatened. And while both of these are considered seminal examples of performance art by women that Hughes respects tremendously, are they not also normalizing violence against women, aestheticizing their harm and humiliation? Is Dr. Ford´s 2018 testimony doing the same?

Indelible: Christine Blasey Ford as performance artist does not provide simple or easy answers to these and other questions contained within this 47-minute work. Instead, using imagery and quotations from the worlds of politics and performance art, Hughes asks us to reflect on our roles within each of these spaces. Like the audiences in Abramovic´s infamous The Artist is Present (2010) at MoMA, Dr. Ford´s 2018 testimony is an unflinching gaze marked with courage, vulnerability, and pain. Are we able to look back? And if yes, what are we going to do about it?

The time is now for Caytha Jentis

Caytha Jentis is an American writer, producer, director and filmmaker. She is also ambitious and clever. She also understood the symbiosis between theatre and film long before the pandemic created this burgeoning hybrid.

Jentis’ feature films include And Then Came Love, which stars Vanessa Williams, Ben Vereen and Eartha Kitt (in her final film appearance). The movie was filmed at her alma mater, Syracuse University, where Jentis gave university students the opportunity to be interns, assisting with pre-production and post-production activities.

Her directorial debut was in 2011 with the coming-out film The One, starring Jon Prescott, Margaret Anne Florence and Ian Novick, Jentis also produced and wrote the script for the movie. The film is a romantic dramedy about a man who plans to marry a woman, when a month before his wedding, he falls in love with a man from his past. Jentis said she wrote the screenplay “after spending several nights with friends discussing true love”, and it was the fastest script she had ever written.

Bad Parents, released in 2012, is based on her award-winning play It’s All About the Kids, and was produced, written and directed by Jentis. The film stars Janeane Garofalo, Cheri Oteri and Kristen Johnston, and was inspired by Jentis’ personal experiences as a soccer mom. The film was shot entirely in New Jersey and used several kids from local soccer teams in the area where Jentis once lived. The movie won Best Feature Film in 2013 at the Hoboken International Film Festival.

In 2010 Jentis wrote and produced Dream House, a short directed by Darien Sills-Evans, that explores the dark side of the suburban dream. Jentis is also creator and director of The Other F Word, a comedy web series that premiered in September 2016 on Amazon Prime. The series is set in New York City, where Jentis now resides, and stars Steve Guttenberg, Judy Gold, Michael Boatman, Gilbert Gottfried and Reiko Aylesworth.

Her production and management company, Fox Meadow Films, produced all three of her feature films and the web series The Other F Word. She also wrote and produced the short film Dream House in 2010. Jentis was selected as one of Good Housekeeping’s 50 over 50 in 2016.

According to Jentis, the “F” in the show stands for being in your forties, fifty, friendship, fearless, family and fun. Jentis also went out of her way to include many commercial products in the series that were developed by women entrepreneurs. Season 1 was a top-ranked show on Amazon for over 4 months, season 2 premiered in September 2017.

“I have been telling stories since elementary school, worked in the film business in my twenties, pivoted to raise my kids and became a filmmaker when my kids were in middle school.  I am a writer first and foremost,” exclaimed the highly visible and important filmmaker, “I love to tell stories – either in script form for theater or film/tv as well as write memoir essays.  I produce and direct as well as a way to further stories along – mine and others,” she continued.

We were lucky to find a moment when she was not writing, directing or producing for this interview. We’re especially lucky as her most recent film, a millennial coming-of-age roadtrip comedy, Pooling for Paradise is running both as a film and a play!

Where do you get your ideas … your inspirations? 

My ideas come from life.  I see a human condition, ponder it and then typically refer to philosophy and psychology to did deeper into what it is that draws me to the idea.

You are making an active crossover to live theater. What promoted this decision? 

I am not making an active cross-over per se, I am just trying to focus more on that art form.  I have always loved theater as it’s live and so connected to the audience.  Also, with theater it relies more on the written word.

What was the hardest decision you’ve had to make in your career (so far)? 

The hardest decision I made was pausing my career to raise my children.  I knew it was the right choice, but knew I personally couldn’t be good at both simultaneously when my children were very little.

What obstacles do you face a female filmmaker/producer?

It’s a reality I faced after my first feature – a romantic comedy about a donor inseminated single mother played by Vanessa Williams. I got a deal with Warner Brothers.  My last feature is a dark comedy about suburban sports parents and is on HBO right now. My films typically are about motherhood and have all found audiences and have been successful, but I have yet to find a manager or agent or some power that be that truly values my work and help get me meetings.  It’s a tough business that values youth and I re-started in earnest in mid-life, so it is what it is….

Do you find obstacles in the theatre are the same? Different? How? 

Regarding theater, I assume it’s the same but don’t really know.  I know that some of the places that consider new works want it submitted through an agent, and I don’t have one. It’s tough for all artists though. There are a lot of very talented playwrights and just so many theater companies.  The thing with theater though, is there are inventive ways to find audiences for your work.

What’s next?  

I have a couple of new works in various stages of development that hope will find a stage and have been writing essays for Medium as well as producing a storytelling YouTube channel.

A Journal of Our Plague Year

Review by Brendan McCall
What the Fuck Just Happened?
Created & performed by Mike Daisey
Friday, 2 April 2021
Frigid New York at The Kraine Theater
(live performance and live-stream)

With less than 20% of New Yorkers fully vaccinated, Governor Cuomo announced that the city’s venues could resume presenting live performances again at one-third capacity beginning on 2 April. And while some, after being bombarded with advertisements on social media, certainly purchased tickets for an Off-Broadway production with zero performers, what about other kinds of theater? How to ensure people amidst the continuing reality of a pandemic can safely show up at a tiny black box with limited resources but which also tends to incubate theatrical artistry which is daring, experimental, and bold?

Enter the Frigid New York team, who addressed these challenges with precision and aplomb. For the 22 audience members who attended their one-night-only show live on Good Friday, a battery of protocols needed to be observed: from documentation of completed vaccination (ie two weeks since the last shot), to wearing masks and socially distancing inside the Kraine Theater´s intimate East Village venue. All theatrical staff were fully vaccinated, too, as was the evening’s sole performer–veteran monologist Mike Daisey.

Superficially, one might argue that “not much is happening” in Daisey’s show, that “it’s just a guy sitting there and talking.” Reminiscent of Spaulding Gray, the production values here are simple and stark: Daisy never rises from his seat at the simple wooden table, moving only occasionally to drink from a glass of water or dab the sweat away from his forehead with a handkerchief. Yet the 99-minute What the Fuck Just Happened? is absolutely riveting.

I got to see the show from my apartment because the Kraine also live-streamed the show to over 500 “ghosts”, as Daisey referred to those viewing this brilliant and searing work through our screens. Like many moments in What the Fuck…, Daisey´s seemingly extemporaneous talk belies deep structure: images and themes appear, withdraw, then arise again, providing new connections. The ghosts are not just those sitting at home, witnessing this unfolding monologue, but also the presence of everyone lost during the last 13 months (and counting) of the plague.

How to parse the eloquence of the script from the power of the performance, when the author delivers his own work? Early on, Daisey confesses that, originally, the piece would be called a loud moan blending rage and despair. But how to shape that primal cry into any kind of coherent meaning, when all you have are words? With gallows humor, outrage, and pointed silences, What the Fuck… is Daisey´s attempt to describe the unimaginable which is maddeningly all-too-familiar, to articulate some of the anxiety, stress, and trauma that he experienced and witnessed. His story is both highly personal, as well as a kind of community chronicle journaling the major seasons of our pandemic year.

Daisey begins What the Fuck… not in 2020, but in 2019. We dive into the everyday nuances of his and his girlfriend´s lives in Brooklyn, a pre-pandemic prologue of professional gigs, research for a new show about climate collapse, and a serious bedbug problem. By opening a window into his life during “the before times,” we can identify with what we were thinking and feeling, too, before everything changed in March 2020. Especially as a New Yorker, Daisey´s description of those first fearful months of the shelter-in-place were haunting: the compulsive use of hand-sanitizer, the banging of pots and pans at seven o´clock, the incessant sound of sirens´ wail from ambulances.

What the Fuck… continues to walk us through the major chapters of the previous year, up to the previous moment: the murder of George Floyd, the heated 2020 Presidential Election, the run-off in Georgia, the insurrection on 6 January on the nation´s Capitol. Even briefly re-visiting them chronologically recalls profound fatigue, perhaps because we are still reeling in their aftermath. Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who kneeled on the neck of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis last May, is currently on trial. A significant percentage of Republicans still believe that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Donald Trump. New voter restriction laws were quickly passed in Georgia, and the armed mob who broke into the Capitol building three months ago have yet to begin their trial.

And the pandemic itself continues, along with the debate over whether masks or social distancing are even necessary for a “really bad flu” which has killed nearly 600,000 Americans so far. Towards the end of What the Fuck Just Happened?, a fully-vaccinated Mike Daisey describes the ordinary magic of attending a small dinner party recently with other fully-vaccinated friends in Brooklyn. He describes how easy it is to slide back into pre-pandemic routines and ways of thinking, as if it were all behind us. And this ease, this impulse to forget and “return to normal”, is perhaps this powerful show´s message and warning. There is no vaccine for fascism, Daisey reminds us. What did we learn, from this experience, if anything? Did this crisis provide us with the courage to make the long overdue changes necessary in our society–from health care, climate change, systemic racism, democratic governance? Humbly, quietly, the show ends with uncertainty–because this plague and all of our discontents remains far from over.