S.U.N. in the U.S.A.

Review by Edward B. Marlowe

Michael Hagins has created the literary version of a wake-up slap in the face.

S.U.N (Shut Up Negro) in the U.S.A. is a stunning one-act work serving us the rhetoric Africans have heard and felt on the road to becoming an American, molded into a powerful closed-fist punch in our deserving faces. Each scene – interludes of the words and thoughts of each time period from the dawn of slavery until modern time – is marinated in a host of dogma about freedom and equality in America – well sorta. It is made abundantly clear that African-Americans contributed to it every step of the way, putting their lives in jeopardy but – in clever twists and turns in dialogue – don’t get to be part of it. It was this irony that distinctifies this from other works of its kind. In each sequence, they salute this country as a bastion of freedom, but Hagins deftly shows us how the African American’s exclusion in that freedom was allowed to be made justifiable – that we soothed ourselves by blaming African-Americans themselves. Interspersed with spiritual music as well as jazz and blues, the play became a parable – one we need to heed.

Hagins built in numerous history lessons by offering up speeches (quoted and created) from notable figures in bigotry to total stereotypes like three bloated buffoon KKK members, an hysterical “Karen,” and even a totally ignorant “liberal.” He also played the surreal card by putting the African American cast in white (including a bold touch of white face) and the caucasian players in black.

Stephanie Cox-Connelly staged the play with the same blunt-force for which Hagins offered up the words, allowing us to feel the impact of each scenario. Duane Ferguson uttered maybe a half-dozen words in the entire piece but his countenance – each grimace, frown, pain – registered like an earthquake when juxtaposed with the threatening, condescending, and always shocking dialogue.

The ensemble cast of actors and singers including Alex D, Kofi Mills, Gigi Principe, Michael Pichardo, Jeremy Goren, Michael Joseph Whitten, Tiffany Knight, Aaron David Kapner, Beth Griffith, Mary Sheridan, Alaina Hammond and Tucker Dally Johnston should be collectively lauded for holding the mirror up to nature so clearly. In this minefield era of cancel-culture, their bravery is exemplary.

This powerful work seems to have been designed to be a parable as – beyond its chronical content – there is no basic plotline. This does not negate its impact and – if anything, enhances – its message.

No one – repeat – no one should leave this theater without regretting every time they thought the world was a better place.

The piece was presented by the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival and stage managed by Sara Minisquero and Adam Sherwin.

Art[ists] Coaching Life

Article by Amy M. Frateo

The Persian poet, Rumi, stated, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” These words are used as an opening remark on Jessie Fahay’s page of Healing Arts Collective.

“What would it be like to claim and harness your innate magical power and transform into your higher self?” is a rhetorical question uttered by Yiqing Zhao. No, she is not a philosopher per se – well, she might be – but she in actuality is a dynamic actress and filmmaker. Fahay might be a scholar, hence her adherence to the Rumi quote, but, in actuality, she, too, is an actress and stage and filmmaker.

These two arts professionals have another duty in life as well. They are both life coaches. They use their own life experience as artists to help and heal others – in and out of their professions.

Zhao’s original aspirations were that of medical. “…no formula, just guts. I trusted the road-map would appear and it did,” she said in an article, belying her trademark exuberance. As a medical student in China, she performed … in two surgeries on real people as an assistant. Ironically, during a depression study on rats that made her depressed instead, she reconsidered her path. It wasn’t the physical bodies that attracted her as a doctor, it was the pain … in one’s mind that got her attention. She traveled to the United States alone to solidify this new aspiration. Ironically, this new path changed yet again. Now it was about embodying what the mind has to offer. Well, we, in the biz call that “creating a character.”

Yiquing Zhao became a working actor in New York.

Just like that.

During pandemic, when the venues of her now thriving profession were closed or on hiatus, she turned again to her medical training. There, she pivoted into life coaching – but with a twist. Her forte is coaching actors – on life.

Now, with coaching certification in hand, she set out to make life better for the New York artists.

She has written extensively on the topic of acting being more than reacting but also being proactive. Basically to grab that seat on the subway before others do. How acting exercises can help writers block; and – combining her stories of being an immigrant in NYC provides many life lessons for all people. She tackled a touchy topic of losing passion for one’s passion and how to build confidence in the face of anxiety by welcoming uncertainty. This is a philosphy shared by Einstein who once said “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

Maybe Yiqing is a philosopher afterall. Or at least in good company in her concepts.

Incidentally, all things in her life come full circle. This all began with her not having the heart to sadden rats and now she also fosters dogs.

Look for her on MEDIUM and on numerous industry sites and she is also a member of America’s oldest theatrical club, The Lambs. And be sure to visit her WEBSITE and get a sense of her dynanic presence on YouTube

She is not alone.

Jessie Fahay is a celebrated author and arts professional. Her organization, Ripple Effect Artists, is known across the globe for using art to help heal. Each season they premiere a new production or a new interpenetration of an established work that reflects a situation still be faced in the world today. They tackled immigration, hunger, unemployment and sex trafficking in just a few years. As its leader, Fahay walks the walk in her own life.

As a recovery coach (ARCS/NAADP certified) she has channeled her own experiences facing emotional abuse – which included being a caretaker to addicts – into a practice as a Recovery Counselor and coach. There is the Jungian philosophy of the wounded healer. With origins in Greek mythology, the centaur, Chiron, was just such a creature, possessing an incurable wound from one of Hercules’s arrows. While Jung connects this to chronic introversion, some allow their inherent bravery to take this wound and make is a salve for others. Fahay spent hours doing mindful healing and growth for herself and now, as she understands her own recovery, she loves to bring her  compassion, wisdom, and coaching to those going through their own Chiron-ic journey.

Fahay’s book can be found HERE; her work as a healer can be found HERE and her theatrical company is found HERE

If that be the case, one must consider going to life coaches who understand the human condition enough to embody it. Working in the arts is not a hindrance but an added value. Seems when they say they “understand” it carries that much more weight.

Michael Hagins and Social Justice

Playwright & Social Justice Advocate, Michael Hagins, once again uses art to influence life with S.U.N. (Shut Up, Negro) in the U.S.A. (United States of America) presented by C.A.G.E. Theatre Company.

MICHAEL HAGINS is an African-American Playwright, Director, Fight Director, Actor, and Producer, and member of Dramatists Guild as well as an Advanced Actor-Combatant for the Society of American Fight Directors. Born in Brooklyn, New York, but raised in a small town in Florida, he has used the racism and prejudice but allowed it to fuel his writing – which he has done since age 9. Michael, an avid lover of Shakespeare, boasts having done (acted, directed, choreographed – or any combination thereof) every play in the Shakespeare Canon. While the Bard might be his “day-job,” it is always bringing to light inhumanity within humanity that powers his pen.

Performing Wednesday, September 8th at 8 pm.; Thursday, September 9th at 5 pm; Friday, September 10th at 8 pm. at Theatre Row Studios, Theatre 2, 410 W. 42nd Street, S.U.N. in the U.S.A. is a story that explores American history through the eyes of EVERYMAN BLACK – a solitary African-American man – who, through a series of events, is “kindly” reminded just how he has it in his time in the United States of America. This powerful tome reflects upon African slavery, from its origin to today’s culture.

Duane Ferguson as EVERYMAN BLACK

The production is directed by Stephanie Cox-Connelly

and stars Duane Ferguson

with Alex D, Kofi Mills, Gigi Principe, Michael Pichardo, Jeremy Goren, Michael Joseph Whitten, Tiffany Knight, Aaron David Kapner, Beth Griffith, Mary Sheridan, Alaina Hammond and Tucker Dally JohnstonStage Managers: Sara Minisquero and Adam Sherwin

Tickets available at 


Poster Design: Eliko Aharon 

MICHAEL HAGINS canon of work includes Off-Broadway: The Long Rail North (Soho Rep, FringeNYC). New York Productions: Basement (Roly Poly Productions); Michael is Black (Planet Connections Theatre Festivity); The Renaissance Dueling Plays (Planet Connections Theatre Festivity); The Vengeance Room (FRIGID Festival). Regional/Other: Hit and Match (Chicago Fringe, Johannesburg Fringe). Outstanding Playwriting – Hit and Match, 2013; Outstanding Overall Production of a Solo Show – Michael is Black; Winner of Best Playwriting, Best Director and Best Overall Production of NEPTA Awards for As You Wish It or The Bride Princess or What You Will, 2020. Artistic Director, C.A.G.E. Theatre Company

Celeste Mancinelli: a veteran artist takes a journey.

Stage performer, Celeste Mancinelli has an extremely funny and deeply moving story to tell.

After successful regional performances, actor/singer Celeste Mancinelli now brings her compelling mix of humor and poignancy Off-Broadway. This special one-night performance of “Crying on the Camino” willl be presented at the newly renovated Theater 555. This NYC debut performance will benefit the American Pilgrims on the Camino, a non-profit association for people interested in the Camino de Santiago,a network of ancient pilgrimage routes leading to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.

Special Benefit Performance: Thursday, October 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Theatre 555, 555 West 42nd Street between Tenth and Eleventh avenues, NYC.

Celeste’s show recounts her 200-mile walk on the Portuguese Route to Santiago de Compostela. Her desire to share this experience brought her to the legendary teacher/director Wynn Handman, who helped her develop the show at his NYC studio.

Now Celeste embarks on a new “Camino,” bringing this true account of her walk to the stage. “This piece is about minimalism and simplicity, self-reflection and honesty,” says Mancinelli, a veteran stage actress. “In sharing this piece my goal is to inspire others to take their own journey – to fully live their own Caminos”

Celeste Mancinelli has been performing professionally since the early 80’s. Her NYC credits include the hit show “Nunsense” at the Douglas Fairbanks Theater, Cynthia Heimel’s long-running play “A Girl’s Guide to Chaos” at the American Place Theater (originating the character of Lurene) and Larry Gelbart‘s “1-2-3-4-5” at the Manhattan Theater Club. She has appeared as Mama in “My Big Fat Gay Italian Wedding” and its sequel (Funeral) at the St Luke’s Theatre. Celeste has worked in numerous Off-Broadway, cabaret, stock, regional and national touring productions throughout the United States. Her most recent appearance was as Edith Frank in “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre in West Virginia. Celeste has proudly enjoyed a second career as an ASHA certified Speech/Language Pathologist and earned the NJSHA Distinguished Clinical Achievement Award. In that capacity, she developed a unique program at Spectra Academy in Montclair, New Jersey. This program targeted children/adolescents with Asperger’s/Autism/ADHD assisting them with the development of comedy scenes and scripts resulting in two full-scale stage and four film performances, all conceived by her students. This rewarding opportunity allowed her to mesh her two professional careers at the same time for the first time. During the COVID outbreak Celeste began writing/developing and performing her original, one-woman show, “Crying on the Camino” based on her 200 mile hike through Spain.

Celeste is thrilled to share this experience with all of you.

Ai sat with Ms. Mancinelli, who shared some deep thoughts with us.

Tell us about yourself as an artist. –

I am a born performer. I’ve always enjoyed acting, singing and trying to make people laugh. But once I started studying theater in college my interest in acting and performance deepened. (Thank you, Rutgers University Theater program!) I realized that I was fascinated by the simple act of using all of my training to tell a story. Of course, the stories I was telling were written by other people. I never really thought about using theater to tell a story of my own.

What made you decide to take the Camino journey?

I had two wonderful friends, sisters, who had walked various paths of the Camino over the years and who were scheduled to walk it again. I asked them if I could go along. They became my guardian angels. I had just retired from my second career as a Speech Pathologist, so I was at a turning point in my life. I believe I was summoned to the Camino as an unknown. I chose to do something hard to prepare for the hard ahead of me – walking for 200 miles in a foreign land versus walking back to a theatre career in NYC. Both choices seemed beyond reach but here I am.

What made you decide to turn it into a play?

I had a mentor in my life, the great acting teacher Wynn Handman, with whom I had been studying for many years. Through him I began to explore not just acting in theater but creating it. Still, I had never seriously considered writing an entire evening of theater myself.

But almost as soon as we began our walk, I started recording brief updates on my cellphone about my daily struggles. The sheer improbability of the experience, and the developing beauty of our walk along the path, were unforgettable; but without a written record, details of the unforgettable can still be forgotten. I wanted to remember as much as I could. And I wanted to remember it as it really happened, as the authentic experience it was. I didn’t want to remember platitudes. I wanted to remember what really happened to me. I knew I wanted to share this story with others.

What made you decide to be a Speech Pathologist?

I had a degree in Theater Arts but my parents insisted that I had to get a degree in something practical too. I received a Masters in Communicative Disorders, and I chose well. Most of my work was with children who are on what is now called the Autism Spectrum, and I loved it. It became a second passion of mine. And it connected with acting too. To help improve communication skills you have to analyze and teach the underlying emotional content of a message. Just like acting! As I taught I learned and as I learned I taught better.

Do you look at this as some form of a “comeback” to the stage? 

Not at all. I never left acting. Theater is in my soul. It’s something I was meant to do.

What’s next?   Auditions and doing my work just like all of my fellow actors.

Face to Face with Tennessee Williams

Anthony Laura and Face to Face Films embarked a journey artistically when we were no longer allowed to do so physically. His reading series, THEATRE INTERRUPTED began during lockdown and explored classic American drama by imbuing it with fresh energy by offering “dream roles” to young artists, allowing them to tackle plays by Albee, Miller, and Williams and other great playwrights in a safe environment while proving quality virtual, entertainment to audiences all across the world.

July’s entry:


Ai spoke with Laura and company about climbing thr mountain of Tennessee Williams … again.

What sparked your decision to direct THE GLASS MENAGERIE?

ANTHONY M. LAURA: The Glass Menagerie has been on my radar more than normally the past two years.  One of the themes I deal with in my work very heavily is illusion, and Menagerie was seminal in conquering that theme.  I found myself rediscovering the play as I approached it and was enthralled with every aspect of it again, as if I was reading it for the first time.  It is remarkably specific and haunting.  I wanted new audiences to experience the magic of the Wingfield’s.  My goal is putting it on a virtual platform was to allow everyone who watched to experience the words, the pain and the humanity that the play captures.  These characters are etched in our memories for a reason.  It was so exciting working with this remarkable cast and exploring the truth of this world. I was able to also see the effect that Tennessee Williams had on me as a writer with my work and how grateful I have been to further learn from his gifts.

What was your prior experience with the play?

GABE CALLEJA: I came across Glass Menagerie quite often in scene study classes before, but I had never seen it from start to finish in its entirety. So for the most part, I was coming in pretty fresh with just a basic understanding of the events of the play.

ALEXANDRA SALTER: I had very little experience with the play, I had only read it once before. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: I worked on a scene in high school and that’s about it. Very limited and barely knew what the play is about. The only memory I had was a line that Laura says with peculiar punctuation: “My Glass! – Menagerie”. I can confirm that this is a line that 15-year-olds working on scenes from a play they didn’t understand thought was hilarious. With characters like Amanda there’s a fine balance. Amanda is theatrical. Out of all of the characters in the play, she’s the one who is the most over the top. On one hand, I think Amanda is a character that is easier to be too “over the top” with and not connect with the humanity and with the fears and insecurities she has—the things a modern audience can still connect with in a story set almost a century ago. We worked on pushing those boundaries and finding a balance of bringing out Amanda’s theatrics while keeping it honed in to her reality and the natural realism I bring to my own work. Really understanding each moment and each line and the motivations behind them to clearly tell the story with the right balance of theatrics and realism.Also trusting myself that I’m capable of tackling such a famous and delicate role. 

SAMUEL CRUZ: I saw the play the first time I went to New York with Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto. It was the first time I had seen a play that made me feel depressed after watching it. I thought that was so cool and raw as a high school drama kid. I then performed the gentleman caller scene in class where I copied exactly what I saw on broadway. 

What did you and Anthony work on in rehearsals?

GABE CALLEJA:  We focused on Jim’s vulnerability and specificity with each character that he interacts with or talks about throughout the play. 

ALEXANDRA SALTER:  Anthony and I worked a lot on Laura’s injury; how it looked and what it felt like. We also focused on what her driving need is in the play. She needs to feel loved and seen. And we specified what that would be like coming from Amanda, Tom, and someone outside the family (like a gentleman caller), and how it would feel to have that all ripped away.

KRISTEN SEAVEY: Tennesse Williams is a tough cookie, and there are two camps actors can fall into when working on his writing. The first is not connecting with the heart of the material and going so theatrical it’s borderline caricature, and the second is too understated where you’re missing important parts of the character’s personality out of fear of “going too big”.

SAMUEL CRUZ: Obviously everything that you normally work on when producing a play, but I think a lot of work and focus was put on the relationship between the family. It plays a huge role in the circumstances of the story, and is what ends up being so poignant. He personally worked with me on the two places we see Tom in the play; the present and the memory which opened up my view and my further appreciation for the play.

What does the play mean to you?

GABE CALLEJA: After the table read, I was quite taken aback at how much I was able to relate to the play and these characters. It has quickly become one of my favorites and I would love another crack at this play on the stage one day. It’s a story that is so simple yet highly compelling. Every thought and action seemes deliberate and reveals so much more than is on the page.

ALEXANDRA SALTER: It means so much to me to be playing this iconic role. It is an honor to tell Laura’s story and to bring Tennessee Williams words to life. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: I have a special place for the classics from the early to mid twentieth century and it’s always a special time when I get the rare opportunity to work on them.

SAMUEL CRUZ: Honestly, I don’t think I have an answer to this quite yet. Working in general after such a long time has meant the world to me. Getting back into doing what I love has been invigorating. As for how this play will effect me, I couldn’t tell you yet. I’m still deep into this process. I’m sure it’s going to stick with me for awhile. Tom is unlike any character I have been given the opportunity to explore. 

What did you discover about the play while working on it?

GABE CALLEJA: I discovered that the best written characters are those that are trying to justify their flaws in their thoughts and actions. No one is complete and we are all doing the best we can. Sometimes that leads to miscommunications that can blossom into captivating and compelling conflict. This play executes this notion perfectly.

ALEXANDRA SALTER: Throughout this process I discovered how important Laura’s glass menagerie really is. It is a representation of her, and as we go along in the play, we see how the glass reflects what Laura is feeling and how she is changing. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: Tennessee Williams’ writing has everything you need right there, you just have to peel back the layers and work together to understand it both emotionally and physically. 

SAMUEL CRUZ: For me, this play has been a lot about rediscovering. Feeling again what’s it’s like to live with a character for a couple weeks and really get to know them in me. I’ve discovered a lot of things about myself throughout. I think I realized this play is a lot more sad than I initially thought. I’ve also learned a great amount about Tennessee’s life and how it parallels this play. Thats been the real heartbreak in the process for me. But also discovering that the play really seems like a ‘what if’ scenario. 

What would you say to someone who isn’t familiar with the play?

GABE CALLEJA: There is a beautiful rawness to this play. You constantly feel like you want to save the characters from themselves but they are all stuck in their situations, some looking to escape, some without the means to. This creates such a palpable tension that is relatable and engaging to watch.

ALEXANDRA SALTER: This is the first memory play ever produced. This new style opened up a whole new way to explore a character’s experiences. The Glass Menagerie is told told through Tom’s perspective, a character based off Williams himself.

How has working on the play changed the way you hear the name Tennessee Williams?

GABE CALLEJA: There is good reason as to why Tennessee Williams is a household name to even non theater-goers. His reputation and work speaks for themselves. I’ve had the pleasure of working or watching a few of his plays in the last year, and, suffice to say, he has become one of my favorite playwrights. I expected his work to be impressive, but there’s such a deep and full characterization in his style that you can’t help but relate and fall in love with his characters. 

ALEXANDRA SALTER: I have always had the utmost respect for Tennessee Williams. That respect has only grown after working on this play, knowing the characters are based off him and his family. I have been given the opportunity to look through a window to his past, and I am so grateful to him for sharing his story, no matter how difficult it may have been to tell. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: This is my second Tennessee Williams play with Face to Face and certainly! First that something so big can be told clearly in a virtual format and second that younger actors are capable of working on roles they might not yet be cast in.

SAMUEL CRUZ: It has just furthered my appreciation for him. I’ve always known him the be one of the best playwrights to exist. When you live with work for awhile you will of course have more of an understanding of the artist. I feel like I got a little more close to him. Maybe understood a little more what it was like to be him.

What do you want people to come away with after seeing this?

GABE CALLEJA: The play works hard to create the circumstances that leave you feeling a mix of hopefulness and hopelessness by the end. It is a rich, paradoxical feeling that is provocative and leaves you wondering about the fate of the characters in the play. If we can achieve that for our audiences, I would call that a success!

ALEXANDRA SALTER: I want people to come away from the play understanding that we all need the same thing in life. We all want to be accepted and loved no matter who we are. At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel like they belong. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: A better understanding of classic writing like Tennesse Williams and of The Glass Menagerie itself, especially if their only experience is reading it once in high school. 

SAMUEL CRUZ: I would say that my high school self was right in some way. I think in life you inevitably have to make tough decisions, and you might not always make the right decision. But you just have to keep trying and keep living. Memory is a helpful stepping stone but we are only given one direction. Forward.

Life According to Akshata Honnavar

Review by Bob Greene

Akshata Honnavar, in her short piece, A Story Called Life, found a way to offer us a new take on an age old theme.

This brief interlude shares a day in the life of everyone. Snippets of every everyday existence swathed in lovely background music and well-spoken, well-written poetry.

While this them has certainly been explored, most entries present in a presentational form – allowing camera effects to frame attractive faces who are – like any Sunday New York Times cover story – staring directly into the lens, prompting us to say “oh they’re like me.”

This doesn’t always work.

Akshata Honnavar hands us stories in each face. Not looking at the camera, not all contented, not all pretty, but we meet the world. Some summon sad imagery, other troubling, other whimsical, we meet a true melting pot. The location allows us to imagine “big city” with even the more rural locales inferring a getaway more than a neighborhood. We are placed on a journey of emotions more than people and the poetry, while well-written and spoken, also lends to the same concept. Inferring life can be tragic and joyous – sometimes simultaneously, the story tells us that life is not easily explained as it is all things at the same time. The voice is not a perfect announcer voice but an accented oration. Enough of an accent that – again – we see that everybody means everybody.

Ms. Honnavar ends her piece by having everyone then look directly into the camera. Saving this usual feature for the end, we get the same feeling we would get watching the final sequence of Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, when the title character – following hardship after hardship – smiles as if to say “oh well, this is the story called life.”

Ms. Honnovar has a promising future as an empathetic filmmaker. Here’s looking forward to more elaborate expressions of her creativity.

HAMLET returns!

Shakespeare Sports Theatre Company brings its acclaimed production back – for a LIVE run at The Clemente, 107 Suffolk St, New York City, August 26-29. Contact ShakespeareSportsTheatreCompany.com for further info and or visit: www.eventbrite.com/e/hamlet-tickets-158244322027?aff=efbneb for tickets.

Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play was scheduled to be presented in August 2020 at downtown’s cutting-edge Clemente by Shakespeare Sports. Working quickly, producer Carrie Isaacman and director Michael Hagins reworked the production to appear virtually. That production won accolades. Now, the same teams join together to bring back their Hamlet, LIVE, at the same place, same dates, just one year later.

Michael Hagins returns as director of the production. Hagins is synonymous with innovative physicality in his classical productions as well as writer of plays dealing in social justice.

Returning to the role of Prince Hamlet is Matthew Tiemstra. Jan Ewing of Hi Drama said “His energy and enthusiasm was evident, and his descent into madness particularly effective.” Joining him again is Mary Sheridan who – in the same review – was cited as “convincingly play[ing] Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, with love and an uneasy concern as she watched her son self-destruct” and Aaron David Kapner who was called “a stitch” with “great charm and subtle humor” as Guildenstern and Osric. Mr. Kapner will be assuming the role of Polonius in this new production. 

The company is completed by returning members, Brad Summer, Charlie M. Alemán, Gigi Principe, Tucker Dally Johnston, with Benny Acevedo joining the company.

The company of The Tempest produced by Shakespeare Sports

The Off-Off-Broadway Review Award winning Shakespeare Sports Theatre’s mission is to carry through Shakespeare’s works to the current times of how we, as Americans, view what Shakespeare saw from his life and times by creating theatre on the other side of the rainbow of our ancestors who created America.

Royal Pain: The Tragedy of Ivan VI

Review by Alice Greenwald, PhD.

Historical drama – more than likely thanks to The Crown – has become a marketable item on television and film but good ones on stage have not taken hold yet. A plausible hypothesis is that these dramas need a heavy dose of fill-in-the-blanks for all those closed door and lost years sequences. Something the cinema can do quickly that takes a budget to do for live performance. But the current entry in at category might change that.

Jan Ewing’s dark and racy IVAN VI takes on the story of tragedy of power corrupting even the most innocent – the grandson of Ivan V, Peter the Great’s older brother, crowned, anointed and deified at the age of two-months, he was then forcibly removed by his cousin, Elizabeth, at fifteen months, and thrown into prison. The play opens in 1764 when Tsar Ivan VI is 24 years old. Alone in a cell for 20 years, his only companions are two guards – one a sadistic commander and the other who has deep and conflicting feelings toward the young innocent boy. He is also haunted by two spirits acting as his conscience. Are they just figments of his imagination or are they two creatures trapped between earth and hell forced to watch the painful proceedings. Outside his cloister, as one might imagine, there are increased rumblings among the people that Ivan should be placed back on the throne and revolution is in the air.

Ewing created an engrossing script and a lavish virtual production complete with music, precision and fascinating edits and cutaways, and quick – almost subliminal narration. Ironically, the extent of effects the show requests is not much faraway from the zoom version, making it highly marketable for regional, showcase, as well as NYC professional. Ewing handed us rich expansive dialogue that reads like a classic 19th century melodrama with ample supplies of sex and violence. This is not a condemnation as his choices were honest and completely necessary. Ewing served as director as well, making sure the cast lives up to his work … and they did.

Patrick Hamilton, and Gabriele Angieri set the pace as guards condemned to watch over the boy-now-man basically for the rest of his life. Hamilton allows a softness even in his aggressive words, giving us a seek peek to an inspired twist supplied by Ewing regarding Ivan; while Angieri’s presence stepped though the screen to give us a hardened soldier getting tired of loving his country and his rulers. Another formidable pair were Kristyn Koczur and Steven Mark Singer as the two tortured spirits keeping Ivan company. Playing it like a noir Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, these affected specters served as de facto narration and exposition while haunting the titular Ivan. It’s a rare trick to make us laugh and cringe – Koczur and Singer did this admirably. Their natures gave us a chance to wonder whether they were specters or hallucinations from the jailed Ivan.

And speaking of the baby tsar of Russia, Matthew Tiemstra, ran the gamut of emotions and feelings during this relativity short (for an historical drama) play. Crying, laughing, yearning, hating, lucid, dream-like, convulsing, heaving, hoping, praying, living and the other thing, were served up to the audience by this exquisite actor. One can imagine – when this play takes on a live run – Tiemstra should reprise his role.

Zoom serves a noble purpose in awakening audiences to quality works such as Ivan VI for free or cheaply. Many companies will sadly abandon this unique opportunity so we’d better grab the gold while we can.

Ivan VI by Jan Ewing is now being solicited for a full run or cinematic presentation. Here’s hoping it happens.

Interview Series: Face to Face with Face to Face

While summer 2021 will begin a partnership between Smith Scripts, U.K. and Face to Face Films, producer/director Anthony Laura concludes his spring season with a pair of new works from his own hand.

Korinne, a drama involving mental illness, written by Anthony Laura, featuring C Gabe Calleja, Vivien Cardone, Jose Duran, Madison C. Gray, Jacqueline Guzman, and Callie Medley, will air on YouTube, Saturday, June 26, at 2:00 p.m.

And closing the season will be another Anthony Laura work entitled Hayley, a one-person show, featuring Alexandra Rooney. This will air on Facebook on June 27, also at 2:00 p.m.

Visit Face to Face Films on YouTube to learn about Face to Face’s web-series, interviews, and other artistic endeavors.

Ai spoke with playwright/director/producer, Anthony Laura on these two new works.


What was your inspiration for remounting Korinne?

Similarly to “The Girl with the Red Hair” being the show that I am closest to as a playwright that I’ve written, “Korinne” represents the same feeling for me as a screenwriter.  I wrote Korinne in 2013 and we made it into a film that I am so proud of.  It’s a story that was always very close to me.  I wrote it at a time when I was going through a major depression and thinking about suicide often.  I was lacking hope in a lot of ways and I turned inward to create a relationship that made me feel hopeful.  There is a love between Jane and Korinne that I continue to think about when I write current projects.  What I love about the script is it continues to feel timeless.  Everytime I open it up, or show it to someone, people seem to connect to the intimacy.  Eight years later, I still feel the story is relevant and important and the only reason to remount is was for new people to experience Jane and Korinne’s story.

For Hayley, why did you decide to center a series around a younger version of a main character you have written?

Hayley Jones is my favorite character I have ever written.  She’s a part of me and I love everything about her, from her warrior strength to her deep vulnerabilities and honesty.  However, I wrote the Hayley character to be around the age of 27.  About two years ago when we were workshopping the show, I decided to see what it would be like to add a younger version to the show.  This led to meeting Alexandra Rooney, who has been a constant in the show and its development since 2019.  Early on, I let Alexandra know that as she gets older, she will never be too old to play Hayley.  The play will continue to grow with her.  This led me to the idea of creating a web series following Hayley as she grows up from even before we meet her younger version in the play.  It’s exciting to work with Lexie on how this character develops into someone who winds up slowly losing her sense of reality because of the trauma that happens to her.  There are so many stories that happen before we hit page 1 of THE GIRL WITH THE RED HAIR and it’s really fun to work backwards.

Can you speak about the casting process for both shows?

First of all, both of these casts are absolutely stunning.  Beginning with Korinne, Jacqueline Guzman and Calli Medley as Korinne and Jane have jumped in with such bravery and vulnerability that I get lost watching them.  In rehearsal, their investment is full and it’s a hard show to go full out with.  I’m in awe of them constantly.  Vivien Cardone as Samantha and Jose Duran as Barry were the only people I thought about for the roles.  Infact, I added scenes to the production to expand their relationship.  The two of them are powerhouses.  I’ve never seen work like this, both in their individual performances and in their work as a couple.  It’s absolutely gorgeous to watch.  Gabe Calleja plays Corbin and I’ve been given a lot of flack for the Corbin role in the past.  Gabe came in and broke our heart with it.  He is such a compassionate actor and lifted the role from the page.  It’s a role where the consequences the character suffers is integral to the main characters growth and you need a confident actor to give themselves over to the storytelling that way.  Gabe is always that actor.  Finally, I’m so happy for the first time to be working with Madison C. Gray, who previously graced us as the company singer.  As Maggie Kane, she brings an incredible energy and vitality that leaves a lasting impression.

For Hayley, Alexandra Rooney stepped right back into the role with such ease.  She is one of the hardest workers I know.  She is always there to see how she can better.  It’s often remarkable she’s only 12.  The places I’ve seen her grow in only two years of knowing her are astounding and she is absolutely hilarious and heartbreaking as Hayley.  Gabe is doing double duty this month and joining as Hayley’s therapist, who he previously played in December.  A relationship with a therapist and a young adult is a complex and compelling story to tell and Gabe is always interested in how to go deeper, how to provide support for Lexie and how to best tell the story.  Lexie and Gabe have worked together a lot since last year and I love how much he looks out for her.  Alexandra Salter, playing Elise Bell, recently joined our ensemble and I immediately wrote this role with her in mind.  Alex (to not confuse with Ms. Rooney) has an incredibly raw quality to how she approaches her work.  It’s mesmerizing to watch her moment to moment play with subtle differences that completely change the scene.  It’s been such an honor working with her and I’m even more excited to continue that into next month when she plays Laura in THE GLASS MENAGERIE.  Ana Solis also recently joined us and I wrote the role of Juliet with her in mind because I saw what she was capable of.  The Juliet roles begins tying things into the universe of THE GIRL WITH THE RED HAIR and Ana has so much going on behind her eyes when she holds moments, you can’t look away.  The whole cast is breathtaking.

What can we expect to see as the Hayley show develops?

We will start tying things even more to the show.  We will bring in characters that are referenced in the show, as well as introducing new characters who are only part of this phase of Hayley’s life.  This part of Hayley’s life is the time we begin forming bonds, the times that everything begins to matter a little more, so everything and every person she comes across will chart out who she’s going to be.  The stories are endless and I can’t wait for you to see them!

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