Arts Independent

Cat Parker is creating a monster

Currently in fundraising and in pre-production after a wildly successful reading, Articulate Theatre Company’s production of Doctor Frankenstein gears up for a limited run in November. [Watch the trailer] 

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But that’s not all.

Articulate is thrilled to have George Allison’s new play inaugurate their residency at the historic West End Theatre.

But that’s not all.

Articulate joins Prospect Theater Company, The Bang Group, and Hunger & Thirst as one of the resident companies of West End Theatre’s “Consortium,” located on the second floor of the historic Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (263 W 86th St, New York City). “We are very excited to have a home base from which to continue our work and to have the chance to share energy with the other wonderful companies that call this space home,” said Brittney Venable, Articulate’s managing director. “The stunning architecture is a perfect location for our next production, Doctor Frankenstein, by George Allison.”

But that’s not all.

Cat Parker, Articulate’s founding artistic director, was recently made a part of the new leadership of New York Innovative Theatre Foundation. She joins Ariel Estrada, Producing Artistic Director of Leviathan Lab Projects; Jazmyn Arroyo, Co-Founding Artistic Director of Step 1 Theatre Project; and Akia Squiteri, Artistic Director of Rising Sun Performance Company as Directors of the organization. “It is a terrific honor,” said Parker, “I look forward to working with my new partners to support the Indie theatre community by continuing to provide a setting that recognizes the amazing work that we all do, and by advocating for the artistic and social needs of all our artists” she concluded.

Something tells me … there’s more to come.

iconsquareabc584D0008-5823-4E32-9F8F19CC9C32EA40.jpgArticulate Theatre Company is an ensemble driven company who thrive on being storytellers. Our simple mantra is ‘good stories, told well.’ Guided by the three definitions of articulate, -clarity, structure and connectivity- we are committed to challenging and connecting audiences and artist with clearly structured work that is intelligent, thought-provoking and visually striking. Storytelling is the heart of theatre. And the stories we like to tell involve myth, magic and the mundane: Mythical creatures bringing new perspective to our mundane lives, or typical people doing epic things. Gods, faeries, artists, plumbers, teachers, heroes, villains, accountants, florists – when these elements combine, we see our reality in a new way. Learn more and get tickets at http://bit.ly/ArticulateDF

Before the monster is loose, we wanted to speak with Ms. Parker about all things new and exciting.

How does this [Doctor Frankenstein] fit in to the mission of ATC?

Articulate’s mission is “myth, magic and the mundane.” This play is an excellent example of how good plays use a mythical story to relate to all of us in our daily lives. Mary Shelley’s story of a mad scientist hell-bent of breaking the laws of god and man is so much a part of the zeitgeist that you can say “Frankenstein” anywhere in the world and people will have a reaction to it. The story has been translated, transcribed, adapted, converted to film, plays, comic books, even video games! You’d be hard pressed to find a story more “mythic” than that of Victor Frankenstein and his “creature.” And yet, what is it is all a lie? What if the story millions of people have enjoyed over the years, actually resulted in one man’s erasure from the world? Many of us have experienced someone saying something untrue about us, and in the world of social media, that untruth can spread like wildfire and create it’s own reality, scarring us in the process. I don’t know anyone who has created a monster in their NYC studio apartment, but I do know people who have been hurt by rumors and lies. Many of us can identify with Victor Frankenstein’s frustration at the warping of his reality. The heart of this story is the meeting between the mythic tale of “Frankenstein” and the mundane reality of a person’s life destroyed by casual untruths.

Are you a fan of the genre?

Kind of depends on what genre you mean! I am not a big fan of blood & guts style horror films, but I looooove psychological thrillers. Our “Doctor Frankenstein” definitely fits the latter category. There’s blood and guts, to be sure, but the plot really hinges on the reality behind the madness. And of course, some plot turns you won’t see coming!

Living author … Pros? Cons?

Hah! Well, in this case the living author actually lives with me, so I’ll have to be careful about how I answer this one! Speaking generally, I see this as just a different set of challenges. Dead authors don’t weigh in on every little thing you do, but they also aren’t there to challenge me as an artist. A living author, especially one that lives in your house, definitely ramps up the “challenge” factor! The ‘cons’ of it are what a fellow director in the same situation calls “the 24-hour design meeting.” It’s hard to switch off the discussion, and art (and artists) need quiet time to let ideas percolate. But there are so many ‘pros’ to the working with a playwright that is in the trenches with you. To have them at rehearsals, listening, interpreting, really helps the process to flow, and to make sure that the message I’m putting on a stage is the one they wanted when they wrote it on the page.

What is your creative process as a director and do you find wearing the producer hat as an obstacle or benefit?

Oh boy, that’s two very dense questions to answer. The easy answer to the second question is “yes.” Being a producer/director has it’s good and bad moments. The weakness of being both is that it can undermine the needed tension between the job of the director and the producer – directors need to fight for the story, at all costs; producers need to fight for the story…at a certain cost. lol  Sometimes my producer hat can suffocate a good idea, if it’s not held in check. And sometimes my director hat can get away with doing something that was not as critical as once believed.  As for my process – oy, well, the basics are reading and re-reading the script, then research, and then back to the script. It’s tempting in a play with historical foundations to try to put that history on the stage, but the bottom line is I’m here to tell George Allison’s story – not Mary Shelley’s, not James Whale’s, not Kenneth Branagh’s; not even Mel Brooks’ version. So, going back to the script is essential.

What do you want the audience to take-away from this show?

I want them to leave with questions and conversation! The play has several little turns to it, and I think there’s room for interpretation of Victor’s plight and the actions he takes to solve it. I would like them to consider that stories have multiple sides. The world we live in now is filled with one-liners, sound bytes, memes and propaganda – which makes the world seem very black and white. But if there’s any one truth in the world, it’s that there is no one truth. We all “knew” how horrible the Wicked Witch of the West was until Gregory Maguire spun Oz on it’s axis and told us the story from another angle. Like Elphable, Victor Frankenstein deserves to have his version of the story heard – and we’re giving him that chance.

What’s next?

Oh, how I wish I could tell you, but I’m sworn to secrecy until November 4th! Here’s a hint though: it involves a place based on the author of “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Keep watch on the Articulate website to hear the details!

 

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Ditko was his own worst [super] villain.

Ditko

Written & Directed by Lenny Schwartz

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

Comic book fans who revere auteurs the likes of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby will be fascinated with Ditko, Lenny Schwartz’s new drama that charts the rise and fall of master illustrator Steve Ditko (1927-2018), co-creator of comics icons The Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but who spent his long career in the considerable shadow of Lee, his boss and collaborator at Marvel Comics.

As played with charismatic gusto by Geoff White, the play’s ostensible villain Lee is presented as a whirlwind of mad energy and humor. The scalawag act is very appealing. Unfortunately, Ditko, the supposed main character, is played by Derek Laurendeau as a colossal pill. Lee’s refusal to give him co-creator credit on Spider-Man and other comics irks sourpuss Ditko to no end, and he spends most of the play’s 90 minutes complaining bitterly about it­—even when Lee writes an open letter acknowledging Ditko’s work. Because a single word isn’t sufficiently enthusiastic, the ever-scowling Ditko rips it up.

Overlong philosophical dialogue scenes with Ditko’s spiritual mentor, Objectivist author Ayn Rand (Anne Bowman), do little to make Ditko more sympathetic. Though he emotes mightily and reveals enough backstory about the twists and turns in his career to satisfy the fans, the minute his partner/nemesis Lee enters the stage, Ditko sure enough falls right back into Lee’s shade.

Playwright Schwartz deserves credit for nimbly covering huge swaths of time and biography by smoothly changing verb tenses and allowing characters to narrate sections of their own lives. Presented the same week as ComicCon in New York City, Ditko playwright Schwartz wants to rescue a great American pop artist from falling into obscurity, but he picked one with a classically tragical flaw: he, not Lee, was his own worst enemy.

Also featuring performances by Samantha Acampora, Dave Almeida, Anne Bowman, Mindy Britto, Jonah Coppolelli, Timothy DeLisle, Chris Ferreira, Emily Lamarre, Nicholas Tvaroha and Bob Wiacek, Ditko played a limited run through Oct. 2 at Theaterlab in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan.

Viagas and the Renaissance Man

Henslowe! Or, A Lamentable Complaint

Written and performed by Alexander D[CQ, no period] Carney

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

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A minor personage who had a major effect on the life of William Shakespeare is ushered out of the shadows of history into the spotlight in Henslowe! Or, A Lamentable Complaint. Alexander D Carney’s solo play introduces Phillip Henslowe, the man who built London’s Rose Playhouse where Shakespeare’s plays were first mounted, and who claims vaingloriously to have discovered the budding Bard.

Author/star Carney spends most of the 75-minute monologue describing his loves (especially good writing and full houses) and his hates  (actors who don’t pay back his generous loans). He erupts with frustration at the fact that the “upstart” Shakespeare will be remembered forever, but he, Henslowe, who createsd the financial underpinning of Shakespeare’s success, will only be remembered, if he is remembered at all, as a minor supporting character. Carney wants to change that.

Carney, who states in a program note that he’s been working on the play for twelve years, tries to give his meandering and sometimes repetitive narrative some shape by having Henslowe rehearse what is essentially a 16th century backers’ audition, in which he pleads to an imagined audience of moneyed gentry for the shillings and pounds he needs, not only to mount his “greatest discovery”—Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta—but to give the dilapidated but beloved Rose Theatre itself a desperately needed refurbishment. Henslowe! is based in part on the manager’s original financial ledger, which chronicled all the people he lent money to, including many of the leading literary lights of the times—and the many did and never paid him back. The tattered ledger, which he nicknames A Lamentable Complaint, lends its sobriquet to the play’s subtitle.

Carney’s acting sometimes strains the limits of the super-intimate real-life Off-Off-Broadway venue Torn Page Theatre (located in the onetime home of late actors Rip Torn and Geraldine Page) in which he performs Henslowe! Carney often appears to be pushing his voice and gesture to the back of a balcony that isn’t there. But there is a moment where he asks whether the subject matter isn’t worth a dose of bombast. In that moment the actor and the character become one.

The dilapidated Rose Theatre itself, which the “ingrate” Shakespeare leaves behind for the greener pastures of Burbage’s Globe, is no mere building to Henslowe. The Rose is his most prized property (along with his bear-baiting pit and his brothel). With the loving way he speaks about it and to it, you can see that the Rose also is his obsession, his muse, his mistress—and, ultimately, his co-star in this play. Henslowe makes a case that he may lack the divine fire of a writer or actor, but even a hard-nosed businessman like himself can sometimes rise to the level of an artist by dint of his nurturing great writers and especially great plays. He argues passionately for metaphorically adding his initials to The Jew of Malta, Shakespeare’s Henry VI and other plays. With Henslowe!, Carney transforms a theatrical footnote into true tale of sound and fury.

Presented by Raised Spirits Theater and directed by Michael Mahoney, Henslowe! is playing a limited run through Oct. 6 at the 25-seat Torn Page Theatre in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

Carney on Henslowe: The Producer’s The Thing!

 

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Alexander Carney’s new play, HENSLOWE! will have its world premiere at Torn Page – the historic home of Geraldine Page and Rip Torn – located at 435 West 22nd Street, NYC. Performing October 1 -5 at 7:30 p.m. and October 6 at 2:00 p.m. $20 suggested donation. Reservations at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/henslowe-tickets-69820114843?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

HENSLOWE! Tells the story of Phillip Henslowe, the Elizabethan entrepreneur who built the Rose Playhouse – where Shakespeare’s early plays were first performed.

Henslowe struggled to find meaning and recognition in life. Alexander Carney’s fascinating depiction of REAL life in the days of the great masters like Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe, and Kyd. Be prepared to rethink the renaissance. This remarkable in-depth portrait of a deeply driven man had an astonishing 14-year gestation filled with readings, workshops, and endless hours of research. One might say that Carney is as driven as Henslowe!

Mr. Carney also used Henslowe! as a major jumping off point of his theatre company, Raised Spirits Theater, which creates theater “by, for and with ALL sorts of people” with a focus on the classics. Thus far, RST staged Shakespeare’s Macbeth; a radio drama version of Coriolanus; and a workshop where A Midsummer Night’s Dream was explored. Now RST is producing its first original piece, HENSLOWE!

Donations to RST help open the door to the classics – new and rare – in ways not-yet-seen. Donations an be made at the following link: https://fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/raised-spirits-theater?fbclid=IwAR2ygZAHeScVZTHTgnfgYVav9cDg-QX-WK2bN1oa2koIqcTA1jeWC5vjBhg. Checks can be made payable to Raised Spirits Theater c/o Alexander D Carney and sent to 35-13 31st Avenue #2-2, New York, NY 11106 (Checks should be made payable to Fractured Atlas, with Raised Spirits Theater in the memo line.)

Ai wanted to check-in with the impresario, Mr. Carney, about the impresario, Mr. henslowe

Tell us about yourself as an artist

I’ve been involved in making live theater for my entire life. I graduated from NYC’s High School of the Performing Arts Drama Department, was at SUNY/Purchase in the Acting Conservatory, worked off-Broadway in rotating rep with such stars as Geraldine Page, F. Murray Abraham, Tovah Feldshuh, and Michael Moriarty. From there, I worked regional theater for a long time, with a special love for the classics. I’ve had the chance to play Macbeth, Caliban, Claudius, and Benedick; opportunities I’m very grateful for. I come most alive when working with material from the Elizabethan era. I’m not sure why that is but it’s always been that way. Perhaps it’s because my father was an actor and my earliest memories of him are him reading me Shakespeare in bed so I would sleep.

What drew you to Henslowe – the man that is

I was first drawn to the fact that he’s a cold man. I love that. He’s punctilious in his business dealings and in documenting his day to day life. That shows me he cared about what he was doing. As I got further into him through research, I found out what he loved.  If you read his letters to his daughter and wife you realize how much this cold man who held the world accountable for what it owed him (in addition to being a playhouse owner he was a moneylender and brothel owner) loved these two people. You can feel the heat of his caring. I respect that. The contradiction of it makes for great theater.

What surprises did you encounter – in your research; in your writing ; in performing it?

What I said above about his coldness and warmth surprised me in the research. In the writing process I was continuously surprised by what came out on the page. That’s my favorite part of writing. In performing, I am amazed at how much feeling it takes to sustain this cold, hard man. I’ve fallen in love with him even more.

What are the challenges of starring in the play you wrote? 

As in any one person piece, stamina. Perspective is an issue but I have a tremendous partner in my director, Michael Mahony whom I trust completely.

Why should we care about Philip Henslowe?

We’re all a mixed bag. We are all cold and hot. We love, hate —- and we ALL want to leave a legacy. That’s human. That’s what this play exposes in Phillip Henslowe, that need, that fear of being forgotten, that lives in all of us.  The audience will understand this need because they feel it too.

What’s next for you? 

Two days off. Then working on the website and publicity materials in anticipation of booking the tour. I am also writing a four hander that intrigues me; I’ve suspended work on that while HENSLOWE! Is in its birth process. I’m looking forward to getting back to it.  Plus auditioning as much as I can; I’d love to do something where someone else was in charge.

 

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Acting, Singing, Dancing, Scratching

scratch inviteStarting From Scratch

by the members of the From Scratch company

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

A new multidisciplinary performing arts company calling itself From Scratch lifted off September 14 with a starburst of ambitious creativity. The inaugural gala showcase, titled Starting From Scratch, rolled out twenty-six original drama, dance, song and instrumental segments at the Ballet Arts Studio at Manhattan’s City Center.

Overseen by artistic director Robert Liebowitz, the twenty original company members performed the work of eight writers.
Among highlights:

  • Gritty life among New York’s struggling class amid the dangers and discomforts of the public transportation system was turned into an exuberant ensemble dance in “The Subway at Night,” staged by company choreographer Albena Kervanbashieva.
  • Kervanbashieva herself took to the boards to demonstrate From Scratch’s social consciousness with “Rhino, White Rhino,” in which a member of the endangered species fled from, then triumphed over, ruthless hunters.
  • The generation gap was dramatized in Liebowitz’s playlet “Seven Scenes of Grande Grande Blah Blah Blah,” in which an older man (Jerry Lewkowitz) came into conflict withyoung woman (Weronika H. Wozniak) over coffee while a sardonic barista (Zack Rickert) headed toward a breakdown.
  • “Queen of the Day,” a madrigal by D. Sanborn III, was sung and danced by Walter Dortch, Monique Romero, Jordan Davis and Samantha Randolph, as choreographed by Davis.
  • Composer Tim Horace offered an elegy for the loss of a child in his instrumental “Murmurs of the Innocents.”
  • Although the work of eight different composers were featured in the program, Starting From Scratch provided a special showcase for company musical director Stephen Cornine, who also served as composer, arranger, and pianist for the evening. Among his nine compositions s were the duet “Roses Bloom,” “Brand New,” and no fewer than three holiday tunes, “Christmas Coming Soon,” “On A Midwinter’s Day” and “Aftermas.”

For the record, other performers in the original multi-disciplinary multi-ethnic company include, Daniel Dunlow, Izzy Durakovic, Michael Durso, Charlotte Hagstrom, Helen Jiexin Cai, Valerie Johnson, Jordan McCallister, Teddy Montuori, Donna Morales, Alehia Renee, Michael Romeo Ruocco, Nana Tatebayaski.

Starting From Scratch played a single performance September 14 at the City Center in Manhattan. As for the future, the company is lining up a 2019-2020 season that includes Cornine’s Mirror Mirror, Liebowitz’s Last Night I Dreamed of Paul McCartney, and Martin Goldberg’s Tumble Blindly.

Robert Viagas says Yokko is EN-chanting

En – choreographed by Yoshiko Usami and company

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

En_Opening 3Deep emotional connections between people and nature, between people and the creatures of the earth, and between people and other people, are embodied in the Japanese concept of  “en.” Japanese-American performance artist Yoshiko Usami (a.k.a. Yokko) explores those connections in her new Butoh-style dance/movement piece, also titled En.

Presented by the Ren Gyo Soh theatre group at the Triskelion Arts Center, Enshowcases Yokko and four other dancers beautifully imitating the movements of the natural world in more or less presentational ways, all expressed through the languid, deliberate movements of Butoh.

En_Opening 8The opening segment is also one of the most successful and evocative. The five company members suggest the movements of tropical fish, feeding, chasing, exploring, mating. Costume designer Deepsikha Chatterjee adds a layer of environmental commentary by creating their fins and gills out of plastic bottles, egg cartons, product boxes and other detritus with which mankind has littered the ocean. He seems to ask, are these creatures enmeshed in the trash, or has the trash actually become part of them?

Though much of the rest of the performance is abstract, it seems to follow an arc from the ocean to the land, to the bustle of the human world. As a company they play on a beach like children in one of the more lighthearted moments, but also writhe with their heads trapped in cages in one of the darker segments.

En_Opening 2Each of the dancers take moments to shine in solo passages they choreographed themselves. Petite and fierce Annie McCoy is frequently highlighted, at one point struggling on her back like a turtle or chick hatching from an egg, and at another point recreating the quivering pangs of childbirth.

Miles Butler provides a transition from the sea to the beach in a remarkable sequence where he sheds his fins and staggers onto a beach, like Adam in Eden, only to be swept up into a kind of factory where he loses his individuality.

Efrén Olson-Sánchez and Laura Aristovulos evolve through a variety of roles including teeth-gnashing wild animals, ghosts, and beings who struggle clumsily to stand but then suddenly acquire fluid grace. The show benefits from the occasional majestic appearance of Yokko herself, covered in ethereal white makeup, like a spirit of the earth.

En_Opening 5All of this is performed with the deliberate slowness of Butoh. The evening would benefit from an occasional andante or allegro passage to set off the rest.

Lighting designer Rachel Zimmerman creates dark recesses on the open stage from which the dancers gradually emerge and to which they gradually return. Sound designers Alyssa L. Jackson and Jorge Olivo help suggest the piece’s various physical environments through the sounds of water bubbling, rocks clattering, waves breaking, machinery clanking, airplanes zooming overhead, and occasional evocative music.

In the end, the company seems to return to the sea, gazing out over the audience, as if surveying both the beauty and ugliness what man has wrought.

En played a limited run September 13-15 at the Triskelion Arts, 106 Calyer Street, Brooklyn.

Robert Viagas in the Twilight Zone … with ABDICATION

Abdication! By Naya James

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

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Millennials get a bad rap for their supposed propensity to tune in (to their cell phones) and drop out (of jobs and relationships). But Abdication!, Naya James’ new triptych of one-act plays about the phenomenon, brings insight, humor and a touch of science-fiction to the phenomenon—which is by no means restricted to any single age group

Having its New York premiere as part of Theatre for a New City’s 2019 “Dream Up” Festival, Abdication! tells three micro-“Twilight Zone” stories of people willing to go to extremes in vain attempts to flee their unhappy lives.

Stuck is set in a society where people can “go into the goo”—slang for hooking themselves up to the full virtually reality of their choosing. The comedy arises when a nerdy young Italian-American man tries to explain to his close-knit sitcom family (over dinner, of course) why he has decided to take this radical step. They prefer to think that finding the right girl will cure his unhappiness.

The second playlet, Love Lobotomy, takes things a step further. Two people who meet at a clinic to undergo “Amigdalar Resurfacing,” (a.k.a. a “Love Lobotomy”) to make them immune to love, actually fall in love right there in the waiting room. We then go with them as their relationship poignantly blossoms, then withers, then dies. In the end, they’re back at the clinic, sadder but wiser. The play is subtitled “A Tragicomedy in 3 Episodes” and this segment gets closer to the heart than the others, thanks especially to author Naya James onstage as the disappointment-bound young woman.

The third short play, Color Scheme, takes place in a dystopian “near alternative future” where everyone has been sorted into color-coded groups based on their personalities. The play chronicles the Kafkaesque battle of a “Purple” (passive?) woman who feels she ought to be an “Orange” (pushy, rude, and a little crazy?) and collides with a “Grey” (officious and bossy?) who is determined to keep Purple purple. The question marks are there because the play offers only glimpses about how each color is defined, though anyone can relate to the lady in purple’s struggle against bureaucracy. As Viola, Meredith Rust makes us feel her anguish.

Tc1lWOqwThe evening is narrated in song by a top-hatted Astaire-like host (Trenton Clark) who is backed up by two largely silent comic goons (Stephen Keyes and Topher Wallace). Though these segments need polishing, they help maintain the show’s alternately funny and bleak tone.

The cast also features Amanda Cannon, Alan Cordoba, Janet Donofrio, Cesar Lozada, Mike Ivers, Sid Ross, and Tony Scheer.

Directed by Lucia Bellini, Abdication! played a limited run through September 7 at the TFTNC’s Johnson Theater Space in the East Village section of Manhattan.