I had the opportunity to see “This Stretch of Montpelier” by Kelley Nicole Girod on Tuesday July 24th at the Flamboyan Theater as part of the Planet Connections Theater Festivity. This slice of life piece told the story of three pairs of characters, all taking place along a quiet stretch of Louisiana backroad on a hot summer day. The themes of racism, progression, and identity are strongly shown throughout the piece which was staged and executed masterfully.
The show starts off with a visit of Felonius (Donovan Christie Jr.) to Miss Janice (Geany Masai) on a hot day in Montpelier Louisiana. Janice was an absolute firecracker performance. What started off slow was absolutely electrifying by the time the first scene ended. I cannot commend the performances of Christie and Masai enough. Felonius’ manic energy underscoring the deep conflict inside him exposed the feelings I see in myself from time to time: a false cheer covering for deep flaws. Janice was quick to provide a good old fashioned dressing down to the Doctor of Words, which pushes him to grow as a person.
The second pair was an interesting dichotomy: a childless widow, and a soon-to-be widow. Ruby (Carole Monferdini) was distracted, and ranting about how things had changed, ignoring her friend in a deep depression. She pined for the days when white supremacy was the norm, and it was a jarring experience for those of us living in a significantly more progressive space. It underscored handily how no matter how far we come, there’s always going to be people who do not feel the way we do. My only real criticism of this scene was the inclusion of [old woman] saying a racial slur. While I understood its purpose, I felt it was distracting almost. Shock for shock’s sake.
The scene between Frances (Alisha Spielmann) and Bonnie (Lamar K. Cheston), had little impact on the plot, and left me questioning its place in the piece. They felt like an outside interaction compared to the rest of the show.
The themes here were deeper and more subtle than most I’d come across. Serenity and surety vs chaos, judgment vs pragmatism, professional envy. There were quite a few currents to keep track of, and I felt they were extremely realistic.
The final portions of the show had all of the characters interacting. The dialogue was well performed and interesting but it didn’t leave much of an impression. I’m not sure if the conversation between Felonius and Ruby was genuine or not, but the interaction wasn’t enough to change the characters opinion’s she ranted about for an entire scene in my eyes. It left me questioning a lot of the interactions I’d seen behind closed doors, and I suspect that might have been the point: outward civility hiding an undercurrent of prejudice.
I would recommend this show to anyone who enjoys slice-of-life shows, or shows which can leave you conflicted.
Written By: Casey Wimpee
Planet Connections Festivity
Theaters at the Clemente
107 Suffolk Street
Review by Amanda Kavaja
This the story about the Booth family both in and out of the theater, was really compelling and powerful and captured its audience – adept in the bard or not. Casey Wimpee’s juxtaposition of the time periods of the death of two leaders was clever and – even today – quite uniquely done. We, the audience were taken into a very tense time in the mid 1800’s and then to the very night before John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln. We sit and watch this volatile family having a deep political argument throughout Thanksgiving dinner causing the Booth of history to take matters into his own hands and ending it all.
Sara Fellini did an excellent job of portraying Mrs. Asia Booth Clarke, I found her to be remarkably believable. Her character was more of a rebel and Fellini’s liberal use of flirtatiousness made for welcome laughs. Her fine direction was also apparent all through the piece as well. She lifted the piece with artistry and intrigue. Samuel Adams was alluring as Seymour. Odd word to describe a man but he looked the part of the ladies’ man drenched in need-to-succeed. Adams played the sarcasm and self-assurance easily. Adam Belvo, as Edwin Booth gave us a great portrayal of a troubled man. We watch him go through his recurring visions of his father making him almost a puppet. His father, Junius Brutus Booth, Sr., played with aplomb by Mick O’Brien, played the alcoholic abuser to the hilt. John Hardin as Booth used his beautiful voice creating his vexation towards the world and towards his family. Peter Oliver stood out as a narrator and did W. Hanley was the comedic relief in this show.
These actors were amazing, professional and very powerful. I loved this show and would gratefully see it again. Directing, Costumes, lighting and especially acting as well as a true look at the mind of not only an actor but a murderer all add up to an interesting and intriguing time well spent in the theater.
Meshelle: Diary of a MILF
Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Comedian Meshelle brought her latest solo show, Meshelle: Diary of a MILF (“Mom I’d Love to FOLLOW”) to Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre July 26, and showed why she belongs in a theatre and not just in a comedy club.
Billing herself as “The Indie-Mom of Comedy,” Meshelle (pronounced MEE-shell, original name Meshelle Foreman Shields), put her personal spin on some familiar material about being a mother (she affectionately refers to her husband and three children “terrorists,” “a mixed bag of nuts,” and “dreamkillers”), but she took her work to a higher level with her skills as a master impressionist—not of Hollywood celebrities, but of eccentric family members, grossly entitled helicopter parents she meets at her kids’ private school (and their kids, “Piper and Pepper”), and those that the African-American comedian delicately terms “melanin-free people.” The impersonations were so vivid, it seemed at times that the stage was filled with these alter-egos.
A veteran of Nickelodeon’s Search for the Funniest Mom in America 3 and the stage play Woman Thou Art Loosed, Meshelle, spun her everyday suburban life into comic gold. “When did I have to start leasing a minivan?” she observed as she mourned about her loss of status as a “Cutie on duty,” and came to the startling realization, as she looked around her home, that “everybody in the house has been inside my body.”
For a show being presented in July, she included lot of humor about Kwanzaa and Christmas, perhaps because this one-night show was part of a national tour that is scheduled to take her to the United Solo Theatre Festival this fall, with more stops beyond.
The landmark American Theatre of Actors, one of the last bastions of the famed off-off Broadway movement, which began in the 60s and reached a zenith of sorts in the 80s, is still presenting the best of the brightest and the freshest of the first. This summer the ATA will host a classics series which included Ilia Volok’s wildfire production of Diary of Madman. The ATA part unveils new renderings of Chekhov and Strindberg.
The ATA Classic Summer Series
THE BOOR by Anton Chekhov
directed by Jessica Jennings features Monica Blaze-Leavitt,* Michael Bordwell, Stephen Goodin.
THE STRONGER by August Strindberg directed by Monica Blaze/Leavit features Jessica Jennings,* Siw Myrvold.
THE PROPOSAL by Anton Chekhov
directed by Jane Culley features Michael Bordwell, Stephen Goodin, Francesca Shipsey.
July 19 @ 8:00 pm; July 20 @ 8:00 pm; July 22 @ 3:00 pm
July 25 @ 8pm pm; July 28 @ 2:00 pm; Aug 4 @ 2:00 pm
Tickets $20 – sold at the door/ Tix also on sale at smarttix.com
THE CHERRY ORCHARD
Dalrymple award-winning director, Jessica Jennings, sets this seminal work of Anton Chekhov in the USA, 1965. Features Monica Blaze Leavitt,* Johnny Blaze Leavitt, Elizabeth Chappell, Alexander Chilton, Jane Culley,* Joy Foster, Cait Kiley Eli Douglas LaCroix, Joyce Lao, Shayna Lawson, and Susan Ly.
July 28 @ 8:00 pm; July 29 @ 3:00 pm; Aug 1,2,3,4 @ 8:00 pm; Aug 5 @ 3:00 pm
Tickets $30 – sold at the door also on sale at smarttix.com
The Festival will be performed at the American Theatre of Actors
314 W 54th St, New York City 10019
While the senior James Jennings first opened the doors, his daughter, Jessica Jennings, is rapidly gaining notoriety throughout the indie theater community. She is an integral part of the legendary ATA and a founder and board member of Ripple Effect Artists, who change the world with art.
Tell us About Yourself as an Artist?
I consider myself collaborative. I also come form an extensive dance background and work toward body language to match the emotional landscape of characters and the stories being told. As Martha Graham said: “the body never lies.” I am picky in this way – it really bugs me to see an actor too formal when it’s inappropriate, or too casual when they are playing formal characters. There’s always exceptions and that’s fun to find. I do my best to teach these small nuances and challenge actors: does this character look people in the eye? Do they eat space or shy away?
I gather theater was always in your blood. What’s it like growing up in the theater … literally?
Yes – I am born to a theatre family and they put me in Macbeth when I was just 3 weeks old. It sounds horrific! But to me it’s all normal. We grew up staying up late; learned to sit still in the theatre. As soon as we could read we were reading Shakespeare, helping our mother learn lines, seeing our father bring his plays to the stage – cringing when it was a nod to our own family problems. I still remember how easy it is as a child – I could remember anyone’s lines and blocking. That fades as we grow up.
What is your personal mission as an actress and a director?
For me, it’s the same answer for acting and directing. I want to play and create something really provoking. I never want an audience to get bored. I want them to be compelled, to feel, to think. They should feel an array of things, lean forward and want to get more invested in what’s happening on stage. If that happens then I feel successful.
Tell us something about this festival … something we won’t see in the press kit?
Haha! American Theatre of Actors asked to direct Merry Wives of Windsor and I just couldn’t get into it. So I took a few weeks to read and find a classic that I could sink my teeth into. The first piece I fell for was The Boor by Chekhov. That lead down a road toward presenting all of these One-Act Classics in a festival while giving mean extra 10 days to rehearse a full length. I hosted around and found a rare play of Chekhov’s. That’s where my heart is – but it’s going to take a lot more planing. The Cherry Orchard was sort of my fall-back plan – that’s hysterical right? – It’s considered a masterpiece.
Tell us about Ripple Effect?
Ripple Effect Artists is a production organization that I’ve raised up with Jessie Fahay. We focus on social justice theatre: presenting masterful plays that align with a major issue facing our world. I am really proud of the work we’ve done over the past 8 years. We’ve worked with a dozen organizations form The Trevor Project to GEMS to the League of Women Voters. We present plays and give a platform for activists and advocates to educate the audience on real-world issues that are presented in the plays. Right now we have Chuck Gorden’s Guarding The Bridge up at The Triad Theatre (158 W. 72nd St.). It’s a short play that looks at generational racism. We’ve paired it with a powerhouse spoken word artist who presents immediately after – Dawn Speaks. The last performance will be July 30th at 7pm. For more info go to rippleeffectartists.com/productions and you can read about it, sign a petition to better moderate police violence, and learn more – or text the word RIPPLE to 77948. Next season we are leveraging theatre to address climate change issues.
How important is legacy to you?
This question feels like the elephant in the room! For me, the most important piece of my family legacy is laying our own path and following our dreams, in the face of all odds. I work for myself, so do my parents, so does my husband. Expressing myself as an artist is a huge and important part of my life. The director in me loves the legacy of creating opportunities for other people. The parent in me – and it’s important to mention I have a 5 year old son – is not fond of the year-round grind. Late nights are tough on a family, so I try to find balance. I’ll rehearse daytimes and make sure I’m available to read my son to sleep. I’ll take on maybe 3 or 4 big projects annually. That means the late night performances are periodic, but not a life-style.
Technically there’s a lot potential projects but no dates in my calendar – I’m available for hire! I’m flattered to be in a few conversations about directing and choreographing. I’m exploring a new musical with Mark Barkin. I still want to direct that Chekhov play that’s rare (but I’m not going to mention the title right now). Ripple Effect Artists will present a play on climate change in the Spring of 2019.
This Stretch of Montpelier: In this South Louisiana neighborhood, just past the intersection where Ghosts from the Past cross Hopes for the Future, lies This Stretch of Montpelier. Written by Kelley Nicole Girod and directed by Andrew Block, this engrossing piece is presented by The Fire This Time Festival & Frigid NYC, benefiting Gulf Restoration Network.
There are many things that make this a a special night in the theater. One is one of its actresses. Tandy Cronyn continues a great tradition started by her famed father, Hume Cronyn and mother, Jessica Tandy.
It was a pleasure to speak with her about her current production and what lies ahead.
Tell us about yourself as an artist
I had my head turned by The Guthrie Theater in it’s inaugural season under Tyrone Guthrie. I was still in high school but spent the summer in Minneapolis and hung around rehearsals. I actually got to watch Guthrie direct. They were doing rotating classical repertory: Shakespeare one night, Moliere or Chekhov the next, a contemporary classic the next. The company was extraordinarily versatile, stepping not only into contrasting roles but also different styles from night to night. And they were doing great plays. I always wanted to do that kind of work, and occasionally I’ve had the privilege. Not many companies in America do rotating rep – it requires a large company and is very expensive – so I’ve grabbed the chance whenever it presented itself: Denver Center Theater Company in it’s first couple of seasons, Stratford Festival of Canada, The Old Globe in San Diego, Illinois Shakespeare Festival.
A truly illustrious start! Now, tell us something interesting about your character in the show. Maybe something we wouldn’t necessarily notice.
Kacky is something quite different for me, although I have never had a “type” in the roles I’ve played over the years. While she appears to be completely dominated by her best friend, there is something a bit passive-aggressive going on beneath the surface. It’s been quite fascinating for me, digging into this role.
That’s great. In terms of digging into a character, festivals have a very particular way of working. How did it feel to work in a festival atmosphere?
This is my third Festival experience and I’ve had an interesting time with all of them – The NY Fringe, The United Solo Festival and now Planet Connections. Short rehearsal time and tech restrictions as well as odd rehearsal spaces are challenging, but it’s a great way to get new work out there. And in part because of the tech and time limitations, actors, directors and designers are thrown back on their own creativity which can be quite an adventure. The focus goes to the bare bones of the writing, directing and performing – not a bad trade-off.
Did you grow up in the theater or was it something separate from your daily life?
I was deeply immersed in theater from my teens on – early childhood I stayed home with a nanny. Once I was bitten by the theater bug, around twelve or thirteen, I paid great attention, seeing landmark productions, meeting and listening to wonderful theater professionals, soaking up everything around me. I was very fortunate.
What’s next for you?
I want to get back to my solo show, THE TALL BOY (see my website www.tandycronyn.com)
And I have a very interesting book to record as soon as THIS STRETCH OF MONTPELIER is finished.
And that happens in just a few short weeks …
Flamboyán Theater @ The Clemente
Thursday 7/19 @5:45pm-7:15pm
Saturday 7/21 @8:30pm-10:00pm
Wednesday 7/25 @7:15pm-8:45pm
Sunday 7/29 @ 7:00pm-8:30pm
Saturday 8/4 @9:30pm-11:00pm
Sunday 8/5 @2:00pm-3:30pm
Spend a hot summer day along a stretch of South Eastern Louisiana road, where tradition clashes with change, and neighbors intertwine. Facing gentrification, integration, racism, homophobia, and colliding generations, ghosts from the past dance with uncertainties of the future for an imperfect and vibrant culture who seek to understand how to live together in a changing society, in a place that has always moved at its own pace.
Art is Dangerous
By Erik Champney
Directed by Adam Chisnall
Benefiting Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
Presented by Jim Kierstead & Erik Champney
Contains explicit violence and strong sexual content. Audience discretion is advised.
Review by Justin Cheang
Dead Brains leaves a mark on you from the onset: its unique name, its compelling performances; its razor-sharp direction; and surely, it’s psycho-drama. Dead Brains is a tale of a successful artist attempting to discover (or maybe re-discover) himself (with the aid of his significant other) through an experiment in order to create a masterpiece that he can keep for himself.
Main character, Henry, explores and experiments with the world around him for his “unique” and “iconic” art, he seeks out his target. Dead Brains is a show that will snatch your attention until the very end.
Richard Wingert’s interpretation of Champney’s convoluted Henry, was both protagonist and antagonist. Wingert was phenomenal as the seemingly innocent artist who’s living in the now and wanting to make the next big thing while hiding a psychotic and deranged side which he must employ for his masterpiece.
His lover, Philly, played with perfection by Ellie Gossage, with every line, builds the tension and Henry’s dark side.
The cast of three were both a tight ensemble and group of stars. The chemistry between the actors, whether they clashed together or intertwined themselves with one another, was chilling and remarkable. Matt Maretz, who plays Corey, ran the gamut of emotions to serve up vulnerability, fear, and simply survival.
Erik Champney wrote about an artist wanting to create a masterpiece. I guess it was Champney who actually did that.
This show is absolutely a work of art.
The title “Dead Brains,” has a strong significance. Once finished with the show, you’re left with a dead brain; you’re speechless, you’re in utter awe, and you’re even starstruck. This show was a fantastic performance, and gives you a taste of how an artists mind can wander almost anywhere, especially when in the dark.
Half Me, Half You by Liane Grant
The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street
Review by Robert Viagas
The Wild Project’s Fresh Fruit Festival explores the complications of recent advances in gay life with Half Me, Half You, a drama that looks at what happens when a married interracial gay couple splits over the issue of having a child.
Jess (Jennifer Fouché) wants a baby more than anything; the problem is, Meredith (played by playwright Liane Grant) doesn’t. It’s clear that while their marriage is based on love, and they try to come to terms on the issue, they simply can’t.
Act I, with the breakup, is set in 2017. A lot happens in the decade-plus leap into the future of Act II. Jess moves to Europe, has the child, sickens, and dies, leaving the teen-aged Maya motherless. Meredith survives what is described as the Second American Civil War, presumably between Red and Blue states. The fact that the out lesbian Meredith isn’t dead or in a concentration camp gives a pretty good idea of who won. But not much is done with this provocative premise—which alone could provide material for several seasons of a Netflix series.
Despite the dramatic sci-fi developments, the world of the 2030s appears to be pretty much status quo for Meredith—at least until the arrival of Maya (Kalea Williams) on her doorstep. Despite Meredith’s stated determination that she does not want children, the late Jess has designated Meredith as her daughter’s guardian in her will. Meredith, who got a rigorous browbeating for her “selfishness” in Act I, now comes in for a second verbal clobbering for the same sin from Maya, who smolders with anger over the bad hand life has dealt her.
Directed by Leah Fogo, this deeply earnest and sober drama attempts to deal with real issues of our time in an uncompromising way. A little humor and forgiveness would have helped.
The play was presented as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival at The Wild Project, the Off-Off Broadway theatre.