PREVIOUS STORIES

Touching “Cinema”

Review by Robert I. Gottlieb

There’s an old maxim that anyone with a mother knows: If you love something, set it free. I really never understood that saying excepting a few cases: college-bound teens, chain-bound pets, etc. I do, however, firmly believe in a similar adage: if you love something, set it to paper. A work of art that bears the real, honest love of its creator is, obviously, better than one that does not. Better still is a work of art that bears the love of a whole genre, that expresses what an author loves about the larger artform. Since I am a reviewer of plays, and you are (at least temporarily) a reader of a play review, let me be more specific: A good playwright throws his love of theater and cinema history into a play. The outcome could be anything – even a rebuke of theater and cinema history – but that loving touch is what makes a play, for me anyways, watchable.

I suppose I can be even more specific to the matter at hand. A Touch of Cinema is a good play. With Spotlight On Productions and Cross-Eyed Bear Production, Playwright Duncan Pflaster and Director Aliza Shane have brought to life a script that crackles with love for the subversive power of cinema. From references to Godard, Les Enfants du Paradis and Charlie Chaplin, Mr. Pflaster reminds us of the revolutionary potential cinema once had. Taking place in an unnamed country led by a brutal regime and patrolled by a terrifying Stasi (it’s made abundantly clear that this is not America), the play harkens to a time when making art meant risking something.

Pflaster’s script is lovely, particularly when it serves as a love letter to old works. I loved when Dina Kummerspeck (Diánna Martin), the liberal director of the film within a play, gives a final monologue replete with references to The Great Dictator. The repressed actors in Kummerspeck’s subversive film, who serve as stand-ins for old Hollywood archetypes, are similarly spectacular. My favorite, Kristen Vaughan’s Regina Fontaine, is played with Marylin Monroe ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ era sexiness. Russell Jordan, who plays the publicly closeted, privately fabulous Martin Dure, is hilarious and heartwarming. Pflasters love for the history of cinema is truly touching.

I liked the script a lot less when it leans too heavily on its political leg. The lines about American politics come across as clunky, particularly for a play that goes through such pains to prove that it does not take place in the US. To echo a criticism made in the script itself, the allusions to Trumpism are a little too, ‘on the nose.’ I’d appreciate the play more if it were comfortable existing in a completely removed reality – not one where the characters are watching CNN. It also seemed to me like the cast could use another couple rehearsals; too often lines were stumbled upon.

But Pflaster’s love is the central cog in A Touch of Cinema, and it shines throughout. In fact, it’s when Pflaster is least political and most generous – when his characters discuss their cinematic heroes – that he is most poignant. I left the show inspired to create film and more in love with the cinema than I’ve been in a long while. Lovers of art: this is one you’ll be glad to see.

 

 

Frank Calo’s Spotlight On Festival has gathered some joyous accolades over its first week of performances and exhibitions. Now they have great news to add at the start of week two: LONE STAR, produced by NINE Theatricals and sponsored by Genesis Repertory, after a rosing first week, has sealed a deal to take the production OFF-BROADWAY for a special limited run celebrating NINE Theatricals’ first decade in operation.

Learn more at www.drinkbeerraisehell.com/

Placing it at the festive Triad Theater and adding in additional musical entertainment prior to showtime, the celebration’s expected to be not only a joyous must-see event but a jumping off point for the company’s second decade in business. This past year, they produced a celebrated production of Hamlet and the American premiere of The Collector at 59E59 Theaters. Matt de Rogatis’ interview is found on another page here at Arts Independent, so we thought we’d give equal time to his co-stars, Chris Loupos and Greg Pragel.

Chris Loupos

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“I think my co-stars Matt and Greg are both talented, dedicated actors who take their work seriously. I don’t think you can ask much more of an actor than that. I think our director Pete has done a great job of both giving us notes and taking our personal ideas and helping us mold them into our characters that you’ll see opening night and beyond. It’s been fun. I’m excited to be on the stage at a historic theatre like the Triad next month.”

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Greg Pragel

“It’s a true blessing & a blast to be a part of this production & performing this role. I’m incredibly proud of all the work that’s being put into Lone  Star, & how it’s one of those shows that’s being done because the artists started it themselves. Matt wanted to perform together again after our first experience with Hamlet last summer (& so did I), & so I’ve had a hand in helping create part of this with him. From discussing different plays to do, to casting, to introducing our brilliant leader & director PETE MCELLIGOTT to the project – & really anything else I can do to help. As for my role, Cletis, I could not be happier with what we are creating & will share with our audiences. I’ve always had a heart for the underdog, and you can’t find anyone who’s more of an underdog than Cletis T. Fullernoy. He’s a role that could easily be looked at as just comedic relief in this show, but we’ve been working on finding the truth in why he’s introduced, what his true stakes are, & how he’s the one that propels the story forward. There’s a Cletis within every circle of friends out there. Picked on, butt of the joke, & just a “unique” & different individual. People may mock him because he likes being organized & prepared with his pocket protector, but he’ll turn the other cheek like the good book says. I’ve always loved playing these larger than life comedic characters and finding their humanity & what it feels like in their shoes – or in this case, high-school loafers. Lone Star is just one of those gems to explore. James McLure wrote a play that in one hour examines what war can do to someone, a brother’s relationship, what’s truly most important in life & what can happen when that’s lost, the lengths you could go when wanting to change yourself & your life, & the correct order of eating a Baby Ruth & drinking a beer. There’s a ton of laughs and a ton of heart. Our creative team is still discovering so much every single rehearsal & run. Fine tuning & detailing to bring out every color & bit of truth we can from this rich script. Everyone fits their role & is bringing 110%. Hopefully like a Lone Star beer you’ll see our show & then ask for another.”  

NINE @ 10

NINE Theatricals is a non-profit organization founded in July of 2007 by R.J. Lamb. Based out of Central New Jersey, it has always been the goal of NINE to “educate, entertain and inspire” audiences while challenging them with comedies, farces, dramas, classical and original works.  From their very first production of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 2008, NINE Theatricals provides actors, backstage crew and playwrights opportunities to grow as artists and to explore their talents. Previous New Jersey productions include the musical Side ShowJust ImagineCemetery ClubJust Plain FunnyThe Outrageous Adventures of Sheldon and Mrs. Levine as well as the original work Lizzie Borden Revisited. Each Christmas season NINE tours the state of New Jersey with radio plays the likes of Miracle on 34th StreetA Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. New York City productions include TapeLaundry and BourbonThe Owl ProjectHamlet and this past November, NINE Theatricals produced the Off-Broadway, United States Premiere of The Collector at 59E59 Theaters. The show was based on John Fowles’ famous novel of the same name and played to sold out audiences and rave reviews. This production of Lone Star, culminating in an Off-Broadway run at the historic Triad Theatre, celebrates the ten year anniversary of NINE Theatricals. For more information on the company call 732.618.8037.

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matt head

NINE Theatricals in association with Genesis Repertory present a revival of LONE STAR by James McClure, a comedy about a macho-man trying to regain his life after serving in Vietnam. This revival of LONE STAR will move off-Broadway in May at New York’s TRIAD Theater, after a joyous run at Frank Calo’s SPOTLIGHT ON Festival.

lone mattOpening in the cluttered backyard of a small-town Texas bar. Roy, is back in town after a tour of duty in Vietnam hoping to re-establish his high school hero stature prior to his wartime stint. Roy drunkenly regales his young brother, Ray, in tales of war and sex. The arrival of Cletis, the son of the local hardware store owner, sets in motion the destruction of all that held Ray’s fragile macho image together.

The cast features Matt de Rogatis as Roy, whose star is on the rise.

14890433_10153778814181567_5242187136631039371_oAccolades from his performance in the American premiere of The Collector at 59E59 Theaters

20160712_220408and sweeping praise for his unique interpretation of Hamlet have propelled the young actor to this revival looking at a featured festival run before achieving contract status in May.

What moves the next generation of stage masters… let’s find out from one:

What inspires you?
I am inspired by greatness – but maybe more so – the path to it. Alot of times we only see the end result and the glamor, but it’s the story of how the person got there that interests me the most. Sometimes you just find out that the person had an Aunt or Uncle in the business or a father or brother or mother. In other words, someone else blazed the path for them and then they just kinda end up getting handed the keys by default. I’m not interested in those stories. I’m interested in the ones where the path was blazed.
Michael Jordan and his will to be great is incredibly inspiring. Kurt Warner’s story of bagging groceries to Super Bowl Champion is greatly inspiring. A fictional character like Howard Roark is greatly inspiring. I think it’s those stories, the ones where someone seems to be so down on their luck and so close to defeat, yet somehow they rise from the ashes to achieve their goals and dreams; Those are the stories that I find so motivating. The world is full of stories like this.
Years ago when I first started out on this odyssey, a dear friend said to me, “you are about to attempt to do the hardest thing in the world.” And he’s right. Trust me I have been down for the count more times than I care to admit. But it’s those stories of will, perseverance and the soul that keep me inspired and moving forward down the path.
 
Why independent theater?
I don’t think it’s necessarily a question of “why independent theatre” as opposed to simply, “why theatre?” To me theatre is the purest form of acting. Call me a snob and I guess I am but I know how hard this is and how much time, work and dedication goes into it. And when I meet people who call themselves actors but have never done theatre, I look at them differently. They have the luxury of 60 takes and having an editor save their ass. Theatre is real acting. You need to be razor sharp focused. You are live. Every night you have to be prepared for anything. You have to have such trust in your stage partner or partners. There’s so much at stake. You’re baring your soul. Your emotions need to be at your fingertips. There’s nothing like it.
I have done it so many times and yet everytime I do it, I’m still terrified to go out there. But I love it at the same time.
As far as independent theatre goes, it’s kinda like playing football with your friends after school. You draw up plays in the dirt, garbage cans are the endzones, a telephone pole might be the goal posts, games can last all day and night. There’s no rules and there’s something so pure about it. It can sometimes be even more fun than playing the game in an organized setting. That’s kinda what independent theatre can feel like; Playing two hand touch with your friends after school. You don’t wanna ONLY be doing that but when you do do it, it’s a helluva lotta fun.
Part of the SPOTLIGHT-ON FESTIVAL at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, NYC.
April 20 @ 7:00 p.m.; April 21 @ 5:30 p.m.; April 22 @ 1:00 p.m.; April 23 @ 4:00 p.m.; April 24 @ 7:00 p.m.; April 27 @ 7:00 p.m.; April 28 @ 5:30 p.m.; April 30 @ 1:00 p.m.
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Like any superhero, Patrick Hickey Jr. maintains a secret identity. By day, he is Professor Patrick Hickey at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, sharing his vast knowledge of journalism with eager minds. But… by night… he dons the cloak of editor-in-chief of REVIEWFIX, one of the leading pop culture sites online, bringing news and interviews from the leading members of the film TV, and theater communities as well as pro-wrestling, comic books and graphic novels… and the GAMING INDUSTRY. Of this latter section, Hickey is a respected authority. He has written a book with the working title… “For The Love of Games: Cult and Classic GameDevs Discuss Projects That Influenced And Entertained Millions.” Scheduled for publication from McFarland Press in 2018, the book is a love letter to retro and modern gaming. It’s also the only book of its kind to allow the minds behind some gaming’s most classic and cult games the likes of NHL 94, Deus Ex, Road Rash, Max Payne and Spider-Man 2 and more, to tell their story. Over the past 12 years, award-winning editor and writer Patrick Hickey Jr. has interviewed some of the biggest names in video games from Pitfall creator David Crane to the infamous Howard Scott Warshaw and even the mind behind the Japanese sensation Yo-Kai Watch, Akihiro Hino. He’s also had his video game reviews featured in national ad campaigns from Electronic Arts, Disney and Nintendo. The book is packed with tales from these masters.

He is also former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and National Video Games Writer at the late-Examiner.com. He’s also an avid game collector with over 2,000 games spanning over 30 consoles. He’ll also kick your ass in NHL 17 or Pokemon.

 
He is starting in NYC, more directly, Brooklyn with an appearance at the new GeekFest in Bay Ridge on April 1. We had to grab him for things got even busier. If we missed this chance … game over!  

What was your impetus – your inspiration – in writing the book?

574568_10151762670959782_1109317041_nIt was a lot of things. I love my job (I am the Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York and I own and edit my own entertainment website, ReviewFix.com) but I knew that I could do more. Something more creative and something that separated me from my peers in education and journalism. I’m 33, but I’ve been involved in journalism and publishing since I was 20 and I felt like I did a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve cover two Olympic Games, three Super Bowls, a Sundance, seven TriBeCa’s, covered pro baseball, hockey and even two seasons on Saturday Night Live at NBC. I needed a new challenge. 

When you get into your 30s, I feel like that’s the time to start really chipping away at those goals. Bang them out. My wife, Melissa,  just had our first child this past Tuesday and I want to be the father she needs so her dreams could come true and a husband my wife knows will never stop trying to give her the best life possible. Someone who did cool things and did things his way. In order to be that man, I had to be free of regret. A man who did-and was-and not someone who could have been, or even worse, didn’t even try. 

Lastly, I’ve read my fair share of video game books over the years and saw a gap. A place where a real journalist could tap into. To do interviews with the greats and keep my opinion out as much as possible. Kind of like a VH1 Behind the Music- but just on video games. After a long day of work this past Halloween, I sent out a few pitches to some iconic developers. I said if half got back to me, screw it, let’s go for a book. All of them got back to me, icons like Gary Kitchen, David Crane and Howard Scott Warshaw, creators of games that inspired millions of kids and countless developers. It was like winning the lottery a few days in a row. I’m not a religious man, but it was an omen. Now with over 30 developers confirmed, I feel like I have something incredibly unique. Something that can stand the test of time. The fact that I have video game historian Brett Weiss writing the forward goes a long way in terms of establishing this book’s credibility. It’s going to be a fun and special read.

Your site is dedicated to Video Games and other popular culture. Were you always an aficionado?

154550_10151627618409782_1778431788_nI’ll put it this way- I would play RBI Baseball and Contra on the Nintendo Entertainment System before I went to school when I was 4 and I’ve had a Game Boy of some kind in my pocket in one way or another for over 25 years. I can connect every part of my childhood and adult life to the games I’ve played. Final Fantasy VII was a game for example that I spent hundreds of hours on as a teen while Fallout 3 and New Vegas got me through my first year teaching and graduate school. For as long as I’ve been alive games have been a part of my existence. Even now, I find myself connecting with my nephews (Kevin, 8, Frankie, 14) and the kids in my neighborhood (I run retro game tournaments at an awesome little video game store, Brooklyn Video Games, in Bensonhurst every month) because of the art form. One day I hope to share my love of games with my daughter. 

Let’s talk about the evolution of video games… the good … the bad …

A big part of my book is that we waste far too much time asking if a game is good or bad. I look at each game as a piece of art. There’s always something positive to glean from even the worst game. Take E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial on the Atari 2600. It’s considered the worst game of all time, but if you’ve actually played it and know the story, it’s made by one of the greatest minds of the 2600 era and a huge accomplishment in gaming considering the fact that it was made in just five weeks. I review games on my site, anywhere from 50-75 a year and I’ll tell you, there’s just like films or books, if you give them a chance and look at tone or setting rather than being quickly gratified, you’ll always find something special. Some of the games featured in the book are some most gamers wouldn’t know but they should. And if they read it, they will. 

In terms of evolution, things continue to change visually, but the things that make a game timeless, gameplay polish, the reward for defeating a challenge/puzzle meaning something, that cannot change. That will always be the same. If a game cannot make you feel something for solving its mysterious, the way it looks means nothing. I think a lot of modern developers forget that. So while there has been a huge evolution in terms of realism and visuals, they’ e always made people feel the same way.

Let’s get deep here… video games, comic books, sci-fi fantasy, etc., seems to stay with us longer. What used to end in our teens now continues into our adult lives. More people are collecting comic books, playing and collecting video games, even enjoying cartoons through their entire lives, more and more. It also seems that the best movies were comics and games. Why ISN’T it kid stuff anymore?

Because this medium defined itself as a viable one over 30 years ago and in spite of ebbs, flows and even crashes, the people that it originally affected, our parents, showed it to us and it impacted us. As a result, we’ll show it to our children and it’ll continue forever. Just like film and literature, video games are ingrained in our society forever. They aren’t going anywhere. Anyone who fails to see or acknowledge this is a fool.

What’s next for Patrick Hickey, author?

Away from taking care of my beautiful daughter Josie and start a new semester at Kingsborough, I will be speaking at the Brooklyn Geek Fest on April 1, a video game pop culture fest run by the great people at Gotham City Games and at the Coleco Retro Game and Collectible Expo in New Jersey on Aug. 5/6. The hope is to build some buzz for the project and get people interested. The book manuscript is due soon and I’m just in the process of finishing up and making sure everything is perfect. This has been a wonderful ride and the hope at end of it all is that I can parlay this into another game book, the next one focusing on the indie game scene, games that are built by one or two people that end up making an impact on pop culture.
 
12208538_10154443885709782_1084773263112678843_nLearn More about Patrick Hickey Jr. and his book at:
Gotham City Games gothamcitygaming.com
Coleco Retro Con https://www.colecoexpo.com/

hamlet-portrait-websiteHAMLET … pure & artful

Robert I. Gottlieb reports

When I got the assignment to review John DeSotelle’s ambitious production of Hamlet I was, more than anything else, nervous. I’ve never read thru the entire play in a single sitting, nor seen it performed in its 4½-hour entirety. I feared that my Twitter-sized attention span would succumb to the sheer size of the endeavor. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest work and it is notoriously difficult to stage successfully (what, with the multiple instances of supernatural occurrences, the half dozen murders and the multitude of soliloquies that all need to be executed to a T). Add to that the fact that DeSotelle’s production promised special effects from the middle ages and inclusion of every line from the original text. The project goes against virtually every trend us millennials have come to expect from our entertainment. I plundered my phone for my most patient, Shakespeare-loving friend and sat down in the intimate theater terrified we’d have to spend the entire night (Gasp! Gulp!) actually paying attention.

But John DeSotelle’s Hamlet does not try your patience…it demands your focus. It captivates from the moment you walk into the theater and see Matthew Imhoff’s gorgeous, imposing set. DeSotelle’s vision is bold and uncompromising – he creates a platform for Shakespeare’s most famous work to feel truly grand. Hollywood and Broadway have recurrently altered Hamlet to be more modern (see Jude Law, Ethan Hawke) or shorter (Most every version ever) and something is always lost. DeSotelle refuses such compromise and what emerges is a production that outgrows the small theater and feels, to borrow a presidential term, HUGE.

hamlet-skullPerformances here are mostly stellar. Jürgen Jones is a walking masterclass in Shakespearean villainy. His Claudius is simultaneously likeable and repulsive. Julia Boyes shines as the delicate Ophelia and her “Woe is me” monologue was the most transporting moment of the night. Sean Richards brings stability and flawless diction to the show as Horatio. Justin Broido (Rosencrantz, Gravedigger), Joe Lalumia (Guildenstern, Osric) and John Rearick (Player Queen, Priest, Fransisco) are hilarious and dexterous in their many roles. Perhaps the performance that lingered with me most was that of the ghost of Hamlet’s father, brought to life by a team of illusionists, editors and one uncredited but brilliant voice actor. Newcomers Ethan Russel (Laertes) and Jack Wink (Hamlet) struggle somewhat with the elevated language. They bring gravitas and looks to their formidable roles but their shouts, long pauses and emotive stutters dilute the purity of the bard’s poetry. Nonetheless, watching Wink carry the historic role in his New York debut was a thrill.

DeSotelle’s Hamlet is a celebration of the Prince of Denmark’s legacy. Hamlet is a mosaic of very difficult ideas expressed in beautiful poetry and, by approaching the subject without cutting any corners, DeSotelle forces the audience to struggle with those concepts in their purest form. It was a rewarding, thought provoking night for Shakespeare diehards and newbies alike. I left the theater remembering how rewarding it can be to spend time and effort concentrating on a truly great work. It made me turn off twitter for a while.

Photo by Mickey Pantano

LIFE & DEATH Review by Robert Liebowitz

Two solid casts. Capable direction. Technical elements,  check. First rate design. ATA’s production of Dead Old Lady From New Jersey and The Killing of the Snow Fox by James Crafford starts promising enough–two gangsters (played with panache  by Anthony J Gallo and Eugene Kopman) are debating the merits of a heist that seems to have gone wrong…though they’re not sure.They haven’t been paid. Trust issues, that kind of thing. In fact, the monologue that opens the play, conveyed with strong understatement by Mr. Gallo, is a high point of the evening; immediately we are sucked into the drama at hand. Enter the Dame,  played well by Nicole Schalmo (the trio are actually named after the cities in New Jersey they’re from, a clever touch) At this point, the play appears to have the makings of the standard double cross–presumably she will kill both men, and then her unseen boss will have less dough to hand out. But, no…she appears with further instructions, which includes traveling, and then simply leaves. We think, OK, the caper continues, great, let’s now head to Iowa or Idaho, where the gangsters have been sent.
But, not. The play just ends, with no payoff, no denouement, no nothing.
Mr. Crafford leaves the audience with an open-ending. He could’ve kept on going—he has before him an unresolved plot. Nothing close to being resolved. He chose not to. Strange choice. His solid ear for dialogue would have kept us in our seats.
Maybe he packed in there a moral of crime doesn’t pay? Maybe, as this is supposed to be a finish for these criminals, it shows the old adage from the Godfather about always being pulled in. Maybe, like another author of hard-bitten characters, Steve Silver, there is yet an Act II on the way.
“Snow Fox, ” the second piece in the night’s fare, packs too much plot. A young man’s crisis of sexuality is juxtaposed with another “sin”… that of killing defenseless creatures. The cast led by the venerable, mega-talented Ken Coughlin as Bobby’s loving but confused dad, is up to the challenge of multiple parables and display great energy and connection – to each other and to their audience. Laurie Rae Waugh keeps the action moving with her sensible direction. Ms. Waugh works well with intimate pieces and has her hands full here maintaining the morals of these two engaging but vastly different pieces.
The excellent set and lighting served both plays well and the Sargeant Theater (the mid-sized space in James Jennings’s legendary multiplex of live theater) with its rectangular construction was an excellent arena for these messages.

For John DeSotelle … it’s all in the Nu•ance

In the middle of glitzy, gaudy, gritty Times Square sits an oasis of artistry. The John DeSotelle Studio. Leading its staff of teaching artists who bring the teachings and techniques of Sanford Meisner is former professor and always an artist, JOHN DESOTELLE. The studio houses a dynamic theatre company that combines classical works and techniques with innovative execution, the Nu•ance Theatre Company. Currently a 16th Century castle is being built on the main stage of the Nu•ance for an ambitious production of Shakepseare’s HAMLET featuring a drawbridge, ramparts, and a real ghost! ’nuff said. We spoke with Mr. DeSotelle in between costume fittings, sound design … and rehearsing a distinguished Meisner-trained cast.
[Pictured John and Deborah DeSotelle]

Why Hamlet…?

I’ve been asked that a lot.  Some days I wonder “why” myself. Then the next day I think – well why not?  Honestly, I don’t think I can answer with a specific one or two sentence reason, except to say that to undertake Hamlet is an extraordinary experience, and one that most artists dream of doing during their career.  Shakespeare handed us a wealth of “stuff” to play with through language and interpretation to the human condition: it can be as grandiose, as complex or as traditional as your vision and imagination can construct.

There are hundreds of books that have analyzed the play in a myriad of ways. For me, Shakespeare’s masterpiece offers an incredible look at human behavior when faced with various obstacles, struggles and choices.  What causes us to do what we do?  What haunts each of us? What would you have done if this happened to you?  I believe Hamlet was intended to be an “every-man”, who just happened to be a prince by birth and live in a castle.  I wanted to explore each principle character, not just Hamlet; ask these questions and discover their humanity within the given circumstances.  I also wanted to take on the challenge of the Ghost and go further by creating an element of true fear for the characters and audience with illusion – heightening the effects of the haunting throughout the castle walls.

Why now….?
Well, this has been somewhat of an evolution.  I revisited the play a couple of years ago with my now assistant director, Judith Feingold.  What began as a mutual admiration of Shakespeare’s legendary play and an innocent foray into the text; became a two-year journey through the many versions and editions of Hamlet, from quartos to folios, from Oxford to Riverside ….. we discovered a few forgotten passages which we felt offered more clarity to the development of the characters, bringing the story even more vividly to life, and wanted to stage a production incorporating what we had discovered.

What makes your production unique?
Come and see!   We’ve put together a strong, dedicated production team, an incredibly talented cast of actors – both veterans and newcomers, along with exceptionally creative designers. Together we are pushing the limits of the venue with immersive staging, original designed costumes styled in the early 1500s, an inventive and bold set that brings the audience into the castle and graveyard, as well as illusions of a REAL GHOST!

Hamlet is a huge venture for a small intimate theatre such as ours.  We have all leaped forward with the challenge and if we are able to achieve our vision through this elaborate and ambitious staging, we believe it could also help elevate the standing of all small independent theatres in New York who are continuously striving for theatrical attention and legitimacy amongst the giants of Broadway and Off Broadway.

As a director or as an instructor, what do you look for in an actor?
As a director I look for an actor who’s been trained with an identifiable method.  They have to have a clear way of working, be malleable, have an imagination and an emotional heart.  I also look for an actor who loves to work and wants to grow from this kind of experience.

As a teacher I don’t care about your appearance or your background. I look for something ALIVE. I look for the CHILD inside – that imaginative two year old.  Can you be pushed beyond your safety net?  And most importantly – are you willing to put in the WORK?  Acting is a love, a passion and a lifetime practice, not a 6-week class. It takes patience, endurance and commitment.  If you are

Who Inspires YOU?
Well right now I’d have to say Shakespeare is my inspiration.  Shakespeare and the entire team involved with our Hamlet production.  But in all honesty many different people inspire me at different times throughout my days, weeks and years – My wife and daughter, my mother, Sanford Meisner,  my students and colleagues.  So many people touch my life, influence me and offer motivation for the day that keeps me moving forward.

Tell us about your studio… method… procedure … hurtles, joys, even some dirt?
First of all, there is an abundance of acting studios and acting teachers in the New York City area.  Most – if not all of them – adopt a “teach and release” system of instruction.  Once the course is completed, the actor is on his/her own to succeed or fail.  Regrettably, many young actors do not make it due to a lack of reputable, effective and genuine training, artistic opportunities, useful networking and ongoing support.  My reason for starting this Studio was firstly an attempt to answer to this problem.  I am interested in providing honest and in-depth training for actors interested in working towards mastery of the full Meisner technique, one of the most effective and authentic acting methods, to prepare for a professional career in acting.  I keep classes small and select, which caters to a more personal and thorough approach to developing a solid acting technique.  The Studio itself is built on a three-pronged approach   Train  •  Practice  •  Perform .  You see, actors need support, not just a class here and there and a shove out the door when done; but a place to be able to experience a multi-layered acting foundation, then a place to be able to continue to practice and network, and also a place to be able to apply their training to practical experiences by actually doing it – from full theatrical productions, to staged readings, play festivals, a student series, as well as other industry opportunities.  Finally, I want the Studio and the Nu•ance Theatre Co. to continue to reach beyond actor training experience, fostering a company of artists and professionals – a “home” for actors, writers, directors, and artists to be able to pursue their passion, their vocation in a creative and supportive environment.

LEARN MORE ABOUT HAMLET AND THE NU•ANCE THEATRE COMPANY AT WWW.NUANCETHEATRE.COM and WWW.DESOTELLESTUDIO.COM

 hamlet-portrait-website

Nu•ance Theatre Company’s ambitious take on
William Shakespeare’s most enigmatic tale opens this month
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
directed by John DeSotelle
January 28 – February 25, 2017
The Main Stage of John DeSotelle Studio
300 West 43rd Street, Third Floor
New York City
Tickets: www.nuancetheatre.com

John DeSotelle and Nu•ance Theatre Company are employing medieval and renaissance theatrical techniques — with a 21st Century twist — to create a visually stunning production exploring the web of stories within this oft-examined work of brilliance.

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE:
PREVIEWING:
THURSDAY, JANUARY 26 @ 7:00 PM
FRIDAY, JANUARY 27 @ 7:00 PM

OPENING:
SATURDAY, JANUARY 28 @ 7:00 PM with special gala to follow

RUNNING:
SUNDAY, JANUARY 29 @ 3:00 PM
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3 @ 7:00 PM
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 4 @ 7:00 PM
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 5 @ 3:00 PM
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 6 @ 7:00 PM
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10 @ 7:00 PM
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11 @ 7:00 PM
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12 @ 3:00 PM
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16 @ 7:00 PM
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17 @ 7:00 PM
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18 @ 1:00 PM
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18 @ 7:00 PM
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19 @ 3:00 PM
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23 @ 7:00 PM
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24 @ 7:00 PM
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 25 @ 7:00 PM

Get an exclusive preview HERE:
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hamlet-by-william-shakespeare#

CELEBRATING JACK
Reviewed by Robert Liebowitz
Jack London, the most prolific and famous author on earth at the turn of the 20th century, was actually Ernest Hemingway before Ernest Hemingway was.
An all-American boy and 8th grade drop-out who went on to grand and great causes and accomplishments, he was also a prominent Socialist,  a would be Mayor, had a stable of wives and mistresses, an adventurer,  an advocate for child labor laws and animal rights, a sports writer  and all in all a man’s man. No doubt, had he lived in the 50s, he’d  have secured a cover on a box of Wheaties.
Amidst this, Ben Goldstein tries to mine the man for newish discoveries. His film is a dedicated first effort with thorough research, earnest charm, and some great production values. No doubt it is a daunting task to cram a 40-year life into 90 minutes; perhaps a ‘part II’ is warranted. The filmmaker might serve his subject best if he were to seriously explore this option.

LIEBO at MITF_______________________________________________________

Robert Liebowitz took a break from the run of his own show at the American theater of Actors to visit John Chatterton’s Midtown International Theater Festival for a few words of wisdom on what he saw.

FINDING FELLINI

One of the hidden treasures of theater–and there are many of them–is that theater is not a documentary.  Rather, it is an art of suggestion, of imagination, of intimation,  of being a worthy partner in a majestic dance with the audience.This gem–here are the dots, now connect them–is what catapults ‘Finding Fellini’, written and performed by the brilliant, mega-talented Megan Metrikin. The play is part of the MITF, and without question it is the best of the fest.The subject matter, and the plot–a woman leaves her South African homeland to get a literal or figurative glimpse of the great Federico Fellini–may be a difficult meal to digest, especially in the enviorns of this festival. Wherever one looks, there are 20-somethings running around, as young thespians tend to do…but most have never even heard of the filmmaker, let alone be familiar with his body of work.No matter; the play hums from the first bar, and never lets go. We follow the hopeful but helpless protagonist as she comes ever so close into realizing  her dream (“That’s how Fellini entered my life, through the living room wall”). The play is an insightful look at obsession, single-mindedness, and celebrity. No doubt, Ms. Metrikin is wholly familiar with Fellini’s work, having him speak as a voiceover throughout the play, while his various masterpieces play on a screen behind her, enhancing, but never up staging our courageous heroine.  The hidden gem? Easy–while we watch Ms Metrikin run towards something, we barely notice the flip aide of the coin–she is chasing Fellini, and at the same time she is fleeing her desolate homeland, a town in apartheid South Africa that didn’t have television until 1971. There is constant moment in people, by every definition of the word–it is part and parcel of the human spirit, and it is perfectly encapsulated by the stunning performance of Ms Metrikin in her excellent play. A must see before it closes.

MESCALINE

We shall put this mildly–‘Mescaline ‘ is a skit that should’ve just stayed in the dorm, never to see the light of day. It is uniformly dreadful. Everything–porous direction, tuneless music,  cringe-worthy doalogue, a plot to roll your eyes to, dull as dishwater performances–reeks of rank amaturism in the worst definition of the word. The ‘play’ is about superheroes,  or something like that, and college kids with secret powers, or something like that. Just a mess, made worse by the director’s decision to change the set after each and every scene, which added another 10 interminable  minutes to an already endless hour . The only thing of note was that the ‘bad’ superhero  (Ashley Curry, doing her best with the wretched material) was black, and all the good characters, human and otherwise, were white. Which means something or other. Three words covers it: Must to Avoid.

SHIELDS OF BLUE

One hopes that when a playwright composes something new, there is something new to say. Unfortunately,  in the latest entry at MITF, Shields of Blue, by Bridget Dennin covers no new ground; worse, she is burdened by sub-par performers in the cast, and a script that is incomplete. Three generations of Irish American cops. Grandfather retired as Commissioner ; father is a top dog; son has a few years in, and is in a world of doo doo–his incessant, unnecessary, unknown beating of a black man has been videotaped, is all over social media, and there is a hearing with Internal Affairs scheduled for the following morning. The son Michael (well portrayed by Ian Potter) is a dim witted hot head, tring to explain to his elders there is more than meets the eye, without success. So far,  a decent story about police brutality in 21st century  America.  However, here the accolades must stop, and the interest wanes–Michael leaves the stage,  and, shockingly, never returns. Now, we have a new story to follow–Kerry (well played by Phoebe Wright) has been beaten to a bloody pulp, but is in denial. On top of that, in the middle of this, Michael’s brother Henry has cancelled his engagement due to infidelities on the part of his fiancée. ..it is all too too much in such a confined time and space, and it is nothing that hasn’t been explored before.  The production, sloppily directed by Bryan Adam, was further compromised by the two lead actors failing to learn their lines, and leaving huge gaps of blank space on stage because of this fact. Or, they stepped on each others lines,numerous times. Unacceptable. You may not call yourself an actor if you cannot remember your lines. Simple. Ms. Dennin is trying to tell a multi-layered story in an earnest, heartfelt way. Unfortunately,  we have seen it all before….plus, we are missing Act II.

THE ACTUAL DANCE

There is a lot of promise, and a lot of praise, for the one man show ‘the Actual Dance’  by Samuel Simon, which performed last night at the MITF. The play concerns the journey a husband (ably played by Chuk Obasi) takes when his wife is diagnosed with breast cancer. On the surface, it may sound like something thats been heard before, and while breast cancer is never a run of the mill disease, the subject matter has been mined before, many times. Here, however, there is a twist, or an unexpected added layer–the husband is also battling, at the same time, the existence of an ‘orchestra’, and a ‘dance hall’ which resides in his head, and the conflict of why it has such a powerful control over him. The play is peppered with this metaphor, and to enhance the point there are two musicians on stage the entire time. Our husband is not only battling this dreaded disease in someone that he loves, but also this civil war he experiences while bringing his wife from doctor to doctor. At the end, the metaphor is  a bit much, and starts to get in the way of the telling of the actual drama at hand. This is an easy fix. In addition, while its interesting to hear about breast cancer from a man’s perspective, the wife is barely quoted, an odd, poor choice. We certainly know how he feels about her, and his take in the mounting frustrations he experiences; we have, however, no clue if the love is reciprocated. We only have his word, which, here, is not enough . The assorted doctors, including the humorously named ‘Dr Happy ‘, is relived on stage through Mr. Obasi and given far more stage time. More wife, less doctors. The work of the director, credited to Kate Holland, was a bit sloppy…so much of the play depends on Pantomime and imagination, and several ‘places’ lost their spot on stage because it magically moved during its next reference.  As for Mr. Obasi, he thundered along, hitting all the right notes, doing his best against the dying of the light. There are a few areas of opportunity for the play, but all in all a satisfying theatrical experience.

PEACE AND QUIET

Despite some decent dialogue, and a stellar performance by Tom Cappadina as the lead, ‘Peace & Quiet’ by Alyssa Haddad disappoints. It fale to deliver for two simple reasons—Alheimers Disease is no laughing matter; further, this particular person who is suffering this horrific ailment is surrounded by four utterly despicable people. The playwright ms. Haddad and her director mr. Paul Mancini, must have a particular sense of humor all to themselves. The play is front-loaded with cheap jokes about lack of memory. ..until you realize that the comedy is at the expense of Simon, a man nearing 80, and that fact is most foul indeed. He is ‘comforted’–if one can call it that–by his wife Diane (well played by Ginger Grace);  soon they are visited by their clueless son Michael (Tom Burka, miscast), his dreary, alcoholic,  miserable  wife Linda (Kate Greer, also miscast ),  and their shallow, self-absorbed daughter Ashley  (Lizzy Ana Lincoln, well cast as the brat). The drama that unfolds is predictable. ..to send poor Simon to a home, or not. Once established,  the play hits a  plateau, and then flounders, finally retreating into confusion , and a wholly predicable ending. Ms. Haddad has a good ear for dialogue; however she should use it in a better manner, to tell a better story. ..or, to tell a story about Alheimers that doesn’t resemble something out of Neil Simon.

LINE———————————————-

Once in a great while, the play is not the thing. Once in awhile, a group of talented, ensemble minded actors, led by superb direction, can take a play and turn it into an enjoyable, exciting, compelling evening in the theater.

Such is the case with the latest incarnation of Israel Horovitz’ “Line”, a play that made its debut at LaMama in 1967, and, incredibly, still running almost 50 years later.

All those decades ago, the play could be seen as cutting edge, another contribution to the book that became the Theater of the Absurd, a movement in World Theater that began after World War II, and continued into the early 1970s.

The premise of the play is simple – there is a line on stage, and five characters are vying to be first. What they are actually vying for is purposefully unclear; the quintet take turns being in front.

In Horovitz’ world, a woman can only get ahead by sleeping her way to the top; apparently all men are dim-witted knuckleheads willing to throw everything away as the chase to being top dog supersedes everything in life. Our recent election says that this play – once thought dated – might be clairvoyant.

Director Jay Michaels saves the play, and the day. His slick, sleek, approach to the play is first rate and laugh out loud funny; part burlesque, part circus, part exercise in stage combat provided with supreme aplomb by Conor Mullen.

Michaels swiftly moves the action along and pulls out all the stops to present a more than worthy addition to the play’s storied tradition. The comedic timing is superb, and Michaels’ never let’s the heaviness of the aforementioned themes get in the way of a good time.

It is perhaps his finest work to date.

He is joined in his quest by a quintet of actors that are like fingers in a fist – they were unconquerable.  This humble scribe refuses to single one of them out for particular praise; that would defeat the whole purpose of the production, and it is something the director took great pains to avoid.

Tour de force showings by Danny Berger as a mischievous Stephen; Elliot Wygoda eliciting great laughs for his clueless Fleming; Beth St. John as Molly, the apt foil to these dudes; Ben Lerner, caustic and witty as the dapper Dolan; and excellent Andrew Schwartz as the pie-in-the-guy, Arnall.

See them perform this play.  Get on “Line.” They won’t let you down.

[photo featuring Brady Richards as Stephen]

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COMPELLING COLLECTOR

Reviewed by Robert Liebowitz

A play begins; a man speaks directly to the audience. He is middle-aged, bald, and frumpy, and we wholly expect a familiar or unfamiliar tale of woe to leave his lips. Not so. Within minutes, he has eagerly, in a quietly plaintive way, informed the gathering that he has kidnapped a young woman named Miranda right off the streets, and goes on to explain why he has done so.

Thus begins the odd but compelling play The Collector,  adapted for the stage by Mark Healy,  from John Fowles’ novel of the same name, at 59E59.

What compels the character, the perfectly creepy named Frederick Clegg, to do this? Not really sure. Clearly, no matter what he says, there will be no sympathy.  He has committed an atrocious act, and hopefully,  through the journey of the play, will suffer.

Mr Clegg, superbly played by Matt De Rogatis, has little going for him. Plain, humorless, a second rate ne’er-do-well who had the dumb luck of winning the Lottery,  he has swept a young girl (the brilliant Jillian Geurts, matching her colleague line for line) off her feet, but in the worst sense of the world, because he purportedly loves her. How? He doesn’t even know her, except a few scant biographical anecdotes.

What is Fowles saying? Is love stupid? Is it shallow? Does it even exist?

As the characters learn about each other, and the threat of violence dissipates,  Miranda’s character emerges and dominates the action, and one thing has become abundantly clear–Mr Clegg has received more than he bargained for.

After a kind of talky first act, the second act picks up the pace.  Shortly, with quicker intercuts and the plot now humming along, the play rides to an appropriate conclusion (no spoiler here).

The subject matter might be questioned here, but there is no such hesitation regarding the two players, and their interplay with each other. It was masterful. DeRogatis, calm yet menacing, his voice rarely rising beyond normal stage speech, his accent perfect, his movement suave and dashing and pitiful and hopeless.

Guerts, like a trapped cat,  looking, looking looking, using all her guile, her wits, her sexuality…the role requires all of this, and more,  and Ms Guerts is more than up to the task.

The play is directed by Lisa Milinazzo with expert usage of the playing area, effortlessly guiding the two actors to deal with audience on three sides;  perfect pace and rhythm as to the authors unwritten wishes. Really well done.

The work of the designers–all first rate and subtle, especially the original music composed by Sean Hagerty,  which had the right combo of melancholy and menace. The point of all of it? Not sure…except be careful when you cross the street.

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ROBERT LIEBOWITZ AND THE PARABLE OF THREE

AMY M. FRATEO, guest reviewer

Everybody’s a playwright. Every day there are new works appearing in festivals and black box theaters throughout New York – everything from 10-minute quickies to two hour tomes. That why it was gratifying to see a revival of some excellent works from the heyday of OOB.

This group of works was all written by Robert Liebowitz, a member of the off-off Broadway circuit for decades.

The series went backward like the Sondheim musical cult favorite, Merrily We Roll Along, kinda-sorta showing us who we are and why we are.

The first play, Seven Scenes of Grande Grande Blah Blah Blah, written just a few years ago, featured Kevin Hauver as a beaten-back administrator with nothing to look forward to except the mortality of a dear friend (maybe something more) and Molly Callahan as a snarky millennial with no patience for him. Mario Claudio brought up the rear as a coffee house server with miseries of his own. The meat of the matter was good, showing us a preamble of what the new world looks like to old people, with Callahan handing us the worst of the new generation and Hauver utilizing everything from brains to brawn to show her the error of her – and undoubtedly his – ways. The ironic use of seduction was obviously there to show societal ignorance as Callahan’s character announces early on that she is a lesbian. Joe Pitzvalty could have done more with staging especially the very funny and eloquent Claudio, whose character had the ability to move much more.

Bus Ride Home, a little longer and a little older (the 90s) gave us Cathy Noonan-Sturges and Ken Coughlin as a disenfranchised working class pair on their way from the ritual of going to Atlantic City. Pair and not couple as they are not married … to each other. The concept of an “affair of need,” common in many dramas these days (even British drama like Call the Midwife), is depicted with Coughlin quite engrossing as a civil servant in a life change. The surprise ending totally reversed the idea that Noonan-Sturges was the villain of the piece.  Directed by Ioan Ardelian, the show maintained a dark slow pace that made really feel like we, too, were caught on this endless bus ride home.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda, obviously the main attraction was a powerful play about the people on the fringe and at OTB – a now extinct way of getting your gambling fix in NYC. The play – staged in noir no nonsense by Allan Smithee – gave us the last hours of the life of Allie Neiterman; played by TJ Jenkins, with engrossing desperation, as a once-high-roller, now nobody, who, with his slow-witted partner, Bobo, played with smile-inducing childlike detail by Ted Montuori, try for that last lucky win. The play, an obvious star vehicle for several character actors, played like a old-fashioned sermon on the mount with lines that run the gamut between smart cliché and deep parable.

The play, set in 1985, when connected to the others shows us the aging of the American dream and what it looks like today.

Tommy Sturges insinuated the concept of unwitting narrator well but the playwright should have altered the ethnicity of the role to fit Sturges own culture; not so with the flawlessly authentic Anthony J. Gallo, who moved, motioned, and mannered himself into a role that could have been written for him – down to the clever injection of Italian language toward the finale. The same can be said for the commanding Michael Ruocco, truly superb as the next level of degenerate gambler. He, too, gave us neighborhood guy in all its provincial detail. His inner world was all there in his eyes and was a strong juxtaposition to his goonish demeanor.

Serving as the big number was Jay Michaels as the monster-in-a-pinstripe suit, loan shark Barney Cutley. Michaels’ level of acting was truly powerhouse with a demonic first appearance that silenced the unwitting crowd – both on stage and in the audience – and then a tortured second appearance provoking the tragic finale where you saw a back-story in nothing more than his back. Michaels gave us a “Negan-esque” portrayal (see the Walking Dead to know what this means) with a sense of fulfillment at being the black-hat in this western.

Robert Liebowitz writes excellent dialogue and creates powerful and quite unique situations. Allan Smithee missed the mark by putting so much of the action in obstructed areas and let lots of sitting happen. Only Michaels seemed to utilize the well-planned set and stage.

Of the three parables this evening, Coulda Woulda Shoulda, stands as one for the ages. Something that should be seen more and more. Ironically, maybe the other two will also, when we become a period piece like the 80s is now. Regardless, the credible complement of character actors gave us a evening of real art and performance.

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Comfort in Silence
Art is a many-splendor’d thing; on a practical matter it also comes with a list of requirements. One of those requirements is almost a pre-requisite : simply, go where no one has gone before. Go where are no footprints in the snow. Go, where no one has dared.
There is, at the heart of Comfort in Silence, a very beautiful play. Why? It explores out loud the endless possibilities,  and the obvious obstacles, when someone who can hear falls for someone who cannot. It is a wonderful premise; it is due; it is overdue; it is fresh footprints in the snow.
walsh
Playwright Timothy Patrick Walsh has many tender and profoundly moving moments on stage; his character (Walsh serving double duty as the lead Patty) has met someone (Ray, superbly played with great humanity and understatement by Jose Vasquez) at a party, and when the play explores their courtship and subsequent difficulties, the Gods of Theater look down and smile from ear to ear.
Mr. Walsh has surrounded this tender love story with several cliches associated with the affairs of a gay man living in NYC. Patty is having a mid life crisis, and starts to see a therapist (a voice over). He is egged on and teased by his friend Stevie, adequately played by Christopher Springer, and his other friend Mary, portrayed with great humor by Katarina Vizina. Stevie is obviously gay, wayyyy too obvious. This is unnecessary, and employs clichés to punctuate that fact. Mary is a typical “fag hag,” hanging around gay men, without any rhyme or reason. They drink, they go to parties, they drink some more.
No one seems to work. No one has any issues or internal civil wars that needs to be addressed. No, just one care free time after another. This portrait of this homosexual lifestyle went out with The Boys in the Band, and that goes back to 1970.
The play is a stunning love story — the friends can supply color but with a lot less stereotype. Given the dramatic set up you have provided, the love story is enough and is a  ride no one will soon forget.
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On Film: THE WATCHTOWER

Allan Johnston, Guest Reviewer

Crime and criminals on television and film are always attractive, daring, even sexy. In other words … fictionalized. However, auteur Steve Silver has given us a riveting, unapologetic tome about what it really means to be a criminal.

watc

The Watchtower, a new feature film, written, directed, and starring Mr. Silver (from his original play), is not a vanity piece as one might imagine since much of the spotlight is focused his way.

 

What we have a fascinating character study lensed in an old-fashioned style giving us a harder look. A brilliant touch when one meets the denizens of Hell’s Kitchen, in the 80s.

The premise is familiar. We are there at the end of an era. We see Irish and Italian mobsters trying to hold onto a piece of territory the only way they know how, through the eyes of one of their own – who’s not so sure he wants to be there.

And that is the unique part.

This film explores those who were involved in “that thing” … and why. You leave the theatre with a new understanding of what people needed to do to survive then … and even now.

It’s not surprising the level of power Silver himself brought to the role as one feels a sense of autobiography coming off his tense portrayal of of an Irish hood grieving over the effect this life has had on his family. It’s refreshing to see an ensemble share this level of power. Notables include D.J.Sharp, absolutely spot-on as a Russian immigrant who comes to America to be a success … and as a loan shark … he is; Thomas J. Kane as the Irish mob leader – possessing all the needed grit but with excellent acting chops; Ken Coughlin as a Mafia Don who understands what it means to be a Roman Emperor; Caroline Smith, understated as Tommy’s long-suffering wife; and Laurie Rae Waugh, engrossing as Tommy’s sister-in-law by day and a cold-blooded assassin by night.

Watchtower initiates a program under Silver’s command dedicated to putting powerful off-off Broadway plays on film.

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If they’re all as good as this one, then we may see history being made.

Ms. Smith and Mr. Silver in the original stage production of The Watchtower.

 

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 Why Water Falls
 “Always be closing”, exclaims a salesman in David Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, and Leigh Curran, author and performer of ‘Why Water Falls’, has taken that axiom to heart. After a slow start, Ms. Curran’s solo piece rumbles, and by evening’s end she has provided a solid one two punch of riveting theater.
leigh-curran-why-water-falls6
After some necessary but confusing exposition (needed but…) the writing becomes concise and focused, and now, we know why we are here; we know what story Ms. Curran wishes to tell–she has aborted two pregnancies, and is having great difficulty living with the aftermath.
Ms. Curran is a first rate performer, an accomplished actress, and is able to call on all sorts of emotion that the play requires. There is a certain….polite confusion that hovers over the stage, and makes the character endearing. Most people are always heroes in their own stories, but not here. There is blame to go around for everyone, Ms Curran included. The play has a certain rhythm that is attractive and compelling; while one wishes that there was more humor on stage, Ms. Curran plays several different characters with expert ease, and makes a potentially difficult indecipherable journey  an easy one to follow one.
Ms Curran’s life story is a compelling one, with dramatic highs and lows, and this is wonderfully captured on stage. Ms. Curran has ‘closed’ sucessfully, and has made her mark on this United Solo Festival with flying colors.
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THE TEMPEST – PRESENTED BY IDENTITY THEATER

REVIEWED BY ROBERT LIEBOWITZ

tempestOnce in a great while, an evening in the theater becomes more than going to see a play, and even more than a theatrical experience. It transcends any and all art, and makes a statement, directly, about life itself.  The last such event was in 2006, when the Classical Theater of Harlem produced Waiting for Godot, but set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Rather than the two hobos passing their time near a tree, Vladimir and Estagon were seen clinging to life on a rooftop of a flooded home, as the infamous tree passed them by in the muddy Mississippi…and, as in the original story, no help was to be found. Godot was not coming. What an immensely creative interpretation, that was wholly relevant and heartbreaking.
The Identity Theater Company’s version of The Tempest offers a similar experience–an event that leaves the play, and theater itself, behind, and trespasses ever so wonderfully into the Universe of Things That Need To Be Said.
As a play, Shakespeare’s last, The Tempest is not much–trite, clumsy, silly, and forgettable. Set on a remote island, exiled sorcerer Prospero (remarkably played by Erin Mansur)plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place in court; he conjurers up a storm (the Tempest), to  lure his usurping brother Antonio and his underhanded clan to the island.
Right. Who cares.
14212749_1100411876679589_8325742055188583941_nHowever, in this production, one must care. Several members of the cast have various and assorted disabilities, and the producers have masterfully woven them together seamlessly with other actors from the Shakespeare Forum; together they have provided this humble scribe with one of the most moving experiences in the theater, ever. It is must-see theater.
As the afternoon, wore on, it became abundantly clear what was going on–simply, a call for tolerance and open-mindedness. A third of the way through, enter Caliban, in a wheelchair. No one, in 400 years, has seen such a sight, or even thought of one. What an amazing sight it was. Once Nicolas Linnehan started speaking, everything stopped. There is no other word for it–stopped. Mr. Linnehan looked the part, sounded the part, acted the part, The wheelchair soon became just another level to the willing suspension of disbelief, nothing more. Would there be a wheelchair is such a scenario? Of course not. Did it matter? Of course not. Mr. Linnehan fit in perfectly, and now was just another actor portraying another Shakespeare hero (villain, actually), and all was right with the world. A man in a wheelchair was portraying  a lead character in a play by the Bard, and no one really cared. And that how it should be.
The notes in the program asks–can Blanche DuBois be played in a wheelchair? Maybe, maybe not…but that is a matter for another place, another time. A Good house Seal of Approval must be stamped on this wondrous production, from the outstanding Diana Benigno as the magician Ariel, to Guy Ventoliere as the drunkard plotter Stephano. All performers bar none were successful in their roles, and on a bare stage, save for 3 area rugs on the floor, all costumes, filled with life, color, and excitement by Renee Salierni, sparkled on the stage.
Near the end of the first act, a frustrated Caliban, tied of being called a ‘monster’, a ‘mutineer’, ‘this thing’, or, worse, ‘the Beast’, has a monologue spoken directly to the audience. In it he utters this brilliant line of utter poetry–“I tried to dream again.” And there, in that crystallized moment, was the play at hand. The Tempest had started, and it had ended, on this one lonely sentence. People in wheelchairs are none of these things. Actors in wheelchairs playing characters like Caliban are none of these things. There is a place for performers with disabilities in the theater, and they must be welcomed with open arms. For, after all, if art is to remind people how to live their life, then surely it is an easy stretch to realize the importance of this production. One can only hope for an extended run.
ADDED WORDS “I saw The Tempest last night a wonderful cast co directed by Tyler Moss who gave his actors beautiful tempo pacing and just the right exuberance to call this production a winner Erin Mansurwhose work is always wonderfull exciting takes home the Tony with her PRospero Pat Pat Dwyers Antonio was played the best its ever been as Ben Dworkens Adrian was smooth and organic Hats off to Nicholas Lineman co director founder of The Identity Theatre and his Caliban was exquisite this production runs Friday Saturday and Sunday through September 18 a must see with a well deserved standing ovation.”  Jane Steele‎The Shakespeare Forum
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REMEMBRANCE DAY had all the ingredients to create a wonderful, tasty salad of theater.

Remembrance Day, a one-woman show written and performed by June Ballinger at the 13th St. Repertory Theater. Had a versatile performer, a decent script, and a compelling unique story; a firsthand narrative about a woman who in the bowels of Great Britain  secretly worked on Colossus, a gigantic computer whose sole mission was to break the Nazi code and save the world from speaking German during WW II.

Director Janice Goldberg, however used a risky stage device that doesn’t always work – Pantomime.

Every single reference in the text that could be accompanied by a physical invisible gesture WAS accompanied. The frequency of this technique wound up looking foolish more often than not. Truly a shame as the playwright/performer was superb and deserved so much more.

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Ioan Ardelean serves as guest director for one of the productions in THREE BITES OF THE APPLE: A revival of Robert Liebowitz’ canon of works. “he’s fascinating” says Ken Coughlin, one of Ardelean’s actors. Fascinating is the right word. it will be interesting to see how his European sensibilities enhance Liebowitz’ hard-bitten NY prose.

We hear a lot about inspiration – or Muse – that drives an artist. What inspires you?
In Greek mythology, the Muses are the inspirational goddesses who symbolized the arts and sciences. Nowadays a muse can be a person who serves as an artist’s inspiration. We know that writers, painters, musicians, poets they have muses but when we talk about actors or directors inspiration and creativity must come from thinking, reading, liberating the monkey mind, etc. In my case, Muse is a deeply thinking about an idea. Deeply thinking on certain ideas for years not only for five seconds.
What is your vision and process for the play/part?
As a director and actor I have to tell a story, which cannot be separated from the playwright story, but has to be my story. I must have in myself an unmoved and disinterested onlooker. From my point of view as a director and actor, I must have a good deal of judgment, penetration and very important according to Denis Diderot “no sensibility”.
What do you want most in your chosen profession? It’s OK to say “fame” or “wealth.”
I sacrificed a lot to be an artist and such a dedication, effort, and benefits of my acting are not like sharing a piece of cake among thousand people, and each person gets only a few crumbs. I would like to think that every person receives the whole piece of cake and allows the constructive energy created by my work and all my positive acts to be perpetuated.
Sally Field and Paul Newman both said of their profession… “it’s all I can do.” Is this all you can do?
It is what I can do and what I know how to do. I do not see myself doing anything else than acting, directing and teaching.
Along those lines, if you couldn’t do this, what would you do?
Try again to be an actor.
How do you want [legit] history to remember you?
A good storyteller, an actor who stayed naked on stage and moved very slowly so the audience could see every side of my personality breathing and leave with my characters.
Last words?
I invite everyone to come to see different sides of my personality becoming alive thru my characters and my work. See Three Bites of the Apple.
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WHY WATER FALLS Commercial CLICK HERE

[Excerpted from LEIGH CURRAN: AN OVERVIEW]

I’ve spent my life in the Arts and while I started out as an actress I soon added playwriting and later founded the The Virginia Avenue Project  a non-profit using long term, one-on-one arts mentoring to give children growing up under difficult circumstances the skills to think creatively, critically and courageously about life goals and choices.  Project kids join at age six and stay through high school working alongside caring, adult mentors throughout their growing years.  The Project’s longtime community partner is the Santa Monica Police Activities League in Santa Monica, California. I was the Artistic Director from 1991-2013.

I’m also the author of three full length plays: The Lunch Girls (finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award; world premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre, Arvin Brown, dir.; Off Broadway at the Grove Street Theatre , Stuart Ross, dir.); Alterations (Off Broadway at the WPA Theatre, Austin Pendleton, dir.; world premiere at the Whole Theatre Company, Olympia Dukakis, dir.) and Walking the Blonde (world premiere Off Broadway at Circle Rep, Paul Benedict, dir; and Off Broadway at La Mama, Leonard Foglia, dir.)  The Lunch Girls and Alterations are published by Samuel French.

Going Nowhere Sideways CoverMy first novel, Going Nowhere Sideways, was published in 1999 by Fithian Press and was highly praised by Publishers Weekly, Spillway, and Inscriptions Magazines and is available on Amazon.com and other on-line bookstores.  It is a coming of middle age story that traces one woman’s evolution from Woodstock in 1969 to the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  My poetry has appeared in Slant: A Journal for Poetry, Onthebus, The Bark, Spillway, and Rattle Magazines as well as in the on-line e-zine, The Junkyard.

As an actress, I’ve performed on, off and way off Broadway working with the likes of Kathy Bates, Arthur Penn, Paul Benedict and George Abbott.  In Los Angeles I appeared in my own play, Walking the Blonde and in the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed productions of Romeo and JulietOthello and Measure for Measure.  TV/Film credits include: West WingJudging Amy,Once and Again, LA Law and Reds.  

Leigh at 6 months - Photo shoot for Sunset MagazineI was born in 1943 and grew up in California and Connecticut.  My father taught at the Thacher School in Ojai, California where my mother, younger brother and I spent the school year but come summer my father would load up our DeSoto station wagon and we’d drive across the country to Salisbury, CT where my father had a summer cabin – kerosene lamps, outhouses, well water and all.  During the school year, my father taught French, Latin, Spanish and motor mechanics at Thacher.  My mother, an actress/singer, performed with the Chekov Players in Upper Ojai until my father died in 1954 – at which point, my mother took over my father’s classes until the school could find his replacement.

I graduated from  Santa Catalina School in 1961 when I was 17 and in 2001 received the school’s Distinguished Alumna Award for my work with the Virginia Avenue Project.  In 1962, after a year of working odd jobs in Ojai that included taking care of the studio of noted ceramist and friend, Beatrice Wood and teaching arts and crafts to first graders at my first alma mater, Monica Ros School – I headed for New York City to begin my career in theatre.

From 1962-64 I attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.  I studied acting with Sanford Meisner, Bill Esper and Robert Modica; dance with Hanya Holm and music appreciation with Lehman Engel.  After I graduated I studied acting privately with Ludwig Donath and later at HB Studios with Uta Hagen.

Leigh as a Gaslight Girl

To support my theatre habit, I waited on tables predominantly at the Gaslight Club – a key club similar to the Bunny Club but with a gay-nineties feel.  Because I was tall and strong I was relegated to working lunches and because the club was in a brownstone, all the lunch girls carried heavy trays up and down flights of stairs while trying to look sexy in fishnet hose, scant costumes and six-inch heels.  Ten years later, this experience which always felt disconnected from my intended life would become the inspiration for my first play, The Lunch Girls.

I got my Equity Card in 1968 when I was hired to be in the chorus and understudy Brenda Vaccaro in the Broadway musical, How Now, Dow Jones. Shortly thereafter I began making TV commercials and by the mid 70s had become one of the top on-camera commercial artists.  Making commercials made it possible for me to explore lesser paying jobs like playwriting, alternative theatre and life in general.

Edward Herrmann on the Set of Beacon HillIn 1974, I met actor, Edward Herrmann.  Shortly after we moved in together, I took up playwriting.  I’d had no formal training as a writer but I had a good ear for dialogue and understood dramatic tension.  Basically, I asked myself all the questions I’d ask myself when creating a character as an actress – what do I want and why is it so important I get it now as opposed to later?  And if the characters had opposing Wants – there was plenty of room for conflict.  In time I began to realize my characters would lead me to the story rather than the other way around.  This was the adventurous part of writing – I never quite knew how things were going to turn out and, therefore, neither did the audience.  And, in addition to writing parts for women that were meaty and off-beat – I also discovered that with writing, unlike acting, you don’t have to wait to be hired to be creative.

The Lunch Girls w Suzanne Lederer, Pamela Payton-Wright, Carol Williard, Phyllis Somerville and Susan SharkeyMy first play, The Lunch Girls, was produced at the Long Wharf Theatre in 1979 under the direction of its Artistic Director, Arvin Brown.  Throughout my playwriting career, I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful directors in addition to Arvin – who taught me about play structure, timing, audience attention, etc.  Some of my director/mentors are Austin Pendleton, Olympia Dukakis and the late Paul Benedict.  Other influential mentors include playwright, Michael Weller; director, Dan Petrie and producer, Dorothea Petrie.

In 1978, Edward and I bought a house in Carmel, New York and were married in the fall of that year.  In the country, I discovered my love for vegetable gardening and while that didn’t seem important at the time, it would become a major part of my life later on.

Alterations-Cynthia Nixon and Gretchen Cryer

While Edward was enjoying considerable success in theatre, film and television, I wrote my second play, Alterations which was ultimately produced Off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre featuring Cynthia Nixon and Gretchen Cryer in the cast and Austin Pendleton as director.

Edward and I separated in 1986.  I returned to New York City where I wrote and performed in my third play, Walking the Blonde. It had its world premiere at Circle Rep under the direction of Paul Benedict then The Barrow Group picked it up and produced it Off-Broadway at La Mama, directed by Leonard Foglia.  During this period, I began exploring alternative theatre.  I wrote and performed in my own pieces at PS122 and the Wow Cafe where I was fortunate to work with Lisa Kron and the Five Lesbian Brothers.

In 1988, I was invited to write a short play for the 52nd Street Project‘s One-on-One Program.  In this program, a professional actor is teamed with a kid to perform in a short play written by a professional playwright.  My actor was Paul McCrane and my kid was an eight-year-old boy from a neighborhood housing project.  I was so taken with the experience I began volunteering for the Project as an actress, writer, collaborator, director, class mentor, stamp licker, whatever – because in my heart of hearts I sensed the 52nd Street Project was changing my life.  The change became real when I was invited to learn how to teach kids to write plays.  The process, called Playmaking, was created by Daniel Judah Sklar – it was creative, smart, loaded with integrity and as much fun for seasoned playwrights as it was for kids.  At the end of the training, I knew I had to teach kids how to write plays and, for that matter, how to act in them and it was then I got the idea to replicate the 52nd Street Project in Los Angeles.

In 1991, newly divorced and feeling the wind at my back, I moved to Los Angeles to found the Virginia Avenue Project.  At the time I knew nothing about non-profits and little more about kids.  I was lucky to have the former Executive Director of the 52nd Street Project, Marsue Cumming, to guide me through the grant writing and set up process.  Daniel Judah Sklar, my great mentor when it came to working with kids, flew to LA to get Playmaking and his advanced playwriting program for children, Replay, off the ground.

I started the Virginia Avenue Project in a leaky lean-to behind my house – a scrap of paper hanging over my desk with a phone number to call if I ever needed an Executive Director.  When the Virginia Avenue Project’s first production, Strangers in Paradise, opened in April, 1992, I called the phone number and the fates brought me Kendis Heffley who became the Project’s Founding Executive Director.  Kendis and I were opposite halves of a whole and great friends.  We guided the Project through its first eight years adhering to the belief that who we were in the office would trickle down to our kids so if we wanted the Project to have legs we needed to practice what we preached.

Walking the Blonde - Beach Scene with Lee Garlington, Diana Castle, Leigh CurranDuring that time, I also starred in a production of my play, Walking the Blonde at Theatre Geo in Los Angeles.  My first novel, Going Nowhere Sideways, was published to enthusiastic reviews by Fithian Press.  I began studying with Jack Grapes of the Poets and Writers Collective and writing and publishing poetry.

In 2000, Meryl Friedman became the second Executive Director of the Virginia Avenue Project guiding it through its adolescence for seven exciting, creative years.  Meryl and I expanded the Project’s horizons by augmenting our Outreach Program and instituted new programming to challenge Project kids in ways that were relevant to the changing times.  We also started the Project’s creative tutoring program, Smart Partners, designed to make learning fun again for Project kids who were struggling in school or kids who wanted to maintain strong grade point averages before applying for college.

At the end of 2013, I retired as Artistic Director of the Virginia Avenue Project and returned to my first love, writing and performing.  I began reading personal essays around town and in June, 2015 my solo show, Why Water Falls, had its World Premiere Production at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  This was followed by a successful run Off-Off Broadway in the fall of 2015.  Why Water Falls enjoyed a return engagement in Los Angeles at Highways Performance Space in April, 2016 and will be having its final performance at the United Solo Festival in New York City on September 30, 2016.  Stay tuned!

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Nine Theatricals at the 13th St Repertory Theater’s version of Shakespeare’s HAMLET opens with a new character: ‘The Teller’ (played by RJ Lamb), who serves as a sort of “Living, Breathing Cliff Notes Guy”. It is a convention invented by the Greeks, and, for this reviewer, a welcome addition to guide us through the incessant, beautiful-but-wholly-unnecessary poetry that mars all of Shakespeare’s’ works. However, if indeed ‘”…the play is the thing…”, then it is a dubious achievement to actually present a character that Mr. Shakespeare did not actually write (unless he did, in earlier quartos/folios). But we digress.

Hamlet, despite some obvious misgivings, some odd casting choices, and some anemic costumes, was moderately successful, and many times sustained the drama at hand and held our collective interest all the way through to the tragic end.
Leading us into battle is Matt DeRogatis, who portrays the noble Dane.  He makes a striking mark on the stage, and  has excellent command of the language. Unfortunately, there is wayyy too much shouting, which is incorrect for three reasons: One, it is hard on the ears; two, it is hard on anyone’s voice to be that angry for that long; three, the conversations are held in the court and assorted ante-chambers of the kingdom–in other words, they are intensely private conversations, for no one else’s business. They are many other emotions besides anger, and there are many other numbers besides the numeral 10–in fact, there are nine other numerals. These are the tools, these numerals, that an actor must convey, and that an audience longs to hear.
The rest of the ensemble were all capable players, all talented individuals, just miscast. Polonious and Claudius should’ve been switched. Lorraine Mattox as Orphelia was also adept at the language, and also a striking figure on the stage–but displayed no sense of the character’s frailty, humility and general innocence. These qualities are essential, because it enhances the notion that Hamlet drove her to suicide by bullying and insulting her, a disgraceful action,. This prompt her brother to seek revenge. However, as played, no such bad behavior existed; Ms Mattox may have been better off playing either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. Who? Yes, in this production, they are played by women, a wonderful stroke of genius and highly imaginative. Now, the characters bring a lot more to the table that their wry wit–there is wonderful sensuality and sexuality, which now clearly motivates them to come to hamlet as double crossing spies for the King, using all their feminine charms. The stage felt a bit empty when they weren’t on it.
Technically, the costume designer left a lot to be desired, and did nothing to enhance the production. Hamlet was sleeveless at one point, which would be fine, except the actor had modern tattoos all over his arm. However, composer Mary Micari, underscored vital scenes with just the right mood with her library of exotic instruments and a minimum of notes.
Singled out for praise would be Greg Pragel, who was terrific as Horatio. Unfortunately, he was dressed like a 19th Century country barrister, and completely removed from the play. But his acting ability transcended all of it. Well done.
On the whole, an interesting, innovation production with some hits and misses, and moderately successful.
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Andrew Gelles and Renee Bang AllenTom Rowan is talented – that’s for sure. An excellent dialogue writer (Renee Bang Allen’s entrance line, “Who turned the sun up so high?” gives immediate insight into the title character, which she played quite well) but more focus was needed to the entire piece.

At first the drama concerns the foolishness of a convenience marriage; then becomes a mystery; then a tale about forbidden love; then a matter about a young man (played well by Andrew Gelles) coming out for the closet, and standing up to the callous, shallow, contemptible heterosexual world. He seems to be the hero as the other characters seem stereotypical.

Jevon Blackwell, Caleb Schaaf and Andrew Gelles

But make no mistake, Mr. Rowan has talent, which includes a good ear for dialogue, a well-structured play, and masterful exposition, but he should be mindful of those stereotypes. The women seem too bitchy and the men, too – well – too much like Donald Trump (A thumps up for the performance of Peter Reznikoff, playing the billionaire husband)

Peter Reznikoff and Renee Bang Allen

With some fine-tuning, Faye Drummond could really say something to its audience.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Photos by Jonathan M. Smith

Ernest Barzaga started a theatre company, rented a theatre, raised $25,000, and presented a seminal American classic in one of Indie Theater’s last bastions of cutting-edge theaters. And he hasn’t graduated college yet.

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MILLER’S MASTERPIECE in NEW HANDS

‘Death of A Salesman’ by Arthur Miller is an unquestioned masterpiece of American Drama–it is, by far, Miller’s best play, and it belongs, with three others, on the Mount Rushmore of Great American Plays (the others being ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, ‘Long Days Journey…’ and the combination of ‘Glass Menagerie and ‘Streetcar’)

A thousand before Ernest Barzaga and his company have analyzed the play to death since its premiere in 1949; it remains a towering piece of art, for so many reasons, because of its never ending timeliness, but in a larger sense its devotion to its mission–which is, destroying the lies that people live. The play, at its essence, is a journey, to reveal the lies for what they are–lies and myth-making, nothing more–and discard them. If a definition of art is to remind people how to live their lives, then this is the poster boy for such a proclamation.

Miller also created one of the most memorable characters in all dramatic history–the aptly named Willie Loman, a salesman/husband/father/Chaser of the Fake and False American Dream who has suffered one too many lashes at the mast, and has consistently bet on the wrong horse.

In this production, at the John Cullum Theater, Ian Cooper tries to tackle the role and does it justice. Yes, he’s young – the entire cast is younger than any of the roles in the production. Clearly, with this role at such a young age, he has jumped into the deep, deep end of the pool. But Mr Cooper’s performance is boulder-solid. He is compelling to look at and listen to. He knows how to stand on a stage, and give space to his fellow thespians when necessary. He belongs on a stage, any stage, doing any play. To quote Miller himself–‘Attention must be paid.’ Mr Cooper has accomplished something fairly remarkable–he has, though no choice of his own (the play demands it), taken this gigantic, man-mountain of a  play on his back, and has successfully, sometimes spectacularly, carried it across the finish line. This makes us forgive his inapprpriate hair style (one must wonder if he needs his hair long in life thus was reticent to cut it for such a short run).

After a rocky start and some volume issues, about the 15 minute mark, Mr. Cooper talks about the longing for his 1928 Chevy–and then it were over. Mr. Cooper had won over this humble scribe, from that very moment until the end of the play. Swimming against the current, against the dying of the light, Mr. Cooper forges on and on and on and on, and doesn’t stop, never stops. His almost insatiable desire to – what – succeed … sell stuff … teach his children about manhood before he croaks on the Interstate?–is fascinating and harrowing to watch, since we know from the outset that Mr, Loman is doomed in his quest. Why? He has a skewed vision of what constitutes manhood, and is listening to the one man–his brother (superbly played by Caycee Kolodney, who gives Mr. Cooper a real run for his money with his performance), a land baron of the 19th Century, of the Gilded Age almost, who has no problem robbing from everyone he encounters (‘You cannot deal fairly with strangers’, he proudly boasts), who will steer him down the wrong path.

Joining the triumvirate of superior performance was Anna Paone, playing the tortured, fierce, loyal, Linda Loman. From her opening moments, sleeping (again) by herself, to her final monologue at Willie’s graveside, Ms Paone demonstrated a world-weariness and an inner strength that was completely appropriate for the character and in line with what Mr. Miller wrote.

Gianni Damaia was masterful as Willie’s neighbor Charlie. Their scene alone–which both defines their relationship and also creates new question about it–was the high point of the play. The timing, the direction, the pace, the rhythm, the stakes involved, the passion–all first rate and compelling theater. It also raised a question which we don’t think had been explored before–did Charlie have a thing for Linda? Interesting insight.

The brothers were not quite as successful, but acquitted themselves as the play went on. David Levi as Happy has talent but was missing Happy’s shallow view of the world, and his need for shallow things–like chasing girls to the exclusion of everything else (wonderfully highlighted by the steak house scene in Act II).. His parents pay him little attention for a reason. There must be an understanding from the actor to the character, and give it basis.  He, like Mr. Cooper, needed more period-perfect make-up and costuming.

Aaron Ogle as Biff gave a good, earnest performance. Mr. Ogle, like Mr. Cooper, affected a tone in their voices that had a Lower East Side flavor. Maybe this was meant to show age or time-period but wasn’t needed. Biff has a powerful journey – as a man doomed to the abyss because he learned his father was a lying hypocrite, a devastating discovery for any child. Authentic tone optional. .

Alexander Gheesling as Howard was well-cast, his time on stage is in a vital scene on which the play pivots, so he could have done even more in his moments. David Melgar as Bernard played both his scenes well, and the latter one, with an ailing Willie, was touching. Now, about that hair… (these aforementioned problems (hairstyles for most characters were incorrect for 1949; costuming was inconsistent) were fixable and a lesson learned for next time).

A tip of the hat to the director, Mr. Ernest Barzaga. At its essence, a director’s job is to address the individual art of the actor, and to bring the assorted arts of the other actors and designers together in a cohesive product – and in this task, Mr. Barzaga succeeded. Matters of pacing and staging will only grow stronger and stronger, that is obvious.

The best of success to a fledgling theater company…and maybe next time, into the ocean, where there is no bottom, and no limits. This group has proven, with little hesitation, which it can tackle anything the Theater Gods present before them.

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SUMMER SOUL SOUNDS

There are some lovely words in the English Language. ‘Sound Bath’ would be one.

When this dazzling combo made its entrance about 10 minutes into the Healing Session/Performance, butts shifted in chairs, and attention was paid.

Mary Elizabeth Micari hosted this innovative, unusual, well-meaning experiment–both a ‘session’ and a ‘performance’–and on the whole, despite a few trappings of the modern world sneaking in, was a successful endeavor.

This is an evening of healing, as advertised, by trained sound healers (a wholly legitimate science and art, with schools and degrees dedicated to its teachings), and the healing will take place by any means necessary. It is also a performance of sorts–after all, you’re here, and the healers are ‘up there’. Because of that fact, because the ‘stage’ was dressed so elegantly and appropriate for the tranquil evening planned, a certain level of performance is expected.

Once in awhile the lines became too blurred–sometimes a ‘session’, sometimes a ‘performance’, and sometimes, unfortunately, an infomercial. We are here for meditation, for inner peace through music, that should be the entire agenda.

13958023_10208911395154969_3898281669742306896_oThe evening started with a session by Daniel Lauter, a thoughtful, gentle soul who shared his talent in a caring, giving, touching way. One was free to join in, or not; the decision was entirely ours.  His assorted collection of “singing” bowls was beautiful and elegant and lovely to listen to. He was a man of few words, and had nothing to offer except himself, his energy, and his art. Unfortunately, the next performer was not as gracious a host. After an amusing story as a 5-year-old learning the sax, Erik Lawrence regaled us with one tale after another of who he played with, and where. Even if this wasn’t his intention, it seemed as if he was attempting to find new clients in the audience.

13932947_10208911395794985_6612453857441100488_nFortunately, Act I was saved by George Brandon–a man filled with spirit and soul, and the possessor of a wonderfully sonorous voice, a voice so powerful we could listen to him recite the Yellow Pages without getting fidgety. A commanding presence on the stage, properly dressed for the occasion, you had no choice but to listen, and enter his world. His musical piece–in which all performers joined, including the hostess–was required listening. His mantra–“Don’t Waste Your Life” was short, sweet, and to the point. If only the rest of the world was listening, we’d all be better off.

Act II brought another infomercial. Malia Culp might be successful amongst those she knows well, but on a stage, performing for a group of strangers, she seemed pretentious. Her talents may or may not resonate with her clients, but it’s hard to believe spending half her evening sounding like a bumble bee would work. She acknowledged her ‘…beautiful Erik’ and then began her own commercial much like he did. Sadly, she, too, decided to talk of her talent was better than to show it making her contribution to the evening amount to nothing.

13962524_10208911396354999_2162749278884117239_nThat left the ‘finale’ to Ms. Micari. She saved the day. There is a reason she hosted the event, and a reason she went last–she has the talent the others have, but also a personality that is second to none. She sang beautiful odes of healing brought down to her from her ancestors, and they did not disappoint–from the Gaelic Hills, to the lovely land of Calabria, her voice lifted the evening all by itself…then, it a fitting conclusion, led the audience members out of their seats and into the lobby of the theater, for a wholly satisfying conclusion.

As Hostess, Ms. Micari must be a little mindful of the ramblings of her company but otherwise, a splendid time was had by all, and a big fat tip-of-the-hat to her for organizing such an innovative evening of healing and performance.

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SANDMAN: Potential and Promise
“Novice Playwright Cannot Quite Get out Of Her Own Way”
The Sandman” has potential and promise, but disappoints”
It is no shame; most playwriting debuts fall short because they are afflicted by ‘The Curse of The Shoehorn’…that is, they are determined to get everything they wish to say into one play, even if it needs to be ‘shoehorned’ in. ‘The Sandman‘, running now at American Theater of Actors is, despite several strong stretches of dramatic action and well-written characters, another victim of this malaise.
New York City, 1979. Having escaped from filing bankruptcy and having the Mayor sell apples on the street corner, the pulse of the city turns decadent by decade’s end–discos, cocaine, designer jeans. Easy free living, easy free money. The Irish Mob in Hell’s Kitchen (the Westies, one presumes, although that moniker is never mentioned) gets a scent of this, and wants in–loansharking, prostitution, the rackets out, Columbian Marching Powder in.
Tommy and Diane Cassidy (decently played by veteran Ken Coughlin and Meredith Floor Rust) own a bar on the West Side, ‘The Sandman‘, and are trying to make ends meet. Enter corrupt cops, old hangers-on from back in the day, and of course assorted gangsters pursuing their latest misdeeds. Add several clever plot twists, some excellent dialogue (good ear by Ms Navarra), and some mostly decent performances (especially Greg Valiante as the Head Hoodlum Ian O’Rourke, Dan Lane Williams as the ne’er-do-well Donny Finn, and AJ Converse as Jake Sands) , and there are the ingredients, the makings of a solid new American Play. (Great names, by the way)
But…
It’s Ms. Navarra’s first play, and it shows. The characters are overwritten. There are way too many instances of characters explaining themselves why they do what they do. People, especially these types of people, simply do not explain their ‘feelings’; they simply impulsively act. There is too much action that happens off stage. There is too much dialogue that is realistic but not dramatic–it doesn’t advance the telling of the tale.The second act should be shorter than the first, but here it is in reverse, therefore nullifying and sanitizing the potent dramatic affect. There are too many subplots which get in the way of the drama–a would-be illicit love story (corrupt cop lusting after bar owner’s wife),  a lush lamenting her wasted life in the theater (beautifully played by Valerie O’Hara), and the second act is plot-driven, not character driven–in other words, better suited for television or the movies, but not the theater. (Actors pantomiming getting into a car and following the bad guys looked particularly foolish and amateurish, quite frankly)
There are other disservices that compromised Ms Navarra’s work that had nothing to do with the writing: A lead actor should never serve as the director for any reason–the production had a palpable lack of timing, rhythm, and denouement. The production lagged. Ques were not crisp, and it doesn’t help when actors drop lines about 15 or 20 times, an unforgivable sin.The actual playing space, the theater, was far too large to do justice to this intimate play. The first act takes place mostly in the bar; yet half of the playing space is, except for the opening five minutes, completely bare, unused and unattended. The (Keystone) cops (played by Michael Bordwell and Ben Guralnik) unfortunately do not pass the wind-tunnel test, and because so much dialogue and dramatic action are devoted to them, they take the play down with them.
The first scene in Act II, in Donny Finn’s Office in his pool hall, is a complete breath of fresh air, and after the relative staleness of Act I, seems to be a sign of things to come. It is wonderfully written, without any fat or extraneous diversion; it is superbly acted and staged; it brings with it hope for a better day. Alas, this scene was the high point of the play; the rest of the play was anticlimactic and wholly predictable.
Ms Navarra has a keen sense of characters, a good ear for dialogue, and knows what she wants to say–now comes the matter of another pair of eyes (dramaturg time), and removing the fat, so what we are left with is a better, well-rounded shorter play. Brave for the effort, Ms Navarra, the American Theater Welcomes You!

Christmas with a Twist

A different Christmas twist? Many Christmas shows are about happiness and how wonderful life is. Christmas with a twist? From a talking Christmas sweater in The Illustrated Xmas sweater, directed by Janelle Zapata all the way through a post apocalyptic view of sex in Brocreation directed by Maria Aladren, featuring Darian Bencosme, Mateo Lamuño, Lacey Andreanszky, Sara Minisquero. , . a Night of Unusual Christmas Stories will put you on edge with devilish themes as in The Mall Satan,directed by Janelle Zapata, with Sara Minisquero and Samantha Gloven, Satan does exist in malls.  These theater shorts are bound to sway your old fashioned views of Christmas. In each of the six shorts a bunch of great actors are pounding the boards. Comical Lara Fox will bring you to wonder how things can get so incredulously out of limits when she listens to a bizarre Xmas sweater in The Illustrated Xmas Sweater. Can the Invisible man get a lapdance? Sam Lopresti, Jason Michael Dick and Jazmyn Arroyo make the attempt despite missing parts in Lapdance for the Invisible Man also directed by Zapata. Becky’s Christmas Wish directed by Benjamin Abraham with Dana Searing and Gabriel Spector are not prepared for the usual childhood hopes revealed by little Becky. Black Lipstick, also directed by Abraham has another unusual plot with Yvette Chin and Vivian Aladren where the child gives permission to her mom for a night out but only if she dons black lipstick, evoking abomination and evil. These theater shorts bring awe and humor to a visionary view of this 2016 Holiday Season. By Joseph Leone
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COMPELLING COLLECTOR
Reviewed by Robert Liebowitz
A play begins; a man speaks directly to the audience. He is middle-aged, bald, and frumpy, and we wholly expect a familiar or unfamiliar tale of woe to leave his lips. Not so. Within minutes, he has eagerly, in a quietly plaintive way, informed the gathering that he has kidnapped a young woman named Miranda right off the streets, and goes on to explain why he has done so.
Thus begins the odd but compelling play The Collector,  adapted for the stage by Mark Healy,  from John Fowles’ novel of the same name, at 59E59.
What compels the character, the perfectly creepy named Frederick Clegg, to do this? Not really sure. Clearly, no matter what he says, there will be no sympathy.  He has committed an atrocious act, and hopefully,  through the journey of the play, will suffer.
Mr Clegg, superbly played by Matt De Rogatis, has little going for him. Plain, humorless, a second rate ne’er-do-well who had the dumb luck of winning the Lottery,  he has swept a young girl (the brilliant Jillian Geurts, matching her colleague line for line) off her feet, but in the worst sense of the world, because he purportedly loves her. How? He doesn’t even know her, except a few scant biographical anecdotes.
What is Fowles saying? Is love stupid? Is it shallow? Does it even exist?
As the characters learn about each other, and the threat of violence dissipates,  Miranda’s character emerges and dominates the action, and one thing has become abundantly clear–Mr Clegg has received more than he bargained for.
After a kind of talky first act, the second act picks up the pace.  Shortly, with quicker intercuts and the plot now humming along, the play rides to an appropriate conclusion (no spoiler here).
The subject matter might be questioned here, but there is no such hesitation regarding the two players, and their interplay with each other. It was masterful. DeRogatis, calm yet menacing, his voice rarely rising beyond normal stage speech, his accent perfect, his movement suave and dashing and pitiful and hopeless.
Guerts, like a trapped cat,  looking, looking looking, using all her guile, her wits, her sexuality…the role requires all of this, and more,  and Ms Guerts is more than up to the task.
The play is directed by Lisa Milinazzo with expert usage of the playing area, effortlessly guiding the two actors to deal with audience on three sides;  perfect pace and rhythm as to the authors unwritten wishes. Really well done.
The work of the designers–all first rate and subtle, especially the original music composed by Sean Hagerty,  which had the right combo of melancholy and menace. The point of all of it? Not sure…except be careful when you cross the street.

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ROBERT LIEBOWITZ AND THE PARABLE OF THREE

AMY M. FRATEO, guest reviewer

Everybody’s a playwright. Every day there are new works appearing in festivals and black box theaters throughout New York – everything from 10-minute quickies to two hour tomes. That why it was gratifying to see a revival of some excellent works from the heyday of OOB.

This group of works was all written by Robert Liebowitz, a member of the off-off Broadway circuit for decades.

The series went backward like the Sondheim musical cult favorite, Merrily We Roll Along, kinda-sorta showing us who we are and why we are.

The first play, Seven Scenes of Grande Grande Blah Blah Blah, written just a few years ago, featured Kevin Hauver as a beaten-back administrator with nothing to look forward to except the mortality of a dear friend (maybe something more) and Molly Callahan as a snarky millennial with no patience for him. Mario Claudio brought up the rear as a coffee house server with miseries of his own. The meat of the matter was good, showing us a preamble of what the new world looks like to old people, with Callahan handing us the worst of the new generation and Hauver utilizing everything from brains to brawn to show her the error of her – and undoubtedly his – ways. The ironic use of seduction was obviously there to show societal ignorance as Callahan’s character announces early on that she is a lesbian. Joe Pitzvalty could have done more with staging especially the very funny and eloquent Claudio, whose character had the ability to move much more.

Bus Ride Home, a little longer and a little older (the 90s) gave us Cathy Noonan-Sturges and Ken Coughlin as a disenfranchised working class pair on their way from the ritual of going to Atlantic City. Pair and not couple as they are not married … to each other. The concept of an “affair of need,” common in many dramas these days (even British drama like Call the Midwife), is depicted with Coughlin quite engrossing as a civil servant in a life change. The surprise ending totally reversed the idea that Noonan-Sturges was the villain of the piece.  Directed by Ioan Ardelian, the show maintained a dark slow pace that made really feel like we, too, were caught on this endless bus ride home.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda, obviously the main attraction was a powerful play about the people on the fringe and at OTB – a now extinct way of getting your gambling fix in NYC. The play – staged in noir no nonsense by Allan Smithee – gave us the last hours of the life of Allie Neiterman; played by TJ Jenkins, with engrossing desperation, as a once-high-roller, now nobody, who, with his slow-witted partner, Bobo, played with smile-inducing childlike detail by Ted Montuori, try for that last lucky win. The play, an obvious star vehicle for several character actors, played like a old-fashioned sermon on the mount with lines that run the gamut between smart cliché and deep parable.

The play, set in 1985, when connected to the others shows us the aging of the American dream and what it looks like today.

Tommy Sturges insinuated the concept of unwitting narrator well but the playwright should have altered the ethnicity of the role to fit Sturges own culture; not so with the flawlessly authentic Anthony J. Gallo, who moved, motioned, and mannered himself into a role that could have been written for him – down to the clever injection of Italian language toward the finale. The same can be said for the commanding Michael Ruocco, truly superb as the next level of degenerate gambler. He, too, gave us neighborhood guy in all its provincial detail. His inner world was all there in his eyes and was a strong juxtaposition to his goonish demeanor.

Serving as the big number was Jay Michaels as the monster-in-a-pinstripe suit, loan shark Barney Cutley. Michaels’ level of acting was truly powerhouse with a demonic first appearance that silenced the unwitting crowd – both on stage and in the audience – and then a tortured second appearance provoking the tragic finale where you saw a back-story in nothing more than his back. Michaels gave us a “Negan-esque” portrayal (see the Walking Dead to know what this means) with a sense of fulfillment at being the black-hat in this western.

Robert Liebowitz writes excellent dialogue and creates powerful and quite unique situations. Allan Smithee missed the mark by putting so much of the action in obstructed areas and let lots of sitting happen. Only Michaels seemed to utilize the well-planned set and stage.

Of the three parables this evening, Coulda Woulda Shoulda, stands as one for the ages. Something that should be seen more and more. Ironically, maybe the other two will also, when we become a period piece like the 80s is now. Regardless, the credible complement of character actors gave us a evening of real art and performance.

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Comfort in Silence
Art is a many-splendor’d thing; on a practical matter it also comes with a list of requirements. One of those requirements is almost a pre-requisite : simply, go where no one has gone before. Go where are no footprints in the snow. Go, where no one has dared.
There is, at the heart of Comfort in Silence, a very beautiful play. Why? It explores out loud the endless possibilities,  and the obvious obstacles, when someone who can hear falls for someone who cannot. It is a wonderful premise; it is due; it is overdue; it is fresh footprints in the snow.
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Playwright Timothy Patrick Walsh has many tender and profoundly moving moments on stage; his character (Walsh serving double duty as the lead Patty) has met someone (Ray, superbly played with great humanity and understatement by Jose Vasquez) at a party, and when the play explores their courtship and subsequent difficulties, the Gods of Theater look down and smile from ear to ear.
Mr. Walsh has surrounded this tender love story with several cliches associated with the affairs of a gay man living in NYC. Patty is having a mid life crisis, and starts to see a therapist (a voice over). He is egged on and teased by his friend Stevie, adequately played by Christopher Springer, and his other friend Mary, portrayed with great humor by Katarina Vizina. Stevie is obviously gay, wayyyy too obvious. This is unnecessary, and employs clichés to punctuate that fact. Mary is a typical “fag hag,” hanging around gay men, without any rhyme or reason. They drink, they go to parties, they drink some more.
No one seems to work. No one has any issues or internal civil wars that needs to be addressed. No, just one care free time after another. This portrait of this homosexual lifestyle went out with The Boys in the Band, and that goes back to 1970.
The play is a stunning love story — the friends can supply color but with a lot less stereotype. Given the dramatic set up you have provided, the love story is enough and is a  ride no one will soon forget.
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On Film: THE WATCHTOWER

Allan Johnston, Guest Reviewer

Crime and criminals on television and film are always attractive, daring, even sexy. In other words … fictionalized. However, auteur Steve Silver has given us a riveting, unapologetic tome about what it really means to be a criminal.

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The Watchtower, a new feature film, written, directed, and starring Mr. Silver (from his original play), is not a vanity piece as one might imagine since much of the spotlight is focused his way.

 

What we have a fascinating character study lensed in an old-fashioned style giving us a harder look. A brilliant touch when one meets the denizens of Hell’s Kitchen, in the 80s.

The premise is familiar. We are there at the end of an era. We see Irish and Italian mobsters trying to hold onto a piece of territory the only way they know how, through the eyes of one of their own – who’s not so sure he wants to be there.

And that is the unique part.

This film explores those who were involved in “that thing” … and why. You leave the theatre with a new understanding of what people needed to do to survive then … and even now.

It’s not surprising the level of power Silver himself brought to the role as one feels a sense of autobiography coming off his tense portrayal of of an Irish hood grieving over the effect this life has had on his family. It’s refreshing to see an ensemble share this level of power. Notables include D.J.Sharp, absolutely spot-on as a Russian immigrant who comes to America to be a success … and as a loan shark … he is; Thomas J. Kane as the Irish mob leader – possessing all the needed grit but with excellent acting chops; Ken Coughlin as a Mafia Don who understands what it means to be a Roman Emperor; Caroline Smith, understated as Tommy’s long-suffering wife; and Laurie Rae Waugh, engrossing as Tommy’s sister-in-law by day and a cold-blooded assassin by night.

Watchtower initiates a program under Silver’s command dedicated to putting powerful off-off Broadway plays on film.

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If they’re all as good as this one, then we may see history being made.

Ms. Smith and Mr. Silver in the original stage production of The Watchtower.

 

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 Why Water Falls
 “Always be closing”, exclaims a salesman in David Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, and Leigh Curran, author and performer of ‘Why Water Falls’, has taken that axiom to heart. After a slow start, Ms. Curran’s solo piece rumbles, and by evening’s end she has provided a solid one two punch of riveting theater.
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After some necessary but confusing exposition (needed but…) the writing becomes concise and focused, and now, we know why we are here; we know what story Ms. Curran wishes to tell–she has aborted two pregnancies, and is having great difficulty living with the aftermath.
Ms. Curran is a first rate performer, an accomplished actress, and is able to call on all sorts of emotion that the play requires. There is a certain….polite confusion that hovers over the stage, and makes the character endearing. Most people are always heroes in their own stories, but not here. There is blame to go around for everyone, Ms Curran included. The play has a certain rhythm that is attractive and compelling; while one wishes that there was more humor on stage, Ms. Curran plays several different characters with expert ease, and makes a potentially difficult indecipherable journey  an easy one to follow one.
Ms Curran’s life story is a compelling one, with dramatic highs and lows, and this is wonderfully captured on stage. Ms. Curran has ‘closed’ sucessfully, and has made her mark on this United Solo Festival with flying colors.
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THE TEMPEST – PRESENTED BY IDENTITY THEATER

REVIEWED BY ROBERT LIEBOWITZ

tempestOnce in a great while, an evening in the theater becomes more than going to see a play, and even more than a theatrical experience. It transcends any and all art, and makes a statement, directly, about life itself.  The last such event was in 2006, when the Classical Theater of Harlem produced Waiting for Godot, but set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Rather than the two hobos passing their time near a tree, Vladimir and Estagon were seen clinging to life on a rooftop of a flooded home, as the infamous tree passed them by in the muddy Mississippi…and, as in the original story, no help was to be found. Godot was not coming. What an immensely creative interpretation, that was wholly relevant and heartbreaking.
The Identity Theater Company’s version of The Tempest offers a similar experience–an event that leaves the play, and theater itself, behind, and trespasses ever so wonderfully into the Universe of Things That Need To Be Said.
As a play, Shakespeare’s last, The Tempest is not much–trite, clumsy, silly, and forgettable. Set on a remote island, exiled sorcerer Prospero (remarkably played by Erin Mansur)plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place in court; he conjurers up a storm (the Tempest), to  lure his usurping brother Antonio and his underhanded clan to the island.
Right. Who cares.
14212749_1100411876679589_8325742055188583941_nHowever, in this production, one must care. Several members of the cast have various and assorted disabilities, and the producers have masterfully woven them together seamlessly with other actors from the Shakespeare Forum; together they have provided this humble scribe with one of the most moving experiences in the theater, ever. It is must-see theater.
As the afternoon, wore on, it became abundantly clear what was going on–simply, a call for tolerance and open-mindedness. A third of the way through, enter Caliban, in a wheelchair. No one, in 400 years, has seen such a sight, or even thought of one. What an amazing sight it was. Once Nicolas Linnehan started speaking, everything stopped. There is no other word for it–stopped. Mr. Linnehan looked the part, sounded the part, acted the part, The wheelchair soon became just another level to the willing suspension of disbelief, nothing more. Would there be a wheelchair is such a scenario? Of course not. Did it matter? Of course not. Mr. Linnehan fit in perfectly, and now was just another actor portraying another Shakespeare hero (villain, actually), and all was right with the world. A man in a wheelchair was portraying  a lead character in a play by the Bard, and no one really cared. And that how it should be.
The notes in the program asks–can Blanche DuBois be played in a wheelchair? Maybe, maybe not…but that is a matter for another place, another time. A Good house Seal of Approval must be stamped on this wondrous production, from the outstanding Diana Benigno as the magician Ariel, to Guy Ventoliere as the drunkard plotter Stephano. All performers bar none were successful in their roles, and on a bare stage, save for 3 area rugs on the floor, all costumes, filled with life, color, and excitement by Renee Salierni, sparkled on the stage.
Near the end of the first act, a frustrated Caliban, tied of being called a ‘monster’, a ‘mutineer’, ‘this thing’, or, worse, ‘the Beast’, has a monologue spoken directly to the audience. In it he utters this brilliant line of utter poetry–“I tried to dream again.” And there, in that crystallized moment, was the play at hand. The Tempest had started, and it had ended, on this one lonely sentence. People in wheelchairs are none of these things. Actors in wheelchairs playing characters like Caliban are none of these things. There is a place for performers with disabilities in the theater, and they must be welcomed with open arms. For, after all, if art is to remind people how to live their life, then surely it is an easy stretch to realize the importance of this production. One can only hope for an extended run.
ADDED WORDS “I saw The Tempest last night a wonderful cast co directed by Tyler Moss who gave his actors beautiful tempo pacing and just the right exuberance to call this production a winner Erin Mansurwhose work is always wonderfull exciting takes home the Tony with her PRospero Pat Pat Dwyers Antonio was played the best its ever been as Ben Dworkens Adrian was smooth and organic Hats off to Nicholas Lineman co director founder of TheIdentity Theatre and his Caliban was exquisite this production runs Friday Saturday and Sunday through September 18 a must see with a well deserved standing ovation.”  Jane Steele‎The Shakespeare Forum
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REMEMBRANCE DAY had all the ingredients to create a wonderful, tasty salad of theater.

Remembrance Day, a one-woman show written and performed by June Ballinger at the 13th St. Repertory Theater. Had a versatile performer, a decent script, and a compelling unique story; a firsthand narrative about a woman who in the bowels of Great Britain  secretly worked on Colossus, a gigantic computer whose sole mission was to break the Nazi code and save the world from speaking German during WW II.

Director Janice Goldberg, however used a risky stage device that doesn’t always work – Pantomime.

Every single reference in the text that could be accompanied by a physical invisible gesture WAS accompanied. The frequency of this technique wound up looking foolish more often than not. Truly a shame as the playwright/performer was superb and deserved so much more.

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Ioan Ardelean serves as guest director for one of the productions in THREE BITES OF THE APPLE: A revival of Robert Liebowitz’ canon of works. “he’s fascinating” says Ken Coughlin, one of Ardelean’s actors. Fascinating is the right word. it will be interesting to see how his European sensibilities enhance Liebowitz’ hard-bitten NY prose.

We hear a lot about inspiration – or Muse – that drives an artist. What inspires you?
In Greek mythology, the Muses are the inspirational goddesses who symbolized the arts and sciences. Nowadays a muse can be a person who serves as an artist’s inspiration. We know that writers, painters, musicians, poets they have muses but when we talk about actors or directors inspiration and creativity must come from thinking, reading, liberating the monkey mind, etc. In my case, Muse is a deeply thinking about an idea. Deeply thinking on certain ideas for years not only for five seconds.
What is your vision and process for the play/part?
As a director and actor I have to tell a story, which cannot be separated from the playwright story, but has to be my story. I must have in myself an unmoved and disinterested onlooker. From my point of view as a director and actor, I must have a good deal of judgment, penetration and very important according to Denis Diderot “no sensibility”.
What do you want most in your chosen profession? It’s OK to say “fame” or “wealth.”
I sacrificed a lot to be an artist and such a dedication, effort, and benefits of my acting are not like sharing a piece of cake among thousand people, and each person gets only a few crumbs. I would like to think that every person receives the whole piece of cake and allows the constructive energy created by my work and all my positive acts to be perpetuated.
Sally Field and Paul Newman both said of their profession… “it’s all I can do.” Is this all you can do?
It is what I can do and what I know how to do. I do not see myself doing anything else than acting, directing and teaching.
Along those lines, if you couldn’t do this, what would you do?
Try again to be an actor.
How do you want [legit] history to remember you?
A good storyteller, an actor who stayed naked on stage and moved very slowly so the audience could see every side of my personality breathing and leave with my characters.
Last words?
I invite everyone to come to see different sides of my personality becoming alive thru my characters and my work. See Three Bites of the Apple.
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WHY WATER FALLS Commercial CLICK HERE

[Excerpted from LEIGH CURRAN: AN OVERVIEW]

I’ve spent my life in the Arts and while I started out as an actress I soon added playwriting and later founded the The Virginia Avenue Project  a non-profit using long term, one-on-one arts mentoring to give children growing up under difficult circumstances the skills to think creatively, critically and courageously about life goals and choices.  Project kids join at age six and stay through high school working alongside caring, adult mentors throughout their growing years.  The Project’s longtime community partner is the Santa Monica Police Activities League in Santa Monica, California. I was the Artistic Director from 1991-2013.

I’m also the author of three full length plays: The Lunch Girls (finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award; world premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre, Arvin Brown, dir.; Off Broadway at the Grove Street Theatre , Stuart Ross, dir.); Alterations (Off Broadway at the WPA Theatre, Austin Pendleton, dir.; world premiere at the Whole Theatre Company, Olympia Dukakis, dir.) and Walking the Blonde (world premiere Off Broadway at Circle Rep, Paul Benedict, dir; and Off Broadway at La Mama, Leonard Foglia, dir.)  The Lunch Girls and Alterations are published by Samuel French.

Going Nowhere Sideways CoverMy first novel, Going Nowhere Sideways, was published in 1999 by Fithian Press and was highly praised by Publishers Weekly, Spillway, and Inscriptions Magazines and is available on Amazon.com and other on-line bookstores.  It is a coming of middle age story that traces one woman’s evolution from Woodstock in 1969 to the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  My poetry has appeared in Slant: A Journal for Poetry, Onthebus, The Bark, Spillway, and Rattle Magazines as well as in the on-line e-zine, The Junkyard.

As an actress, I’ve performed on, off and way off Broadway working with the likes of Kathy Bates, Arthur Penn, Paul Benedict and George Abbott.  In Los Angeles I appeared in my own play, Walking the Blonde and in the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed productions of Romeo and JulietOthello and Measure for Measure.  TV/Film credits include: West WingJudging Amy,Once and Again, LA Law and Reds.  

Leigh at 6 months - Photo shoot for Sunset MagazineI was born in 1943 and grew up in California and Connecticut.  My father taught at the Thacher School in Ojai, California where my mother, younger brother and I spent the school year but come summer my father would load up our DeSoto station wagon and we’d drive across the country to Salisbury, CT where my father had a summer cabin – kerosene lamps, outhouses, well water and all.  During the school year, my father taught French, Latin, Spanish and motor mechanics at Thacher.  My mother, an actress/singer, performed with the Chekov Players in Upper Ojai until my father died in 1954 – at which point, my mother took over my father’s classes until the school could find his replacement.

I graduated from  Santa Catalina School in 1961 when I was 17 and in 2001 received the school’s Distinguished Alumna Award for my work with the Virginia Avenue Project.  In 1962, after a year of working odd jobs in Ojai that included taking care of the studio of noted ceramist and friend, Beatrice Wood and teaching arts and crafts to first graders at my first alma mater, Monica Ros School – I headed for New York City to begin my career in theatre.

From 1962-64 I attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.  I studied acting with Sanford Meisner, Bill Esper and Robert Modica; dance with Hanya Holm and music appreciation with Lehman Engel.  After I graduated I studied acting privately with Ludwig Donath and later at HB Studios with Uta Hagen.

Leigh as a Gaslight Girl

To support my theatre habit, I waited on tables predominantly at the Gaslight Club – a key club similar to the Bunny Club but with a gay-nineties feel.  Because I was tall and strong I was relegated to working lunches and because the club was in a brownstone, all the lunch girls carried heavy trays up and down flights of stairs while trying to look sexy in fishnet hose, scant costumes and six-inch heels.  Ten years later, this experience which always felt disconnected from my intended life would become the inspiration for my first play, The Lunch Girls.

I got my Equity Card in 1968 when I was hired to be in the chorus and understudy Brenda Vaccaro in the Broadway musical, How Now, Dow Jones. Shortly thereafter I began making TV commercials and by the mid 70s had become one of the top on-camera commercial artists.  Making commercials made it possible for me to explore lesser paying jobs like playwriting, alternative theatre and life in general.

Edward Herrmann on the Set of Beacon HillIn 1974, I met actor, Edward Herrmann.  Shortly after we moved in together, I took up playwriting.  I’d had no formal training as a writer but I had a good ear for dialogue and understood dramatic tension.  Basically, I asked myself all the questions I’d ask myself when creating a character as an actress – what do I want and why is it so important I get it now as opposed to later?  And if the characters had opposing Wants – there was plenty of room for conflict.  In time I began to realize my characters would lead me to the story rather than the other way around.  This was the adventurous part of writing – I never quite knew how things were going to turn out and, therefore, neither did the audience.  And, in addition to writing parts for women that were meaty and off-beat – I also discovered that with writing, unlike acting, you don’t have to wait to be hired to be creative.

The Lunch Girls w Suzanne Lederer, Pamela Payton-Wright, Carol Williard, Phyllis Somerville and Susan SharkeyMy first play, The Lunch Girls, was produced at the Long Wharf Theatre in 1979 under the direction of its Artistic Director, Arvin Brown.  Throughout my playwriting career, I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful directors in addition to Arvin – who taught me about play structure, timing, audience attention, etc.  Some of my director/mentors are Austin Pendleton, Olympia Dukakis and the late Paul Benedict.  Other influential mentors include playwright, Michael Weller; director, Dan Petrie and producer, Dorothea Petrie.

In 1978, Edward and I bought a house in Carmel, New York and were married in the fall of that year.  In the country, I discovered my love for vegetable gardening and while that didn’t seem important at the time, it would become a major part of my life later on.

Alterations-Cynthia Nixon and Gretchen Cryer

While Edward was enjoying considerable success in theatre, film and television, I wrote my second play, Alterations which was ultimately produced Off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre featuring Cynthia Nixon and Gretchen Cryer in the cast and Austin Pendleton as director.

Edward and I separated in 1986.  I returned to New York City where I wrote and performed in my third play, Walking the Blonde. It had its world premiere at Circle Rep under the direction of Paul Benedict then The Barrow Group picked it up and produced it Off-Broadway at La Mama, directed by Leonard Foglia.  During this period, I began exploring alternative theatre.  I wrote and performed in my own pieces at PS122 and the Wow Cafe where I was fortunate to work with Lisa Kron and the Five Lesbian Brothers.

In 1988, I was invited to write a short play for the 52nd Street Project‘s One-on-One Program.  In this program, a professional actor is teamed with a kid to perform in a short play written by a professional playwright.  My actor was Paul McCrane and my kid was an eight-year-old boy from a neighborhood housing project.  I was so taken with the experience I began volunteering for the Project as an actress, writer, collaborator, director, class mentor, stamp licker, whatever – because in my heart of hearts I sensed the 52nd Street Project was changing my life.  The change became real when I was invited to learn how to teach kids to write plays.  The process, called Playmaking, was created by Daniel Judah Sklar – it was creative, smart, loaded with integrity and as much fun for seasoned playwrights as it was for kids.  At the end of the training, I knew I had to teach kids how to write plays and, for that matter, how to act in them and it was then I got the idea to replicate the 52nd Street Project in Los Angeles.

In 1991, newly divorced and feeling the wind at my back, I moved to Los Angeles to found the Virginia Avenue Project.  At the time I knew nothing about non-profits and little more about kids.  I was lucky to have the former Executive Director of the 52nd Street Project, Marsue Cumming, to guide me through the grant writing and set up process.  Daniel Judah Sklar, my great mentor when it came to working with kids, flew to LA to get Playmaking and his advanced playwriting program for children, Replay, off the ground.

I started the Virginia Avenue Project in a leaky lean-to behind my house – a scrap of paper hanging over my desk with a phone number to call if I ever needed an Executive Director.  When the Virginia Avenue Project’s first production, Strangers in Paradise, opened in April, 1992, I called the phone number and the fates brought me Kendis Heffley who became the Project’s Founding Executive Director.  Kendis and I were opposite halves of a whole and great friends.  We guided the Project through its first eight years adhering to the belief that who we were in the office would trickle down to our kids so if we wanted the Project to have legs we needed to practice what we preached.

Walking the Blonde - Beach Scene with Lee Garlington, Diana Castle, Leigh CurranDuring that time, I also starred in a production of my play, Walking the Blonde at Theatre Geo in Los Angeles.  My first novel, Going Nowhere Sideways, was published to enthusiastic reviews by Fithian Press.  I began studying with Jack Grapes of the Poets and Writers Collective and writing and publishing poetry.

In 2000, Meryl Friedman became the second Executive Director of the Virginia Avenue Project guiding it through its adolescence for seven exciting, creative years.  Meryl and I expanded the Project’s horizons by augmenting our Outreach Program and instituted new programming to challenge Project kids in ways that were relevant to the changing times.  We also started the Project’s creative tutoring program, Smart Partners, designed to make learning fun again for Project kids who were struggling in school or kids who wanted to maintain strong grade point averages before applying for college.

At the end of 2013, I retired as Artistic Director of the Virginia Avenue Project and returned to my first love, writing and performing.  I began reading personal essays around town and in June, 2015 my solo show, Why Water Falls, had its World Premiere Production at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  This was followed by a successful run Off-Off Broadway in the fall of 2015.  Why Water Falls enjoyed a return engagement in Los Angeles at Highways Performance Space in April, 2016 and will be having its final performance at the United Solo Festival in New York City on September 30, 2016.  Stay tuned!

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Nine Theatricals at the 13th St Repertory Theater’s version of Shakespeare’s HAMLET opens with a new character: ‘The Teller’ (played by RJ Lamb), who serves as a sort of “Living, Breathing Cliff Notes Guy”. It is a convention invented by the Greeks, and, for this reviewer, a welcome addition to guide us through the incessant, beautiful-but-wholly-unnecessary poetry that mars all of Shakespeare’s’ works. However, if indeed ‘”…the play is the thing…”, then it is a dubious achievement to actually present a character that Mr. Shakespeare did not actually write (unless he did, in earlier quartos/folios). But we digress.

Hamlet, despite some obvious misgivings, some odd casting choices, and some anemic costumes, was moderately successful, and many times sustained the drama at hand and held our collective interest all the way through to the tragic end.
Leading us into battle is Matt DeRogatis, who portrays the noble Dane.  He makes a striking mark on the stage, and  has excellent command of the language. Unfortunately, there is wayyy too much shouting, which is incorrect for three reasons: One, it is hard on the ears; two, it is hard on anyone’s voice to be that angry for that long; three, the conversations are held in the court and assorted ante-chambers of the kingdom–in other words, they are intensely private conversations, for no one else’s business. They are many other emotions besides anger, and there are many other numbers besides the numeral 10–in fact, there are nine other numerals. These are the tools, these numerals, that an actor must convey, and that an audience longs to hear.
The rest of the ensemble were all capable players, all talented individuals, just miscast. Polonious and Claudius should’ve been switched. Lorraine Mattox as Orphelia was also adept at the language, and also a striking figure on the stage–but displayed no sense of the character’s frailty, humility and general innocence. These qualities are essential, because it enhances the notion that Hamlet drove her to suicide by bullying and insulting her, a disgraceful action,. This prompt her brother to seek revenge. However, as played, no such bad behavior existed; Ms Mattox may have been better off playing either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. Who? Yes, in this production, they are played by women, a wonderful stroke of genius and highly imaginative. Now, the characters bring a lot more to the table that their wry wit–there is wonderful sensuality and sexuality, which now clearly motivates them to come to hamlet as double crossing spies for the King, using all their feminine charms. The stage felt a bit empty when they weren’t on it.
Technically, the costume designer left a lot to be desired, and did nothing to enhance the production. Hamlet was sleeveless at one point, which would be fine, except the actor had modern tattoos all over his arm. However, composer Mary Micari, underscored vital scenes with just the right mood with her library of exotic instruments and a minimum of notes.
Singled out for praise would be Greg Pragel, who was terrific as Horatio. Unfortunately, he was dressed like a 19th Century country barrister, and completely removed from the play. But his acting ability transcended all of it. Well done.
On the whole, an interesting, innovation production with some hits and misses, and moderately successful.
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Andrew Gelles and Renee Bang AllenTom Rowan is talented – that’s for sure. An excellent dialogue writer (Renee Bang Allen’s entrance line, “Who turned the sun up so high?” gives immediate insight into the title character, which she played quite well) but more focus was needed to the entire piece.

At first the drama concerns the foolishness of a convenience marriage; then becomes a mystery; then a tale about forbidden love; then a matter about a young man (played well by Andrew Gelles) coming out for the closet, and standing up to the callous, shallow, contemptible heterosexual world. He seems to be the hero as the other characters seem stereotypical.

Jevon Blackwell, Caleb Schaaf and Andrew Gelles

But make no mistake, Mr. Rowan has talent, which includes a good ear for dialogue, a well-structured play, and masterful exposition, but he should be mindful of those stereotypes. The women seem too bitchy and the men, too – well – too much like Donald Trump (A thumps up for the performance of Peter Reznikoff, playing the billionaire husband)

Peter Reznikoff and Renee Bang Allen

With some fine-tuning, Faye Drummond could really say something to its audience.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Photos by Jonathan M. Smith

Ernest Barzaga started a theatre company, rented a theatre, raised $25,000, and presented a seminal American classic in one of Indie Theater’s last bastions of cutting-edge theaters. And he hasn’t graduated college yet.

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MILLER’S MASTERPIECE in NEW HANDS

‘Death of A Salesman’ by Arthur Miller is an unquestioned masterpiece of American Drama–it is, by far, Miller’s best play, and it belongs, with three others, on the Mount Rushmore of Great American Plays (the others being ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, ‘Long Days Journey…’ and the combination of ‘Glass Menagerie and ‘Streetcar’)

A thousand before Ernest Barzaga and his company have analyzed the play to death since its premiere in 1949; it remains a towering piece of art, for so many reasons, because of its never ending timeliness, but in a larger sense its devotion to its mission–which is, destroying the lies that people live. The play, at its essence, is a journey, to reveal the lies for what they are–lies and myth-making, nothing more–and discard them. If a definition of art is to remind people how to live their lives, then this is the poster boy for such a proclamation.

Miller also created one of the most memorable characters in all dramatic history–the aptly named Willie Loman, a salesman/husband/father/Chaser of the Fake and False American Dream who has suffered one too many lashes at the mast, and has consistently bet on the wrong horse.

In this production, at the John Cullum Theater, Ian Cooper tries to tackle the role and does it justice. Yes, he’s young – the entire cast is younger than any of the roles in the production. Clearly, with this role at such a young age, he has jumped into the deep, deep end of the pool. But Mr Cooper’s performance is boulder-solid. He is compelling to look at and listen to. He knows how to stand on a stage, and give space to his fellow thespians when necessary. He belongs on a stage, any stage, doing any play. To quote Miller himself–‘Attention must be paid.’ Mr Cooper has accomplished something fairly remarkable–he has, though no choice of his own (the play demands it), taken this gigantic, man-mountain of a  play on his back, and has successfully, sometimes spectacularly, carried it across the finish line. This makes us forgive his inapprpriate hair style (one must wonder if he needs his hair long in life thus was reticent to cut it for such a short run).

After a rocky start and some volume issues, about the 15 minute mark, Mr. Cooper talks about the longing for his 1928 Chevy–and then it were over. Mr. Cooper had won over this humble scribe, from that very moment until the end of the play. Swimming against the current, against the dying of the light, Mr. Cooper forges on and on and on and on, and doesn’t stop, never stops. His almost insatiable desire to – what – succeed … sell stuff … teach his children about manhood before he croaks on the Interstate?–is fascinating and harrowing to watch, since we know from the outset that Mr, Loman is doomed in his quest. Why? He has a skewed vision of what constitutes manhood, and is listening to the one man–his brother (superbly played by Caycee Kolodney, who gives Mr. Cooper a real run for his money with his performance), a land baron of the 19th Century, of the Gilded Age almost, who has no problem robbing from everyone he encounters (‘You cannot deal fairly with strangers’, he proudly boasts), who will steer him down the wrong path.

Joining the triumvirate of superior performance was Anna Paone, playing the tortured, fierce, loyal, Linda Loman. From her opening moments, sleeping (again) by herself, to her final monologue at Willie’s graveside, Ms Paone demonstrated a world-weariness and an inner strength that was completely appropriate for the character and in line with what Mr. Miller wrote.

Gianni Damaia was masterful as Willie’s neighbor Charlie. Their scene alone–which both defines their relationship and also creates new question about it–was the high point of the play. The timing, the direction, the pace, the rhythm, the stakes involved, the passion–all first rate and compelling theater. It also raised a question which we don’t think had been explored before–did Charlie have a thing for Linda? Interesting insight.

The brothers were not quite as successful, but acquitted themselves as the play went on. David Levi as Happy has talent but was missing Happy’s shallow view of the world, and his need for shallow things–like chasing girls to the exclusion of everything else (wonderfully highlighted by the steak house scene in Act II).. His parents pay him little attention for a reason. There must be an understanding from the actor to the character, and give it basis.  He, like Mr. Cooper, needed more period-perfect make-up and costuming.

Aaron Ogle as Biff gave a good, earnest performance. Mr. Ogle, like Mr. Cooper, affected a tone in their voices that had a Lower East Side flavor. Maybe this was meant to show age or time-period but wasn’t needed. Biff has a powerful journey – as a man doomed to the abyss because he learned his father was a lying hypocrite, a devastating discovery for any child. Authentic tone optional. .

Alexander Gheesling as Howard was well-cast, his time on stage is in a vital scene on which the play pivots, so he could have done even more in his moments. David Melgar as Bernard played both his scenes well, and the latter one, with an ailing Willie, was touching. Now, about that hair… (these aforementioned problems (hairstyles for most characters were incorrect for 1949; costuming was inconsistent) were fixable and a lesson learned for next time).

A tip of the hat to the director, Mr. Ernest Barzaga. At its essence, a director’s job is to address the individual art of the actor, and to bring the assorted arts of the other actors and designers together in a cohesive product – and in this task, Mr. Barzaga succeeded. Matters of pacing and staging will only grow stronger and stronger, that is obvious.

The best of success to a fledgling theater company…and maybe next time, into the ocean, where there is no bottom, and no limits. This group has proven, with little hesitation, which it can tackle anything the Theater Gods present before them.

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SUMMER SOUL SOUNDS

There are some lovely words in the English Language. ‘Sound Bath’ would be one.

When this dazzling combo made its entrance about 10 minutes into the Healing Session/Performance, butts shifted in chairs, and attention was paid.

Mary Elizabeth Micari hosted this innovative, unusual, well-meaning experiment–both a ‘session’ and a ‘performance’–and on the whole, despite a few trappings of the modern world sneaking in, was a successful endeavor.

This is an evening of healing, as advertised, by trained sound healers (a wholly legitimate science and art, with schools and degrees dedicated to its teachings), and the healing will take place by any means necessary. It is also a performance of sorts–after all, you’re here, and the healers are ‘up there’. Because of that fact, because the ‘stage’ was dressed so elegantly and appropriate for the tranquil evening planned, a certain level of performance is expected.

Once in awhile the lines became too blurred–sometimes a ‘session’, sometimes a ‘performance’, and sometimes, unfortunately, an infomercial. We are here for meditation, for inner peace through music, that should be the entire agenda.

13958023_10208911395154969_3898281669742306896_oThe evening started with a session by Daniel Lauter, a thoughtful, gentle soul who shared his talent in a caring, giving, touching way. One was free to join in, or not; the decision was entirely ours.  His assorted collection of “singing” bowls was beautiful and elegant and lovely to listen to. He was a man of few words, and had nothing to offer except himself, his energy, and his art. Unfortunately, the next performer was not as gracious a host. After an amusing story as a 5-year-old learning the sax, Erik Lawrence regaled us with one tale after another of who he played with, and where. Even if this wasn’t his intention, it seemed as if he was attempting to find new clients in the audience.

13932947_10208911395794985_6612453857441100488_nFortunately, Act I was saved by George Brandon–a man filled with spirit and soul, and the possessor of a wonderfully sonorous voice, a voice so powerful we could listen to him recite the Yellow Pages without getting fidgety. A commanding presence on the stage, properly dressed for the occasion, you had no choice but to listen, and enter his world. His musical piece–in which all performers joined, including the hostess–was required listening. His mantra–“Don’t Waste Your Life” was short, sweet, and to the point. If only the rest of the world was listening, we’d all be better off.

Act II brought another infomercial. Malia Culp might be successful amongst those she knows well, but on a stage, performing for a group of strangers, she seemed pretentious. Her talents may or may not resonate with her clients, but it’s hard to believe spending half her evening sounding like a bumble bee would work. She acknowledged her ‘…beautiful Erik’ and then began her own commercial much like he did. Sadly, she, too, decided to talk of her talent was better than to show it making her contribution to the evening amount to nothing.

13962524_10208911396354999_2162749278884117239_nThat left the ‘finale’ to Ms. Micari. She saved the day. There is a reason she hosted the event, and a reason she went last–she has the talent the others have, but also a personality that is second to none. She sang beautiful odes of healing brought down to her from her ancestors, and they did not disappoint–from the Gaelic Hills, to the lovely land of Calabria, her voice lifted the evening all by itself…then, it a fitting conclusion, led the audience members out of their seats and into the lobby of the theater, for a wholly satisfying conclusion.

As Hostess, Ms. Micari must be a little mindful of the ramblings of her company but otherwise, a splendid time was had by all, and a big fat tip-of-the-hat to her for organizing such an innovative evening of healing and performance.

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SANDMAN: Potential and Promise
“Novice Playwright Cannot Quite Get out Of Her Own Way”
The Sandman” has potential and promise, but disappoints”
It is no shame; most playwriting debuts fall short because they are afflicted by ‘The Curse of The Shoehorn’…that is, they are determined to get everything they wish to say into one play, even if it needs to be ‘shoehorned’ in. ‘The Sandman‘, running now at American Theater of Actors is, despite several strong stretches of dramatic action and well-written characters, another victim of this malaise.
New York City, 1979. Having escaped from filing bankruptcy and having the Mayor sell apples on the street corner, the pulse of the city turns decadent by decade’s end–discos, cocaine, designer jeans. Easy free living, easy free money. The Irish Mob in Hell’s Kitchen (the Westies, one presumes, although that moniker is never mentioned) gets a scent of this, and wants in–loansharking, prostitution, the rackets out, Columbian Marching Powder in.
Tommy and Diane Cassidy (decently played by veteran Ken Coughlin and Meredith Floor Rust) own a bar on the West Side, ‘The Sandman‘, and are trying to make ends meet. Enter corrupt cops, old hangers-on from back in the day, and of course assorted gangsters pursuing their latest misdeeds. Add several clever plot twists, some excellent dialogue (good ear by Ms Navarra), and some mostly decent performances (especially Greg Valiante as the Head Hoodlum Ian O’Rourke, Dan Lane Williams as the ne’er-do-well Donny Finn, and AJ Converse as Jake Sands) , and there are the ingredients, the makings of a solid new American Play. (Great names, by the way)
But…
It’s Ms. Navarra’s first play, and it shows. The characters are overwritten. There are way too many instances of characters explaining themselves why they do what they do. People, especially these types of people, simply do not explain their ‘feelings’; they simply impulsively act. There is too much action that happens off stage. There is too much dialogue that is realistic but not dramatic–it doesn’t advance the telling of the tale.The second act should be shorter than the first, but here it is in reverse, therefore nullifying and sanitizing the potent dramatic affect. There are too many subplots which get in the way of the drama–a would-be illicit love story (corrupt cop lusting after bar owner’s wife),  a lush lamenting her wasted life in the theater (beautifully played by Valerie O’Hara), and the second act is plot-driven, not character driven–in other words, better suited for television or the movies, but not the theater. (Actors pantomiming getting into a car and following the bad guys looked particularly foolish and amateurish, quite frankly)
There are other disservices that compromised Ms Navarra’s work that had nothing to do with the writing: A lead actor should never serve as the director for any reason–the production had a palpable lack of timing, rhythm, and denouement. The production lagged. Ques were not crisp, and it doesn’t help when actors drop lines about 15 or 20 times, an unforgivable sin.The actual playing space, the theater, was far too large to do justice to this intimate play. The first act takes place mostly in the bar; yet half of the playing space is, except for the opening five minutes, completely bare, unused and unattended. The (Keystone) cops (played by Michael Bordwell and Ben Guralnik) unfortunately do not pass the wind-tunnel test, and because so much dialogue and dramatic action are devoted to them, they take the play down with them.
The first scene in Act II, in Donny Finn’s Office in his pool hall, is a complete breath of fresh air, and after the relative staleness of Act I, seems to be a sign of things to come. It is wonderfully written, without any fat or extraneous diversion; it is superbly acted and staged; it brings with it hope for a better day. Alas, this scene was the high point of the play; the rest of the play was anticlimactic and wholly predictable.
Ms Navarra has a keen sense of characters, a good ear for dialogue, and knows what she wants to say–now comes the matter of another pair of eyes (dramaturg time), and removing the fat, so what we are left with is a better, well-rounded shorter play. Brave for the effort, Ms Navarra, the American Theater Welcomes You!