Granville Burgess, the author behind the new musical COMMON GROUND about a meeting between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass has created a by-invitation-only industry event, Monday, January 21 at 7;00 p.m. at Ripley Greer Studios, opening the possibility of this new look at history, in time when we really need it, might go on to a commercial run.
Before the first member of the audience has arrived, the feedback is already powerful. The reading has since given way to new thoughts and understanding by the actors on thew world we will in and what our part of it is.
GRANVILLE WYCHE BURGESS: I’ve learned the excitement of giving young actors who are not yet in the Union an opportunity to share their talent with the professional community. This workshop will be a launching pad for several of these actors and I am proud to have provided the material and the opportunity for them. I am also grateful that the themes of this musical resonate so deeply with the company, as they have expressed to me personally and to all of us in our sharing time at the end of each day’s rehearsal. I know that through the years having done this COMMON GROUND workshop will be an important moment in their lives both personally and professionally and that is very gratifying.
As a writer, I have continued to develop a keener sense of how to make the necessary cuts in exposition and repetition that lead us into the heart of a scene more quickly. I have definitely grown in my ability to quickly decide what needs to go without unduly hanging on to those words which I have spent so many hours crafting. I have seldom argued over proposed cuts but have focused on them and then made my decision without ego, without focusing on me, but focusing solely on what is best for the show. When writing about history, my tendency is to try to get as much history in the material as possible, but I have learned to not worry about the history but instead to focus on the emotional storyline.
Ali Coopersmith – Abraham Lincoln
The workshop process has been interesting in the amount of input we have in the process. I’ve really learned to question everything and take an active role in the material which I hope to bring to future projects. In terms of activism, Common Ground has reminded me of the power that lies in telling uncomfortable truths. We get to be a part of the change that we want to see in the world, as Rajendra always says.
Mario Claudio – Frederick Douglass
I have learned that the core demands of black people during the time of the civil war took a while to fully operate. That the struggle is still going on, from unjust killing of unarmed black men to illegal child trafficking from poor African countries under the guise of adoption. I’ve learned so much about the struggle of my ancestors, and how most American schools don’t fully go into the injustices of how slavery and the struggle to abolish it. I feel I have grown, not only in my craft but understanding the interconnectivity that if one person in this country is struggling we are all struggling. If one person is unjustly murdered, than we can all be unjustly murdered based solely on their color of skin. We need true works that don’t sugarcoat or fetishize true struggle just for the sake of entertainment.
Victoria Sasso – Mary Todd Lincoln
One of the great gifts we are given as actors is the ability to inspire social change through our work. I have learned that, often times, the most difficult stories to tell are the most important for people to hear. My hope is that audiences who see this piece will be able to celebrate the strides we have made because of individuals like Frederick Douglass, while also recognizing how far we still have to go.
Teisha Duncan – Anna Douglass
“From this process, I have learned that…
An actor is twice defeated when they show up knowing more about what they don’t have to offer than what they do have to offer. Therefore showing up with an open spirit and the knowledge of both makes you doubly prepared to bear witness to your own growth and potential for greatness! ”
Maurio Brown – Reverend Grimes
This workshop has been an amazing experience not only for me as an actor but as a person of African decent. Rajendra our director has challenged us to be truthful and tell our ancestors stories. I have learned so much history from this experience and I am so excited about how this show will change people’s perception of this era in history.
Ethan Ness – Seward + Ensemble
Common Ground has been such a challenging but rewarding process. I would say that I’ve learned that in history–as in the present day–there are no easy answers, and there are no flawless human beings. But we always have the choice to focus on that which unites us, rather than the things that separate us. To me, that’s the whole idea behind ‘Common Ground.’
Sam Oz Stone – Stanton + Ensemble
Laughter, Love and Music are the universal language. Walls can and will be broken down when people of all color and creed can accept this as their truth.
Tommy T. Walker – Chase + Ensemble
This entire experience has been completely eye opening. I’ve learned about the processes the others take in order to allow themselves to be ready for a performance. Rajendra was brilliant when working with the different actors and putting them into the real life situations that these characters had to endure in history. For myself, thanks to my cast mates, Rajendra, Caren, Stan and Granville I have a growing confidence in myself, and as long as I keep working towards the theater as a goal, anything is possible.
Akeil Davis – Lewis, Young Douglass + Ensemble
This workshop taught me the impact of Fredrick Douglass’ life and gave me a new found appreciation for his legacy. Personally, I learned to allow myself a new level of vulnerability which I’d steered away from prior to this experience. Common Ground taught me that Broadway is a mindset not the locations between 34th street and Lincoln center.
The Cher Show
Book by Rick Elice. Songs by various composers.
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
The pop goddess known as Cher (real name Cherilyn Sarkisian) has made only a single in-person appearance on Broadway, in the 1982 drama Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. And yet her passionate fan base overlaps extensively with that of Broadway musicals, likely because of her swagger, her panache, her endurance, her talent, and her pure star quality—all of which are very theatrical.
No wonder, then, that her new musical biography, unambiguously titled The Cher Show, seems so comfortable on Broadway. Rick Elice, co-librettist of one of the most successful jukebox/star biographies ever, Jersey Boys, weaves all of the above qualities around Cher’s songbook, which has covered five decades of pop hits. These have included “I Got You Babe,” “The Beat Goes On,” “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” and “Believe.”
These and two dozen more numbers are performed all are in part by three actresses playing Cher at different points of her life: the youthful “Babe” (Micaela Diamond), the mid-career “Lady” (Teal Wicks), and the worldly-wise elder “Star” (Dee Roscioli, subbing for Stephanie Block at the performance caught). Roscioli is the strongest of the three, followed by the sweetly appealing Diamond, who gives a strong sense of the brightly talented but still innocent Cher of the early days.
Elice’s biographical libretto goes out of its way to be generous to Cher’s discoverer, booster, partner, husband and ex, the late Sonny Bono (Jarrod Spector), who is given credit for his rocket-fuel influence on Cher’s career along with blame for the control-freak workaholism that eventually doomed their relationship.
While this production lacks Jersey Boys’ dramatic complexity, it does a more than respectable job of exploring its subject’s heart, which is what the fans want to see, and why they sang along, clapped along (on “Dark Lady”), and cheered.
The Cher Show plays at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.
Written by Jack Thorne, songs by Eddie Perfect, other music by Marius de Vries.
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
There has been talk of bringing the Australian musical spectacular King Kong to Broadway since 2010.
Now, through a possibly unprecedented combined effort of the Shubert Organization, the Nederlander Organization, Jujamcyn, the Ambassador Theatre Group and two dozen other above-the-title producers, the extravaganza (based on the classic 1933 film) is finally pounding its chest and bellowing at the Broadway Theatre. But not as primally as it needs to. ’Tis political correctness that kills this beast.
As in Oz, the star of the show is the colossal animatronic marionette/robot playing the title character, a two-story monster gorilla who is hunted and captured from the wild in Act I and hubristically brought to Manhattan to be exhibited to the public in Act II. But a force of nature like Kong can’t be kept in chains for long. By the end, Kong makes his epic climb up the Empire State Building where his final fate awaits him.
This unique creation deserves a detailed description. Twenty feet tall, he dominates the stage both with his overwhelming physical presence and, significantly, with his acting. Yes, his acting. He is operated by seven black-clad puppeteers who scurry around him, skillfully manipulating his body and limbs with their hands and with long ropes that act exactly like puppet strings. After a while your mind subtracts the puppeteers and you see only Kong. In addition, his mouth, eyes and facial muscles are operated by computer-run servos. Kong’s face is so large that wherever you sit in the theatre you can see his remarkably expressive facial expressions in the equivalent of a movie closeup. Alternately terrifying and heartbreaking, the expression of his emotions as he deals with these strange little human creature are the best part of King Kong.
This epic monster will undoubtedly go down in Broadway history. For many, the chance to experience it will be worth the ticket price.
Humanizing this force of nature is an amazing feat, but often undercuts the drama. To make the story more contemporary and politically correct, the creators monkeyed around with the characters, making the leading lady Ann Darrow (Christiani Pitts) more of a driver of the story. But that means she has to take more of the blame for her “betrayal” of Kong, who becomes less of a threat, and more like a moody boyfriend. Making him more human actually diminishes his stature. Kong the Mighty spends most of Act II moping.
To make Ann’s role bigger, librettist Jack Thorne and songwriter Eddie Perfect had to make the other characters smaller. Filmmaker Carl Denham (Eric William Morris) is now just a creepy con man and ship captain Englehorn has almost nothing to do.
Perfect’s score doesn’t always live up to the grandeur of the central character (who doesn’t sing, thankfully), but he does provide Pitts with several satisfying power ballads, including a wow of an eleven o’clock number, “The Wonder,” delivered as she stands alone at the pinnacle of the Empire State.
King Kong plays at the Broadway Theatre in Manhattan.
After a successful run in the New York International Fringe Festival, C.A.G.E. Theatre Company is proud to encore The Long Rail North, written by award-winning playwright, Michael Hagins, and directed by Planet Connections’ former Artistic Director, Brock H. Hill. The riveting play about a Black Union soldier and a young White Southern girl, will be at the Soho Playhouse, for a special three-performance run.
The Long Rail North opens Friday, December 28th at 7 pm, and runs on Saturday, December 29th at 7 pm and closes Sunday, December 30th at 3 pm at the Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street.
The Long Rail North is the story of Private Thomas Morgan, a Black Union soldier, who must escape via train with a young Southern White girl named Molly Barnes that he rescued from a plantation fire of a nearby Civil War battle. Exhausted with limited resources and even fewer allies, Thomas continues traveling north in the near-empty boxcar, hoping to get Molly to safety despite her ignorant and preconceived opinions of him and his race, all while both Union and Confederate forces pursue them. He will do whatever he can to protect her…at all costs.
Playwright Michael Hagins shares his journey with this gripping play.
I started writing The Long Rail North when I was 15 years old. I had a love for the Civil War and its history, and for the brave Black soldiers who risked their lives to save others. When I finished, it only had 3 characters (Thomas, Molly and Vickers) and was roughly 20 minutes long. It took me a long time to find it again and fill the holes and do the edits I needed to feel good about it. I think I picked it up again way back in 2003, and even then I didn’t have a computer at home so I’d spend a lot of time in computer labs writing and editing.
Pink Arts Peace Productions, Inc. presents the revival of the compelling play by Mario Lantigua, Two Faces One Mirror. Workshopped in 2013, Mario Lantigua’s powerful drama will be revived at the landmark American Theater of Actors, 314 W 54th Street New York City, for a limited run, December 28 – 30. Tickets available at: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/pink-arts-peace-productions-inc-18255837545
Lantigua also directs his play – about the journey of a young single mother and her blind-to-reality daughter. “This play serves as a parable of love and sacrifice,” says Lantigua, regarding his play.
We spoke with Mr. Lantigua about his work.
What is YOUR message as a writer – what do you hope to contribute to the independent theatre scene?
My message as a writer is to never put the pen down, and to keep telling your story. Even though I still consider myself a student in the world of theatre and film, I never stop writing. The stories that I tell are a part of the lives of so many people who may not otherwise be heard. We write for ourselves and for all of those around us.
What was the inspiration for this project?
My inspiration for this story comes from the girls and women I grew up with in the Bronx. While their stories are unique, they also have so much in common. Sacrifice, love, navigating family expectations. I think there’s something really special about this particular production, with Sunflower Duran playing the lead role, who herself has lived as a young Dominican mother from the Bronx. It’s a classic tale.
What’s your creative process like?
I actually started writing this play for a class I took in 1995. It’s hard for me explain my creative process, but I just keep writing what I see and feel.
What makes this different or special from the first run?
This run of 2 Faces One Mirror is being produced by Pink Arts Peace Productions Inc. (PAPI), with an outstanding cast and crew. I had no idea what I was doing during the first run of the play. I was doing everything myself, from writing the play to managing the stage, and many of the cast were acting for the first time. With the backing off PAPI, I can focus on directing, while the experienced talent can focus on what they do best.
What did you learn/are learning about yourself through this process?
I am learning to trust myself more, and to also trust a team. As I learned through experience, you can’t do everything yourself. You need a team behind you.
What are your ultimate goals for this production or your company for the future?
My goal is to take this production on the road. PAPI and the cast is filled with Bronx natives who have actually lived through the experiences of 2 Faces One Mirror. Our stories are incredibly important. I would especially love to see 2 Faces One Mirror in Hollywood, as a theatre production and also as a film production.
People say the sky is the limit, but I want the whole universe. My team and I won’t stop till till we get it. In addition to a film version of 2 Faces One Mirror, I’m working on a documentary with the working title ‘Freeing Manuel Lugo’. It’s about gangs, corruption, and the prison system in the Bronx. Our stories must be heard.
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Rosalind, Orlando and the rest of the merry band of lovers and miscreants in As You Like It who take refuge in the forest of Arden encounter “hippies” and homeless people in Carrie Issacman’s zero-frills staging of William Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy for the Shakespeare Sports Theatre Company.
STC is primarily a traveling theatre, and specializes in an aesthetic self-described on the official website as “unrehearsed Shakespeare.” It’s an apt description. The notion of having the cast read their lines from handheld scrolls instead of bound scripts could not disguise the fact that most of them hadn’t memorized their halting speeches or built much of a coherent characterization beyond eye rolling and hand waving. More than once the action paused while actors glanced nervously at each other waiting for someone else to give the next line. The tactic might work better with plays by Brecht or Foreman, but didn’t really do Shakespeare or the audience any favors.
Among those who acquitted themselves honorably were Charles Lear as the imperious Duke, Joe Crow Ryan as a grizzled Touchstone, and Roger Stude as a disheveled Jacques who stood out with his slapdash but strangely effective “Seven Ages of Man” speech. Director Issacson herself provided a highlight as the coquettish Audrey. Donna Stearns and Melanie Gretchen (who also played Hymen) composed music for Shakespeare’s lyrics.
Some of the actors were in costumes or partial costumes. Most were in street clothes, supposedly circa 1968, when this production is listed in the program as being set. The stage was almost bare, backed by black curtains which the actors sometimes fumbled through, searching for the gap to make their exit.
As You Like It appeared at the tiny Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre space at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village through December 8.
The Lifespan of a Fact
By Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell.
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
One of the curses of journalism is the act of “fudging.” Not the wholesale falsifying of stories, but the adjusting of seemingly small details—“insignificant” details—to make a story more exciting, more resonant, perhaps more literary. But which only make it untrue.
If recognized, these fudges undermine the public’s faith in the story, and, ultimately, in journalism itself.
Costarring the Rushmore-like three-generation trio of Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale, and Mr. Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, The Lifespan of a Fact, now on Broadway at Studio 54, dramatizes this issue by presenting just such a situation as it happens at a New Yorker-like literary magazine. Jones plays the editor, who believes she has found the once-in-a-generation story about a young woman’s suicide, written by a renowned author, played by Cannavale.
The story seems like a slam-dunk prize-winner for her and for her magazine, so she assigns the pro-forma fact-checking to Jim, a promising recent college grad, played by Radcliffe. But this first-timer turns out to be more dogged and thorough than either of the veterans expected, and keeps finding tiny but significant fudges in the story that give it sweep and resonance, but which turn out to have been made up by the author.
The author is annoyed and the editor is dismissive at first, but, as the fudges pile up, the situation turns from problematic to disastrous.
It took three playwrights to adapt an essay written by two journalists (Jim D’Agata and Jim Fingal), but these too many cooks have managed not to spoil the broth. The play moves energetically and decisively as Jim keeps discovering more and more inconsistencies. The power of the play comes from the way the audience’s attitude shifts from comic annoyance with the gumshoe-like youngster, to respect for the youngster and alarm at the casual dismissiveness of the two veterans who should have known better.
Directed by Leigh Silverman, the play never gets dry or didactic. It finds plenty of humor in a situation that asks serious questions about whether journalists are less careful than they were years ago? And, if so, are their editors and other gatekeepers, like the authors of this play, equipped enough and dedicated enough to do something about it?
The Lifetime of a Fact is scheduled to play at Studio 54 in Manhattan through January 13, 2019.