Viagas and Vernovsky’s Carcass

Carcass By Eddie Vernovsky

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

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Eric stands to enjoy an easy life when he inherits his family’s house-building business, but there is an existential dread, a deep and terrible restless dissatisfaction that poisons all his plans and relationships in Eddie Vernovsky’s scalding drama, Carcass, currently having its world premiere under the auspices of the Off-Off-Broadway Wednesday Repertory Company (WedRepCo).

The play’s other four characters—Eddie’s girlfriend (Aleeza Lew), best buddy (Alan Cordoba-Diaz) , mother (Elaine Davis) and grandfather (Dan Lane Williams)—all suffer from similar angst. They are like a field of geysers, with a world of heavy hurt boiling in the depths of their Sam Shepard-like personas—every once in a while bursting forth with a fountain of epic snarling over trivia.

“What are you talking about?,” is the play’s mantra, a line hurled by one character after another groping for understanding while expressing their own dissatisfaction. The play never really attempts to answer that key question for any of the characters, but leaves the audience to work out the “quantum entanglement” of their relationships. Wondering why Eddie returns to the fold after a mysterious three-month absence, his mother explains, “We don’t have hope in this family.”

         The brooding playwright Vernovsky plays Eddie himself, dragging on a bloody side of bison at one point in another inarticulate attempt to connect with his family. It gives the play its titular symbol.

Directed by Bruce Ornstein, Carcass is playing a limited run through May 19 at Shetler Studios 244 W 54 St. in Manhattan.

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Robert Viagas on the “Floor”

The Floor Is Lava By Alex Riad

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

While the uptown theatres are catering to Millennials still obsessed with proms and high school bullies, LaMaMa ETC’s new drama The Floor Is Lava is examining the way Millennials now in their late 20s are coping with the challenges of early career success—and failure.

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In the children’s game The Floor Is Lava, kids try to cross a room by walking on furniture and anything else that will keep them from physically coming into contact with the floor. No one has to teach kids games like that; each kid seems to invent the same rules by themselves. In Alex Riad’s play of the same title, four former high school buddies find their lives careening off in wildly different directions, which strains their friendship to the breaking point. Matt (John Gutierrez) works in a pizzeria and sells weed. Tom (Andrew Gobel) has become an internet billionaire by inventing a simple but wildly popular app. Kat (Kailah S. King), who helped Tom develop the app, now finds herself his employee, but not his partner. The most disappointed and bitter of all is the little group’s former leader, Sean (John Di Mino), who found his dream job as a marketer to be hollow, and got fired after having a breakdown in front of an important client.

They reunite together in the basement (a set full of witty details from designer Izzy Fields) of Tom’s Silicon Valley mansion at a party to celebrate the success of the app. Set in a world drenched in social media, the four consume vast amounts of alcohol in order to undergo some long-overdue face-to-face truth-telling. What results is an examination of disillusionment and the true meaning of success in a materialistic world—and one of the first true grown-up stage dramas for a generation that is already taking the wheel of our society.

Directed by Glory Kadigan, The Floor Is Lava is playing a limited run through May 19 in the Downstairs Theatre at LaMaMa Experimental Theatre Company, 66 East 4th Street in Manhattan.

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Endorsing “Blood”

Inola McGuire and Lester Cook at Washed in the Blood, a play by Joshua Crone, at the Nubox Theatre, 754 9th Avenue, NYC. 

INOLA McGUIRE:

The performances of Daniel Saulle, Alec Nevin and Joshua Crone were outstanding.  The play transcended to the whole landscape of the realities of gun violence to the audience.  The audio and the voice aspect of the drama surely gave an extra bonus to the message.

Pastor Jim’s character convinced the audience into thinking about the old-time religion of Sundays at a church somewhere around the world.  However, the audience settled for the Bible belt in the United States of America in its mind’s eye.

This play, “Washed in the Blood” has a lot of potential, and it deserves to be seen by a wider audience in New York City and in other states within the United States of America.

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LESTER COOK: 

I saw Joshua Crone’s Washed in the Blood and enjoyed it immensely.  The intense dialogue befitted material that was deep in scope. I was impressed with the exchange between one of the characters and St. Peter.

I enjoyed the realism supplied to this kind of conversation. I enjoyed that ultimately this young man was given a choice and he chose to go back. I wish some colleges could get hold of this intense play and perform it. The parables and the lessons this play provides should really be seen by the masses.

 

Pvt. Wayne Miner and Playwright Kenthedo Robinson

buffalo soldierPlaywright, Producer, Director, and Scholar, Kenthedo Robinson, brings to life another riveting work filled with history and inspiration: The Buffalo Hero of World War I: Based on a True Story. 

Pvt. Wayne Miner, a “Buffalo Soldier,” valiantly volunteered to take artillery to the front-line during World War I even when fellow soldiers refused. Miner, a son of slaves, took the credo of the Buffalo Soldier to heart: “Deeds Not Words.” Ignoring his fears and looking death in the face, armed with the light of his mother’s spirit, Wayne Miner entered history at a time when he was not considered an equal.

Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed in 1866. This nickname was given to the Black Cavalry by Native American tribes who fought in the Indian Wars. The term eventually became synonymous with all the African-American regiments formed in 1866. Although several African American regiments were raised during the Civil War as part of the Union Army, the “Buffalo Soldiers” were established by Congress as the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army.

Robinson, known for his spiritually-infused works, gathered a repertory of like-minded artsists including Chaelene Mulgrave, Darrell Wyatt, Shatique Brown, Ms. D., Timothy Walsh, Bereket Mengistu, Mark Robinson, Isaac Winston, Phillip Iweriebor, and brought them to one of the last theaters left in NYC that was an integral part of the original off-off Broadway movement – the American Theatre of Actors – to properly honor this fallen hero.  The American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th Street, NYC. 

Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed in 1866. This nickname was given to the Black Cavalry by Native American tribes who fought in the Indian Wars. The term eventually became synonymous with all the African-American regiments formed in 1866. Although several African American regiments were raised during the Civil War as part of the Union Army, the “Buffalo Soldiers” were established by Congress as the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army.

Robinson elaborated on his journey regarding the creation of this powerful piece:

Former Historian of Wayne Miner Post 149, Joe Louis Mattox, approached me to write a play about Wayne Miner, the last soldier to die in World War I and to produce it coinciding with the 100 Year Anniversary Celebration of the post, November 2019.  After many intense collaborations with Mr. Mattox it was decided that the title of the play would be, The Buffalo Hero: The Wayne Miner Story. Being a native Kansas Citian, I began my research in The Heart of America. The journey of my research and working with Kansas Citian Historian, Joe Louis Mattox, Rev. Lindon and Sidney Malone has been illuminating. Researching countless articles and books in the K. C. Public Library Missouri Valley Room, The Southeast Library and The Black Archives of Kansas City was exhaustive but rewarding. Further research led me to The Schomburg Center for Social Research in Harlem, New York, The Grand Army Plaza Library and local New York libraries and have certainly been encouraging.  Of course, countless research was also conducted on the internet. It also took me to the London War Museum and to the beautiful St. Mihel Memorial in France where Pvt. Wayne Miner and black soldiers of WWI have found their final resting place. I will never forget the enthusiasm on the coordinators face when we arrived at the St. Mihel Memorial site and I presented her with a Buffalo Soldier 92nd Division Patch and materials from The Wayne Minor Post and explained the celebration to be held in November 2019. In her enthusiasm, she shared that when local schools in France visit the site, she tells them  of the bravery and courage of Pvt. Wayne Miner.

We then discussed Robinson himself:

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Kenthedo Robinson

 

Tell us about yourself as an artist and educator

There is nothing more rewarding than working with the youth who grow into adulthood and have taken their learning experiences and applied them in life.  The theatre teaches great life  and professional skills:  Analyzing, Collaborating, Researching, Presenting, Planning, etc.  

What drew you to this topic and to Wayne Miner?

Kansas City Historian and my mentor Joe Louis Mattox, once said, “You should write a play about Wayne Miner.”  Because Wayne Miner had a housing project named after him in the Kansas City area,  I quickly replied, “Oh, you want me to write a play about a housing project?”  He immediately began to school me on who Wayne Miner was, much to my embarrassment.  He went on, “Buffalo Soldier Wayne Miner was the last man to sacrifice his life for world democracy in World War I.”  What that experience taught me is that housed behind many buildings we pass each day is a life that should go on living for those who don’t know and for those who have forgotten.

Is the ATA your go-to theater?

ATA is important to me because when I arrived in New York in 1980, it was Jim Jennings, the owner who produced my play, Nicky: The Unknown Man.  It was about an aging Kansas City boxing trainer suffering from concussions from his boxing career as he struggled to keep his gym open for wayward youth.   

You write with more than a hint of spirituality in your work. Explain.

So often we are so busy with life that we don’t stay in tune with that which gives us life, our spirit.  So to strike the right balance, we need to make that connection to God.  God is someone who’s often sitting on the sideline waiting for us to to let him into the game.  If we’re honest, many things boil down to what’s wrong and what’s right and the spirit of God helps us see that.  I’m reminded of my mother often saying, when something seemed confusing or going wrong, “When all the water’s boiled out of the pot, then you’ll see what you got.”  She meant, you can spin your wheels until you can’t go anymore, then you’ll have to turn to the spirit inside to get you going again. Then you’ll have to put some more water (God) into the pot.

What’s next.

Oh, my God! What’s next.  A whole lot.  I have so many “great” ideas about what to write next. We’re coming up on the 250 year anniversary of the death of Crispus Attucks, that would make a great play.  Ever heard of the Triple Nickles? They were the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division.  That will make a great play.  There’s also naval hero Robert Smalls, a slave, who was so daring against the Confederate Soldiers during the Civil War that President Lincoln recruited him to help enlist fellow African Americans into the Union Army.  Not all of my interest is centered around the military.  There’s also this idea I’ve had for years about writing a play I’ve titled, Ridacee in the City.  The story of Orpheus and Euyridice set to jazz in the 1920’s with Charlie Parker as Orpheus.  Maybe I should stop, because I could go on.  It’s going to come to come to who grabs me by the collar first.  I would bet, probably Crispus Attucks.

The Buffalo Hero opens Thursday, May 9 and running through May 19 (Thurs., May 9 & 16; Fri., May 10 & 17; all at 7:00 p.m.; Sat., May 11 & 18 at 2:00 & 7:00 p.m. and Sun., May 19 at 3:00 p.m.) with tickets available on Brownpapertickets.com. Admission is $25 ($20 Teacher/Student Discount Code: STBH; $20 Senior Citizens Discount Code: SCTBH; $20 Veterans Discount Code: VTBH; Special Mother’s Day Brunch Performance, Sunday, May 12: $40 includes brunch from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. with the performance at 5:00 p.m.).

Contact cpactickets@gmail.com or Kenthedo@gmail.com or 917-523-2823 for further info.

 

Kadigan & King

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Glory Kadigan – a creative director in the indie arts community recently joined forces with a rising star – Kailah S. King.

Their first project, Vivian’s Music 1969, exploded at Edinburg Fringe before a resounding off-Broadway run last July, which became the springboard for a multi-state tour. Now the two have come together again at the “home” of another woman leader of the arts – Ellen Stewart’s legendary incubator for quality art from the soul – LaMaMa – for a full-scale run of a show that premiered as a workshop presented by the acclaimed Farm Theater Company at Kadigan’s own incubator of the arts – Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. The Floor Is Lava, one of the more visible works exploring the world of the Millennial, premieres in May.

The Floor is Lava, May 09 – May 19, 2019 – Downstairs | 66 East 4th Street
Thursday to Saturday at 8PM; Sunday at 5PM Tickets: Lamama.org
Written by Alex Riad and Directed by Glory Kadigan

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How did you two meet – and decide to collaborate? 

Kailah: Glory and I were introduced to each other through playwright Monica Bauer in 2017 while working on a staged reading version of Vivian’s Music, 1969.

Glory: Yes we were introduced to each other through Monica Bauer the playwright of Vivian’s Music 1969. We were both asked to be involved in a reading of the play and about a year later, Monica contacted me to ask if I would direct a production of it that was going to Edinburgh Scotland.

Tell us about Vivian’s Music and its run?  

Kailah: Vivian’s Music, 1969 is a fictional story based on a real-life event of Vivian Strong, a 14 year old black girl who was wrongfully shot and killed by a white police officer, which ignited the Omaha riots in 1969. A little less than a year later, Vivian’s made its way to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland where it received 5-star reviews. Vivian’s Music was then extended from 55-min to 85-min and performed a 3-week at the Off-Broadway venue 59E59 Theaters. Since the new year, Vivians has toured to the East Hamptons and to Connecticut!

Glory: Yes, and now it’s going to run in DC and we might have another production of it in NYC next year.

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Did “Lava” naturally flow? 

Kailah: I always have a great time working alongside Glory. We get along well and understand each other, so moving forward with her to the new production of The Floor is Lava felt very natural.

Glory: The Floor Is Lava had been presented as a workshop production at Planet Connections Festivity by The Farm Theater Company lead by a long time friend of mine Padraic Lillis.  La Mama was interested in supporting writers in their twenties who were writing about issues that 20-somethings are challenged with today. So I created a short list of writers, which Alex’s name was on. I’ve been with La Mama for about five years and consider them to be one of the most outstanding communities you can be a part of in the theater world. Alex eventually met with Mia (Artistic Director of La Mama) and The Floor of Lava was offered a slot with me as director. Luckily Padraic gave us the green light. Alex (the playwright) and I then had several closed readings of the script and heard many great actors on roles. But I always knew in my heart that I wanted Kailah and that she would be brilliant. Our collaboration on Vivian’s Music 1969, meant that we had a shared mutual respect for each other and for each other’s process.

Two different plays, themes, schedules, and, I’m sure, many other things. How does that change the way you work together? 

Kailah: Well, our rehearsal process is definitely very different. With Vivian’s, both my costar and I perform alternating monologues, so I had to rely a lot on storytelling, playing multiple characters, and since we were on a bare stage, it’s really the actors job to create this world in which the audience can see exactly where it is you want to take them. With Lava, I have scene partners I need to play off of and connect with, and a stage filled to the brim with scenery.

Glory: Well Vivian’s Music 1969, is a play about one of the worst race riots in United States history, sparked by the shooting of a 14 year old black girl by a white police officer. Floor Is Lava is partially about the unconscious bias in todays time, regarding race and gender. I knew from the beginning that these topics were part of what I was interested in exploring with my own interpretation of the play. So I intentionally sought a diverse cast of performers which has cracked open the plays accessibility. In terms of our collaboration, Kailah is someone who always wants to do the work.  So am I. Having the trust in each other that we’re going to put in the time, and deliver, goes a long way. Also we both love Game of Thrones so….there’s that.

Do you foresee a grander scale to your working relationship (partnerships, writing, producing together, etc.)

Kailah: Although it isn’t something we’ve personally talked about I do foresee us working together of future projects. We get along great, and I’m constantly learning new things about Glory as a director and about myself as a performer.

Glory: We haven’t talked about that yet but anything is possible. In terms of process, there are adjustments made to different companies.  La Mama gives us all room to “explore” and “experiment” with the rehearsal process.  In commercial theater, you aren’t allowed to “explore”. You just have to do it the way that it’s always been done before. Both Kailah and I are flexible at adapting to a theater company, and delivering what commercial theater producers need.  But, sometimes it’s just fun to be “experimenting” down at La Mama. So that’s what were doing with the process this time around.

Speaking philosophically and specifically, what makes a good team in the arts? 

Kailah: What makes a good team in the arts is just always being ready to put in the work. Putting together a show of any size requires a lot of hard work, and when everyone is willing to make choices and be flexible to change, I think a lot of greatness can follow.

Glory:  Trust. But also…being met by your collaborators in terms of work ethic and intelligence.  The entire cast of Floor Is Lava are people who really want to be doing the work. It’s the first time in a long time that the entire cast “met” me on day one with ideas, thoughts, and creativity. I love going to rehearsal to see them because all four of them are great collaborators. They’re smart and talented but also flexible and easy to get along with. We’ve been having a great time collaborating.

OK, team… what’s next? 

Kailah: Next up, I will be revisiting Vivian’s Music as we head down to Washington DC for a 16-show run this July!

Glory: We’re looking forward to Vivian’s Music 1969 running in Washington DC in July.  Kailah and I will be going into rehearsals with Russell Jordan (another brilliant actor) at the end of June.  I’m also working on two new Erik Ehn plays, one in June at the Sheen and another on Governors Island in early August with Rising Sun Theatre Company.

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Do you hear the people sing …

The Art of Protest

Playlets by J.B. Alexander, Jaisey Bates, Thomas C. Dunn, Jeff Dunne, Elizabeth Gordon, Liv Matthews, Robin Rice, Scott C. Sickles, Judd Lear Silverman, andBara Swain

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

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The many personalities of political dissent in the U.S.A. are explored in The Art of Protest, ten playlets exploring different sides of various American protest movements going back to the Vietnam era.

Some dramatic, some comedic, each of the ten plays (staged by ten directors and performed by members of a 22-actor ensemble) strive to give a human face to the subjects of picket lines, marches and sit-ins.  In Robin Rice’s Before Yesterday, a man (Michael Gnat) discovers that he had sold the gun that was used in a murder. In J.B. Alexander’s Melting the ICE, a desperate lawyer (J. Dolan Byrnes) deploys every trick he knows to get a stubborn ICE bureaucrat (Mireya Rios) to reveal the whereabouts of an illegal immigrant’s child who was forcibly separated from his parents.

In Elizabeth Gordon’s Perversity, a now-elderly artist (Laurence Cantor) remembers the battle to get timid fellow protestors in the 1960s to take a chance on a vivid antiwar poster he had drawn, which later became a classic image of the era.

To leaven the earnestness of most of the contributions, The Art of Protest also includes some comedic pieces, including Scott C. Sickles’ #Bastille, about an eager young firebrand who finally meets her blogger hero—only to find him more practical about starting a revolution than she imagined.

The title of Bara Swain’s Yearning for Peace doesn’t refer to Vietnam or Iraq, it’s about an expectant couple arguing over which protest standard-bearer to name their baby after. The evening’s weakest link is Jeffrey Dunne’s This Is Bull, a lame skit about auditioning matadors that lobs soggy sponges at political correctness.

The two best of the plays come in Act II.

Judd Lear Silverman’s Consequences imagines a taut confrontation between the principal (Sarah Babb) of a private school a parent (Valerie David) whose child refuses to stand for the playing of the national anthem. The fact that the two women are longtime friends greatly raises the stakes during the clash.

Gun violence is again the subject of Thomas C. Dunne’s Triggered, a dark revenge fantasy in which the parents of a child killed in a mass shooting take a U.S. Senator (Denise Pence) and her husband hostage and announce plans to kill their children as payback for the 18 gun-control bills she voted down, including one that would have denied guns to the mentally ill. “You made us crazy,” one of the hostage-takers says, “and you gave us guns.”

Considering its sharp-toothed subject matter, this collection rarely bites too hard or too deeply. Oddly, there’s nothing on current movements lighting up Twitter like Black Lives Matter or #MeToo. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s nothing from the newly disturbing red side of the political spectrum.

Even so, the best of these stories linger like the images of classic protest posters arranged on the stage by designer George Allison.

Produced by the Articulate Theatre Company as part of its Articulating the Arts festival, The Art of Protest played a limited run through April 6 at Tada! Theatre Off-Broadway.

Rev[erend] Mary and Rev[iewer] Robert

mary.jpgI’m SOOOO High: Rev. Mary’s Reefer Revue

Music & lyrics by various composers
Reviewed by
Robert Viagas

With all the recent debate and action on legalizing recreational use of marijuana, it’s hard to believe that until the 1930s it was completely legal to own, buy or sell the mildly hallucinogenic drug almost anywhere in the U.S.

Pot was adopted as the stimulant of choice among jazz musicians, who celebrated (and sometimes bemoaned) its effects in a surprising variety of (mainly) blues songs composed and performed 1910-1950 by artists including Cab Calloway, Stuff Smith, Marion Sunshine, Lil Green, Trixie Smith, and Fats Waller.

Those songs have been lovingly gathered and packed into the bowl of Pangea in the East Village, and lit up by Rev. Mary Whitebush (Mary Elizabeth Micari) and the band Granny’s Blue-Mers in a pleasantly baked nightclub show titled I’m SOOOO High: Rev. Mary’s Reefer Revue.

56393241_849998152008800_4570185080886001664_nThe broad-beamed brunette Rev. Mary gives off a bawdy Belle Barth vibe, perhaps left over from her previous revue of naughty ditties, Red Hot Mama. She spends the show performed with a heavy-lidded, knowing expression while a small smile plays across her brightly lipsticked mouth. She often accompanies her piano, bass and drum backup with stints on the washboard and kazoo trumpet.

In between songs like “That Cat Is High,” “Are You Hep to the Jive?,” “I Didn’t Like It the First Time,” “When I Get Low, I Get High,” “When You’re a Viper,” “Knocking Myself Out,” the worshipful “Sweet Marijuana Brown,” and the broken-hearted “All the Jive Is Gone,” Rev. Mary shares some of the history of the writers and their creations, and acts as the Urban Dictionary of jazz-based pot code words like jive, gate, mezzroll, tea, and viper.

Rev. Mary is supported by a swinging mix of singers and musicians including Mario Claudio, George Dixon, Dan Furman, Nori Naroka, & John Dinello.

Interestingly, the show stops short of the explosion of pot songs that accompanied the 1960s counter-culture embrace of the drug, and continued with R&B, rap, and on into our own Juul-fueled age. Sister Mary prefers her mellow weed lullabyes from the bittersweet jazz age.

I’m SOOO High: Rev. Mary’s Reefer Revue played a limited run through April 6 at Pangea in the East Village.

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