Dorian Palumbo says “Soundview” is sound viewing.

IMG_2812It’s always fascinating to watch two different people react in completely different ways to the same, intense circumstance.  In Kate Gill’s masterful play “Soundview Summer”, we get to see two men, one circumspect and in denial, the other channeling his outrage into the public sphere, as they deal with the illness contracted while working at a nuclear plant.

The story itself isn’t new – the American companies whose operations result in toxic waste quite often deal with that waste in irresponsible “cost-saving” ways, choosing to protect their profit margins at the expense of the lives of working class folk desperate for jobs.  American companies do it to this day; hell, one of them is probably doing it right now, thanks to the current administration and its determination to deregulate every polluter from coast to coast.  What is fresh about this unfortunately very timely play is that we put the spotlight on the emotional fallout from dealing with chronic illness.

Billy (Vincent Sagona) is trying to hold it together, living in a trailer with high school sweetheart Ellie (Annie McGovern), despite his physical weakness, disability, and, as we learn later, infertility caused by radiation exposure.  The life that Ellie imagined they would have together was never even on the table, and Billy is not best pleased when co-worker and old friend Jack (Brian Richardson) appears on his doorstep looking to dredge up the past.  It was Billy who suggested the summer job that ruined both their lives, and Billy who seems most invested in pretending that nothing can be done about it.  Jack, on the other hand, is on fire, writing a book, appearing on talk shows, and using what’s left of his time on earth to try and achieve a payday for the remaining members of his extended family.

Facing the truth about our lives, such as they are, isn’t something that any of us are terrifically good at, but in Soundview Summer we see the guilt-wracked Billy submerged in denial.  Jack picks at Billy like a crow, trying to cajole him into taking up the “cause” that Billy seems to want to ignore completely.  But the truth will out, and the festering of these buried emotions damages Billy’s marriage in just the way radiation is damaging his body.

IMG_2798Sagona’s portrayal of Billy is touching and sympathetic; Richardson is a force of nature as the righteous, brave Jack.  Sharon Hope is radiant as Jack’s loving and practical Aunt Jessie.  Annie McGovern as Ellie is enchanting, and the play is given a particularly vibrant shot when Susan Barrett appears to play Cathy, a tough-talking single mother that takes up with poor Billy after Ellie makes her escape into the arms of, ironically, a doctor.  Barrett understands beautifully that her character is largely comic relief, but slips into, and out of, the emotional landscape with subtlety and grace.  Veteran actor Stuard Rudin is great fun to watch as Cathy’s barman brother Joe, and Gregory Erbach lends just the right amount of desperation to Chaney, the engineer who, in flashback, is shown clueing Billy in on the negligence of the Soundview managers.

The play does end a little abruptly – Gill seems to want to eschew a protagonists final speech, and that’s a fair enough choice.  But if the end of Billy’s arc is his decision to finally do what Jack, and seemingly Gill, feel is the right thing, the audience doesn’t get a whole lot of time to savor that moment.  There are also not one but two cracks about women gaining weight in middle age that don’t really add much to the experience and that, as a middle-aged woman myself, I could have lived without.  But, all in all, the play is something audiences will feel absolutely privileged to have seen, and there are a good few performances left on the schedule.

“Soundview Summer” is Produced by Hudson Theatre Works, and will be presented at Theatrelab, 357 West 36th Street on Friday, November 10th at 8 PM, on Saturday, November 11th at 8 PM, on Sunday, November 12th at 3 PM, on Thursday, November 16th at 8 PM, on Friday, November 17th at 8 PM, on Saturday, November 18th at 8 PM and on Sunday, November 19th at 3 PM.

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Photos by Susan Ferguson
For tickets, see upcoming events on   www.theatrelabnyc.com
 
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Dorian Palumbo understands the UVX-act meaning behind Luxury Universal Experience and Chmaj & Lyle

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Back in the 1980’s a standup comedian named Andy Kaufman decided that the “bits” and the “routines” he was doing professionally didn’t go far enough in allowing him to express himself.  He approached the World Wrestling Federation and, in 1982, created a character that he subsequently inhabited so often and in so many contexts, the Letterman show, wrestling events, theatrical events, that he effectively created a permanent fourth wall around himself.  He jettisoned his beloved TV character, the reason most of his audience knew him, stopped giving interviews as anyone other than “wrestling villain Andy” and, thus, challenged his audience to question the very nature of what was real about Andy Kaufman, the comedian and also the man.  Many who were used to a traditional comedian’s approach didn’t “get it.”  In fact, his insistence on hiding behind his own personal fourth wall made some of his audience literally hostile toward him.  He didn’t care.  He had a story to tell.

I thought about Andy Kaufman as I watched Wednesday night’s performance of UVX: The Luxury Universal e[X]perience at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side.

lux4 (800x600) (1)The premise of UVX is that a large corporation has found an algorithm to quantify “fun” and is now prepared to apply techniques to its filmic “experience” as various as audience voting, Rocky Horror-type trash tossing, multi-media and Erhardt Seminar Training, to create an interactive experience for the audience that is at once funny and bizarre.    Yes, there is a goofed-up film, preceded by a mock trivia quiz with a somnambulistic rendering of the intro from A-Ha’s “Take on Me” as background Muzak.  But the film is not the point.  All the stuff that goes on in the foreground, with the (hopefully willing) participation of the audience is the point.

In true Andy Kaufman-like style, there is no program naming the creators of the show, listing the actors, or otherwise letting the audience know anything much at all about what it’s in for.  There is only a small brochure which seems to resemble the escape safety brochure from a low-rent airline.  This is rather a shame, as the actors playing the ushers, or “buddies”, were doing quite a good job, and I’d like to call them out by name if only I knew what their names actually were.

IMG_5325 (1) (1)There was also, therefore, no way of discerning, on the night who, exactly, was responsible for creating the theatrical experience I was watching.  Thanks to Google, though, I was able to discover that the piece was created by interactive theatre veteran Lyle Sterne and self-described multi-media jack-of-all-trades Alex Chmaj.

The UVX experience also gives a nod to amusement park rides, in the sense that the person who gets onto a ride at Six Flags is entering into an agreement that something artificial is going to, nonetheless, evoke an emotional response as if the circumstance is “for real.”  UVX manages to accomplish this largely through the maintenance of the fourth wall I previously described – Sterne and Chmaj pretend, good and hard, that everything they’ve created is “for real”, and it doesn’t take long for the audience to suspend it’s disbelief and pretend that it’s real as well.

lux3 (1)I’d like to say a few words at this point in praise of silliness.  Theatre, particularly New York Theatre, isn’t often just flat-out silly.  Unintentionally funny, perhaps, but not Monty Python-style, Kaufmanesque silly.  With its battling stormtroopers wielding glowsticks and its gleeful “buddies” exhorting the audience to throw paper airplanes and otherwise have fun, even if one of the ushers should suffer bodily harm or even death, UVX is monumentally, supremely silly.

As with most audience-driven theatrical experiences, the show is more fun when the house is full.  UVX makes a point (one of many) about the corporatization of entertainment by charging a premium to sit in the balcony, able to throw debris on the proles below but not (I assume, since I couldn’t see) engaged by the “buddies” or the stormtrooper characters.  When I visited, there were some empty seats, but I could see that the audience members in front of me, who went “all in” with the participation aspect, were having a good giggle.

This is not the first time Sterne and Chmaj have collaborated, and it won’t, I assume, be the last, but I would encourage theatergoers to visit the Abrons Arts Center while they can still catch UVX and watch something that very few people are attempting to do these days – an example of commercial experimental theatre that requires the audience to engage in a way it may not be used to.

Andy Kaufman would love it.

IMG_5336 (1)UVX: The Luxury Universal e[X]perience will be playing at the Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street, New York City, on Friday 3 November 2017:2:00 PM; 5:00 PM9:00 PM, Saturday 4 November 2017:  2:00 PM5:00 PM9:00 PM and on Sunday 5 November 20171:00 PM4:00 PM

Tickets can be obtained via ovationtix at the URL below:
http://www.abronsartscenter.org

Or by phoning the box office at 646.941.9326

Comedic Susan Barrett takes Soundview Summer very seriously.

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SUSAN BARRETT opens this week in Soundview Summer, a daring work that takes a personal look at the after-effects of nuclear exposure.  Ms. Barrett had some interesting takes on everything from being an artist, to being funny, to being in Indie Theater … if that still exists!  

 

Tell us about yourself as an artist? 

ssI’m Susan Barrett, and I play Cathy in Soundview Summer. I’m a comedic character actor who really enjoys transforming into characters to the point where I am unrecognizable on stage. A few years ago, I did an all female production of Othello. We actually played the male roles as men with lots of facial hair, transformed the way we walked and talked. I was overjoyed at our opening night party when someone came up to me and said, did you see the show, who do you know in it? And, I was able to say I WAS IN IT! When people don’t have a clue it is me off stage, that really feels gratifying. Those types of projects are what I am drawn to the most. Also, outlandish comedy with lots of improv. However, I love developing new works, like Soundview Summer, with playwrights, and just working on good stories, and well written plays, whether it be comedy or drama. I really enjoy making folks laugh, so comedy is my “go to,” but it’s also nice to portray a serious drama where hopefully what I bring to a role can help to ignite something in someone in the audience. If I reach some person in some way as an actor, and tell the story well, then I know I have done my job. I also love the medium of television and film. It’s really quite a privilege to get to do what we do as artist’s.

 

 

What do you hope to convey to your audience regarding this powerful topic? 

This question is a challenging one for me. My character Cathy, doesn’t comment at all about the topic. She simply plays an important relationship in the story with the main character at a transitional time in his life. Cathy pops in and out very quickly near the end of the play, and is very “slice of life.” I hope the audience finds her relationship with Billy refreshing and fun as she adds a bit of levity to the story. We get to see a different side of Billy with Cathy as both their lives progress forward.

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Do you feel a stronger sense of responsibility when the subject matter is so serious? 

Again, difficult for me to comment on this particular question because my character Cathy isn’t really effected directly by the subject matter. Since the play is not really about her journey, and we only get to see a glimpse of her life with Billy, I would say that perhaps there is more of a strong sense of building a lasting relationship where two people come together by circumstance to teach each other a lesson, and to help and aid one another at a particular cross roads in their lives. That alone in telling the story is a strong sense of responsibility. I think just telling any characters story is a strong sense of responsibility, no matter what the subject matter is.

 

Tell us your feelings on Indie Theater? 

That’s an interesting question! I’m not sure Indie Theater still exists, at least not how it did, or the way I knew it in NYC in the 80’s up to around 2008. So many great companies (some of which I was a part of) have had to close their doors. Even the Fringe Festival has taken a hiatus. It makes me very sad to have seen that occur as NY has changed so much in the last decade. So, I say Bravo and Kudos to anyone who is able to continue to produce, develop and bring new works to the forefront, and continue to create on ANY level. It’s so important to keep ALL of The Arts going, no matter way, and to be able to express, create and tell valuable stories through any medium in this crazy unsettled climate we are now living in. We can’t stop making a positive impact on the world!

 

What’s next? 

If you find out before I do, please let me know! LOL! Actually, I shot an episode of Shades Of Blue opposite Jennifer Lopez over the summer, and that should be airing on television mid-season, sometime after January. My goal is to continue to work more in film and tv, and work towards a recurring role on a series, so if anybody with any influence out there is reading this, please keep me in mind. Again, LOL! I was fortunate enough recently to audition for a recurring role on a new Showtime series that shoots in late December, so here’s hoping….working on remaining faithful, and taking it one day at a time. Also, I am teaching again, and would really enjoy focusing on coaching younger actors, and doing more teaching artist residency work.

 

 

Mauritius gets Dorian Palumbo’s “stamp” of approval.

Back in 2011, Alan Rickman was interviewed about his starring role in one of Theresa Rebeck’s plays, and said, (and I’m forced to paraphrase because I can’t find the interview for the life of me), that he thought particularly highly of Rebeck’s dialogue, allowing that, yes, it’s witty and it’s comic, but it’s also as musical and complex as any Elizabethan monologue.  Nailing the dialogue in a Rebeck play is not by any means easy, and I’m delighted to say that the five actors in the Tongue In Cheek Theatre’s revival of Rebeck’s “Mauritius” all do it seamlessly and beautifully.

Kris and Natalie get married

“Mauritius” tells the story of two sisters, actually half-sisters, dividing the belongings of their late mother.  The situation is fraught, as those situations often are, but in this particular case, among the unpaid bills, the costume jewelry, and the unutterable sadness and resentment, sit two perfect specimens of the most sought after, and valuable, stamps in the world; the one penny and two penny Post Office stamps from the Republic of Mauritius.  As with a lot of collector’s items, what they’re worth is just about what a serious collector would be willing to pay for them, but as we learn over the course of the play, the seller of the world’s most sought-after pieces of gluey paper could reasonably expect to receive millions.

The tug o’ war over these magnificent specimens pits Jackie, independent, desperate, and resentful that she, alone, was left to care for their mother through cancer, against the tightly wound Mary, whose certitude that the stamps belong to her because they were passed down from her paternal grandfather is absolutely unshakeable, although probably not legally actionable in the way she seems to assume.  Jackie is played with deeply compelling, rock-and-roll rough/cool by Emily Nash, and the part of Mary, which could devolve, in the wrong hands, into simply an uptight villain, is rendered with sensitivity and depth by the inimitable Jake Lipman.  Jake, as she often does, is doing quadruple-duty here, not only playing a lead role in the piece but also directing, and functioning as Producing Artistic Director and Production Designer.

The rest of the cast are equally top flight; Derek Long as Dennis, the love interest and slick, charming stamp-pimp, is loads of fun to watch.  The very-skilled Kurt Bardele plays the role of Philip, owner of the musty philatelists haven, with the requisite reverence for his stamps and joy of his profession, without making Philip too stuffy or silly for us to connect with. And Michael Vincent Cabrera is at once seductive, menacing, and utterly sympathetic as Sterling, the would-be buyer of the precious Mauritians; it’s just as easy to imagine Sterling becoming teary-eyed at the sight of these precious objects of his desire as it is to believe he is, in fact, mostly involved in dealing munitions and can become casually violent when challenged.

I’d also like to mention that I did see “Mauritius” on Broadway back in 2007, and while I believe that Theresa Rebeck and other female playwrights need to take up residence on Broadway far more often, if only to financially support them properly and in the manner they deserve, there is also something to be said for seeing a play like this one in a more intimate setting.  Watching five actors wrestle an emotional question to the ground, the way they do in “Mauritius,” is exciting and kind of blissfully unnerving when you’re close enough to the actors to see their eyes.

The show has finished its run, but if you will indulge me for a few words more, I’d like to say something about indie theatre here in New York: it’s hard.  It’s really hard.   It’s hard to pull off.  It’s even hard just to make it happen at all.  Jake Lipman’s Tongue in Cheek Theatre has been making independent theatre happen for ten years now, continuing on a mission to feature comic plays, to showcase the work of female playwrights, and of male playwrights who create strong and numerous roles for women, and to provide a bit of contrast in a theatre scene that sometimes feels very heavy on the “heavy” side of things.  Brava.

So if you’re looking for theatre that’s funny without being frivolous, and joyous while still being thematically rich and complicated, look no further than TIC.  And please check out their website at:  http://www.tictheater.com/

Kate Gill provides some sound views on the arts

“I have worked for many years as a communications strategist at a New York City ad agency. After thousands of interviews over thousands of hours, it’s still fascinating to me to uncover how people feel (often they cannot say) and insights about how they can be motivated. All of this work feeds and informs my plays. But the core inspiration for my writing is usually one small thing that inexplicably stops me and makes me see something in a new light – a newspaper item, a personal story, a scientific fact, or an odd comment – and I begin to imagine a story…” says playwright Kate Gill, who spoke with us thoughtfully and proved to be a perfect addition to our our list of lady-influencers of the arts in NYC.

Soundview Summer is just such a story. Billy and Jack thought they had found the ideal summer job. Decent hours … good money … and it was a no-brainer … just clean up the Soundview Nuclear Power Plant. After being nominated for three MITF Awards after its initial workshop presentation, it is now on the verge of opening its first full-scale production.

Hudson Theatre Works will present a limited run of Kate Gill’s powerful stage play about two young men’s altered lives due to the unsafe surroundings of their summer job at a nuclear power plant.

 

Preview is November 3 @ 8:00 pm; Opening is the following night, November 4 @ 8:00 pm; and will run November 5 @ 3:00 pm, November 9, 10, 11 @ 8:00 pm, November 12 @ 3:00 pm, November 16, 17, 18 @ 8:00 pm, November 19 @ 3:00 pm, at Theaterlab, 357 West 36th Street, NYC, a unique incubator of indie works. Come for the engaging play, study the unique theater setting. For tickets, go online at www.theaterlabnyc.com.

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Why this piece, this subject? Why now?

I started writing Soundview Summer years ago. By chance, I met a man just a few months ago, who believes his health was ruined by working in a nuclear power plant and he shared his very moving story with me.  Today with all the political talk about less regulations and letting business do what’s best for business – an environment is emerging where workers could be less protected and more likely to be damaged or exploited.

 

What’s the parable or moral of this play? Who do we feel-for?

Living with a lie destroys your life – you are only free when you you live your truth.
What is your opinion of indie theater? 

It’s where much innovation and creative energy comes from – it is freer than commercial theater to explore new territory.

Finally, my favorite, what’s it like being a woman in the NYC arts scene in the 21st century?

It’s great! Not prefect yet full of opportunity – far more opportunity than there was when I was younger. And while women seem to be losing ground in the political world they continue to strongly gain ground in the arts.

 

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Jake Lipman speaks Tongue-in-Cheek

Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions completes its revival of  Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius tomorrow, October 28.  All of us at Five Star Arts Journals congratulate and celebrate Jake Lipman, founder AND producing artistic director, for shepherding another great work for a great group of workers.

Mauritius closed 28, 2017 at The Bridge Theatre @ Shetler Studios, 244 West 54 Street, 12th Floor, New York, NY. Tickets are $18 at http://www.tictheater.com or by calling 1-800- 838-3006.

We’re thrilled to add Ms. Lipman to our list of lady-influencers of the arts in NYC:

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Tell us about yourself as an artist.

I am an actor, who, after completing my MFA, started producing theater as a way to showcase myself and productions that excite me.

I founded my own production company, Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions (www.tictheater.com) in 2006. Our mission is to produce and create thought-provoking comedies.

As producing artistic director for TIC, I am able to dig in artistically to nearly all facets of a show, not the least of which is selecting our productions (or sometimes creating new works!).

I act in most of TIC’s productions, and over the course of my nearly 12 years running TIC, I have also directed (Ruby, How I Learned to Drive, Our Town, Whale Song, Places, Please), devised new works (Buffalo Heights – our summer 2017 Planet Connections production was nominated for 4 awards), curated (14 iterations of TIC’s solo show festival, Plus 1), and written plays (adapted the best-selling novel, The Inn at Lake Devine into the world premiere play with music in 2015).

And there are a number of other, smaller, pieces to production that I find very artistically satisfying: hiring great crew and casting my shows, designing my shows’ artwork, researching the show’s world, creating props, sourcing costumes, writing press releases, updating my website, and doing interviews like this!

 

Kris and Natalie get married

Why did you create Tongue in Cheek?

The last year of my grad program, at the Actors Studio Drama School at the New School, we did a repertory season, in which every MFA candidate produced and acted in a production.

We picked our productions, which of course featured a prime acting role for us, and then we got to weigh in on everything else: casting, selecting a director from our classmates, creating a design proposal for costumes, set, props, lighting, and music. I loved looking at a production so holistically, and so once I had my MFA, I decided to try it on my own.

My first TIC production was The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel – it had a great part of me, the play was funny yet thought-provoking, and, just as important, the play has a small cast with nominal production needs.

That first production went really well, and I was bit by the producing bug. I’ve produced 35 productions since then, acting in many, directing occasionally, and getting to create theater that speaks to me. My life is infinitely richer for all the shows, collaborators, and audiences I’ve produced through TIC.

 

What is the biggest obstacle I face as a producer/artistic director?

This is a tough question, because sometimes the obstacles, or limitations, like a small budget or venue, can result in ingenuity, and scrappiness, that I find invigorating.

That said, my personal biggest obstacle, in running a theater company, is that it’s hard to know how to reach the next level and how to set ambitious, but obtainable, goals.

Next level work could be any or all of the following: longer runs, top-notch designers and collaborators, audiences largely comprised of people I don’t know, developing new works and gaining critical and audience recognition.

There isn’t really a map or a class I can take that will tell me specifically how to get to the next level, so I have to continue to push past my fears of the unknown and try one or two new things at a time, like developing new works with new collaborators, and see where they lead.

 

What’s the moral of your next production, Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck, and why are you reviving it?

Mauritius is a play about two estranged half-sisters who disagree about what to do with a valuable stamp collection that they inherit. Things get sticky when one sister tries to sell the stamps to some seedy characters on the stamp black market.

As the playwright says in the play, the intriguing thing about stamps is that it’s the errors that make them valuable. The same can be said for all 5 characters in the play: we are all flawed, complex, and intriguing to each other, and therein lies the conflict and the humor.

I’m reviving Mauritius because it’s beautifully written, and a true ensemble piece, with twists and turns. It keeps you guessing.

 

What is your opinion of indie theater?

To me, indie theater means innovative theater. We tell stories with small budgets, yet a lot of inspiration and ingenuity.

One of my donors told me that he loves that when he comes to one of my shows, he can see every actor’s eyes. This comment makes me laugh, because I often book small venues, but it’s also kind of great: for $18, an audience member at one of my shows has a great vantage point into the story; they’re part of the action.

 

What’s it like being a woman in the NYC arts scene in the 21st century?

I am a proud feminist and artist, and to me, that means producing works which feature great roles and arcs for women, and working with collaborators who would also describe themselves as feminist (which is not to say female-only).

Some ways for me to ensure this happens is to curate and create new works that are explicitly female-driven stories.

When I adapted The Inn at Lake Devine in 2015, it was important to me that over half of the play’s roles were for women. Of course, I had great source material: the book on which the play is based is about a young woman with drive and moxie, Natalie Marx. I developed the play so I could star in it, and nearly every review described my character as “feisty.” As a woman in the NYC arts scene in the 21st century, that’s a pretty great credo: be feisty.

Mauritius runs for 7 performances, Oct. 18-20 and 25-28, 2017 at 8 PM at The Bridge Theatre @ Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor, NYC. Tickets are $18 at www.tictheater.com and 1-800-838-3006.

Dorian Palumbo reviews Ilia Volok in “Diary of a Madman”

img-2556_1_origWriters write to show us what they think, feel, and believe about a particular situation.  We, as members of the writer’s audience, demonstrate that we are interested in the writer’s point of view by buying a ticket, sitting ourselves down in a seat, and allowing them to guide our attention for a short while in order to communicate it with us.  But when we experience a revival of an older work, we don’t sit down without our modern cultural baggage.  Even the most celebrated writers, and the most gifted of actors, might find it hard to get us to check it in the vestibule before entering the venue.

So is Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” a tragic story of a poor, ill man whose path winds inexorably toward an institution?  Or, in these days when every state has criminal stalking laws on the books, and rightly so, is it simply a story that somewhat romanticizes paranoid schizophrenia, a mental illness for which we, today, have better understanding  (and also better treatments, albeit not perfect ones.)  I don’t think it’s possibly not to entertain the latter perspective, while still being able to appreciate the former.

img-2468_1_origThis one-actor play, at approximately 70 minutes, is performed with consummate skill and precision by Ilia Volok, an amazingly talented actor whose face the audience will no doubt find familiar, as he’s done over 150 film and television roles.  His rendering of the character of Poprishchin, the titular Madman, is at once both touching and frightening and he careens from descriptions of mundane and quite ordinary behaviors to strange certainties; dogs have always been able to talk, that he, himself, is Kind Ferdinand the 8th of Spain, and that China and Spain are actually the same country.

Poprishchin is obsessed with Sophie, the daughter of the man he works for, hanging around outside her gate, following her as she goes about her shopping and despairing over her attention to a young Chamberlain.  Ultimately his obsession leads him to confront poor Sophie in her own bedroom, the act which leads to his incarceration in an asylum.  As a woman in 2017 I am, of course, utterly unable to argue that that is not where he belongs, despite the horrendous conditions he experiences therein.

Whether you burden “Diary of a Madman” with current attitudes regarding breaking and entering or madness, there is still something in this short play that Gogol hints at very cleverly and, yet, is never so unsubtle as to try and highlight or explain – Sophie’s father, “His Excellency”, the Director of the place where Poprishchin works, judging by Poprischin’s description of him, demonstrates the entitled cluelessness of the very rich toward the very poor.

How is it that the Director invites Poprishchin into his home to organize papers and sharpen pencils on a weekly schedule and doesn’t notice that he’s showing signs of being desperately unhinged?   Apparently, the Director is so wrapped in his own bubble of indifference and wealth that he’s utterly unaware that he is exposing his own daughter, in her own home, in her own boudoir, to the attentions of someone who is dangerously mentally ill.  He doesn’t notice a single odd quirk – not the disheveled clothes, not the paranoid affect, nothing at all.

The Direction of the play is simple, elegant and inspired.  Eugene Lazerev composes his picture, chooses music, guides lighting and costuming, to create an environment where Ilia Volok can personify the story without any sort of editorializing.  With this kind of directorial support, Volok is able to validate that, yes, there is no question that we’ll be watching someone who’s very ill, but that his illness isn’t all there is to him.  It’s rather like a singer opening a concert by performing their biggest hit song; by beginning with madness established by the theatrical environment, we are then free to try and connect with the other parts of the madman’s personality, his love of theatre, his yearning for self-respect, that are being slowly obscured by the disease as it progresses.

And in a nod to modern folks with modern sensibilities, Volok and Lazarav don’t make any attempt to elicit sentimental sympathy for Poprishchin’s behavior while still allowing us to feel sorry for the man himself.  This is a tightrope act that comes off beautifully.

img-2487_1_origDiary of a Madman will run until November 12th at the American Theatre of Actors, Beckmann Theatre, 314 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019.  Tickets are $30, and can be obtained either by using smarttix.com, or by calling the ATC at 212-581-3044

 

Dorian Palumbo reviews Stephanie Satie in “Coming to America”

Back in the 50’s and 60’s we still had what they used to call “monologist” – one of the most famous was Danny Thomas, a Lebanese immigrant whose name at birth was Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz.  Though Thomas performed his monologues in nightclubs, those venues were soon taken over by comics who told jokes and did “bits”, and the art of monology was left to live and breathe only in the theatre, and even then with the assumption that there would be a full-blown play around it.  Exceptions abound; Studs Terkel’s “Working” in 1974, and more recently the brilliant works of Anna Deveare Smith, who transforms herself into each of the men and women who feature in the monologues she writes.

Still, though pure monology exists, it’s rarely celebrated the way the United Solo play festival celebrates it, and rarely done as well as Stephanie Satie, following the path of Deveare Smith and Thomas, does it with her show “Coming to America: Transformations.”

Like Deveare Smith, Satie collects, curates, enhances and embroiders the stories told to her by immigrant women from places like Cambodia, Afghanistan and Russia, then renders the characters onstage herself.  As a teacher of English as a Second Language, Satie came to know these women and, by extension, their immigration stories, as she helped them improve their language skills.  Like Thomas, nee Kairouz, Satie is an American born of immigrant parents with an ache to tell the stories of her family and other families having a similar experience, and “Coming to America” is only her latest work to be thus inspired.

“Coming to America” comes in at around an hour, and in that time Satie inhabits ten different characters whose immigrant experience is fascinating, fraught, and shows us not only about the indomitable female spirit, but also indirectly reminds us that the America to which these women came years ago is changing into an America into which some of them might never have arrived at all.  Indeed, the last story tells of a Syrian immigrant who was one of the first to immigrate to Norway, explaining that Syrians don’t even consider America a possibility any longer.

Satie performs each of these roles, with a minimum of costuming, and transitions from each to each with ease, with the help of some careful and respectful direction from Anita Khanzadian.  I do wonder if it might have been possible to explore fewer character studies than the ten Satie has chosen, in favor of exploring some of the others in more depth, intensity, and poignancy.  That said, the stories of all of the women Satie has chosen are interesting, authentic, and extremely informative, and Satie renders them with affection, verve and much, much style.

Sadly, the performance that I saw on Sunday, October 22nd, was the only one listed as part of the festival.  Indeed, most of the performers in UnitedSolo seem to have been given a single slot.  However, Stephanie Satie has an online presence at www.refugeestheplay.com, and is represented by Jeannine Frank, Frank Entertainment, if you would like information about further performances.

 

Dorian Palumbo reviews Lane Bradbury in LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU … AGAIN!

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So many little girls dream of having a career on the Broadway stage.  At Don’t Tell Mama, I had the great good fortune of spending time in the company of a little girl who did exactly what so many dream of, and with sweetness, with verve, with panache.

The inimitable Lane Bradbury was the original Dainty June Gypsy in 1959.  Her career has not only included musical theater but also dozens and dozens of television appearances, beginning with Gunsmoke and stretching up through Party of Five, and iconic films like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.   In her most recent turn at entertaining us, a cabaret memoir called Let Me Entertain You, Again, Lane shows us that artists are born, not made, and that once you’ve got “it”, it never goes away.

Like the character of Dainty June, Lane gives the impression of being eternally childlike yet lets you know she has a naughty side that you will find delightful.  The show is written for her by Doug DeVita, who creates just the right pace and tone.  Not content with simply writing patter between numbers, DeVita showcases the moments in her life when Lane was in conflict with parents, a feckless lover, the legendary Jerome Robbins, and the even more legendary Ethel Merman.  Though the stories themselves are Lane’s own, DeVita deftly shapes the evening by giving them a sophisticated framework from which to sing out, baby, between songs by Jule Styne, Steven Schwartz, and Harold Karr.

We even get a tad bit of audience participation, with Ms. Bradbury calling out for a volunteer from the audience to sing the part of Louise so that she can give us a very sweet rendition of “If Mama Was Married.”  I can think of a half-dozen friends of mine who would have loved to jump up on that stage for the honor of singing with Lane.  And a half-dozen more who would have felt like belting Jerome Robbins after Lane told us the “teapot story”  from the run of Gypsy – well, of course, I’ll just let Lane tell you that story herself.

With Joe Goodrich providing rock-solid musical direction and support on piano, and Bradbury’s daughter Elkin Antoniou directing, Lane Bradbury is given the perfect platform, from which she radiates an almost supernatural charm and elegance.

Sadly, the performance I caught at Don’t Tell Mama will not be repeated there, but judging by the enormous enjoyment of the audience and the glee with which Ms. Bradbury performed her evening of songs and stories, I’m sure she will perform again soon.  For more information you may contact Stephen Hanks at Cabaret Life productions (cabaretlifeproductions@gmail.com) to see if there’s another show coming round.

And, as if it’s not enough to sing, dance and entertain folks like a veritable firecracker, Lane Bradbury is also the artistic director of Valkyrie Theatre of Dance, Drama & Film back home in Los Angeles, a non-profit that uses the arts to bring hope, healing and identity to at risk children and teens.  Find them at the URL: (http://valkyrietheater.org/) for more information, or to make a donation.

Two Cheeky Chicks of SHE-MOON join the September Series of Women in the Arts

Carissa Matsushima and Producer and Performer, Sara Minisquero give us the poop

… um …

get to the bottom

… um …

seat us in the

… um …

crack down on the …

OH FORGET IT!!!!

 

Tell us about yourself as an artist.

17201446_10154112472841017_6336902960890580916_nCarissa: I’m a singer, dancer, actress who refuses to stick to one performance medium. I allow all my outlets to inform each other. I like to work closely with people in small groups to create socially conscious dance/theatre. But when I write music alone I’m usually tackling that age old topic of heartbreak. What can I say, I’m a big sap.

 

 

 

sara3Sara: I consider myself a multidisciplinary theatrican. While acting has always been my strong suit, I find joy and fulfillment in BTS production work as an SM, designer, dramaturg and producer. And I’m discovering new performance mediums, like this performance being my burlesque debut

 

 

 

 

 

OK, here it is … why women’s tushies??? 

Carissa: An ass is not just an ass. It’s where my lovers rest their weary heads and thirsty hands. It’s what keeps me from grinding my sitting bones into the chair or the floor. It helps me balance while I stand. What’s more, the asses of women are the asses of half the population. Mightn’t we pay a little attention to these misunderstood, misused and precious parts of our flesh? To pay respect, to say I’m sorry on behalf of all the “assholes” out there, to let them know that they are loved and wanted.

Sara: Women’s bodies, in general, are heavily policed and sadly, still a political hot button issue. I work at the very venue Margaret Sanger was arrested in for starting a public forum about birth control. For the feminine tush- we don’t often get to discuss our butts in a non-sexualized lens- and I find that to be incredibly disconcerting. Women need a safe, encouraging, and inclusive forum just to celebrate a body part men have put on a pedestal since time immemorial. 

What’s it like tackling such a  topic as women’s bumms

Carissa: It makes sense that this is what I do with my time and talent. Butts are great fun and I believe in disguising serious matters in levity when it comes to performance.

Sara: Refreshing, to say the least. When we first gathered for a developmental forum with our cast, we swapped stories with painful memories and voiced our frustrations about societal norms, gender expression and internalized misogyny. I felt incredibly blessed to have blasted past the awkwardness of taboo and dove right into incredibly personal “secrets”- that weren’t foreign or bizarre experiences, we echoed each other with every revelation- and I think that’s why our show is going to find a very accepting audience of women ready for this kind of material. 

What the biggest obstacle you are facing with this show?

CarissaMy biggest obstacle doing music for this show is questioning whether or not I am doing the performers justice by what I’m giving back to them sound wise. 

Sara: Fundraising and logistics. We have a sizable cast and it’s old hat to expect scheduling around everyone’s dayjobs, personal lives, etc. is a mental gauntlet. Plus, we’re so committed to the ethos that every butt gets paid- the blood, sweat and tears of volunteer work just isn’t worth it in the long run when you’re expecting an exceptionally polished product. Begging for money puts you in a really vulnerable spot, but we are actively supporting the artists who have donated goods and services to our indiegogo by creating a Moon Market prior to showtime, giving them an exclusive vending opportunity for a huge audience. 

What’s the parable or moral of the story? 

Carissa: The moral of the story is that in order to grow into our most realized selves, we have to face that which is right in front of us. In this case, it’s our bodies and the bodies of others. It’s important to look at where we come from, critically analyze how we look at each other, and identify how we want to grow to become more inclusive, more understanding and loving and accepting, and then we actualize that knew paradigm by creating community and art around it.

Sara: I think our moral is about self love and acceptance, defiance of patriarchal norms, and bringing some care and attention to a shadowed part of ourselves- our “behind” but also our root, our past, our foundation. 

What is your opinion of indie film and theater? 

Carissa: Very microcosmic, maybe not reaching the masses, but it certainly influences the mainstream, so we must make it and make it good.

Sara: I adore the independent arts world for its bravery in the face of commercialism. Knowing full well your product might not suit the majority’s tastes- or making very bold statements, playing with avant garde mediums- yet valuing the freedom to stick to your guns. I admire that, and I think there’s a more supportive network once you can establish yourself and your message and get taken seriously for your creative choices.

 

Finally, my favorite, I’m sure you have both commercial and indie creds, so what’s its like being a woman in the NYC arts scene in the 21st century… commercial v indie. 

Sara: Being a woman in the NYC arts scene is more challenging than it is for men by far- part of what we address is SHE MOON is about the highly competitive and aesthetic driven nature of being an actress, how talent is of lesser consideration than the woman’s physical stats. I never really felt I fit a commercial “type” at all- the bafflement of many a professor or casting agent can confirm. Whereas in a more independent realm I defy all types and have been very lucky to be gifted with roles that may be a stretch of your expectation but allow me to showcase my legitimate skill as an actor. I’m humbled that I’ve been given challenging roles throughout my indie career- roles I never expected to book because they seemed “out of my ballpark”. I think indie directors are more willing to take chances, particularly given women voice where typically they are silent or overlooked.