Tour-de-Force with O’Hara and Sandman

The American Theatre of Actors concentrates on dark New York back stories for its summer cutting-edge series. THE SANDMAN, written by Lynn Navarra and directed by Ken Coughlin, tells the story of two beat cops, moonlighting in construction, caught up in a battle between a pub owner and the Irish mob… NYC circa 1979 … will be revived for a limited run, August 9 – 20 (Wed. – Sat. @ 8:00 pm and Sun. @ 3pm). Performances for this revival will be held at The John Cullum Theatre of the American Theatre of Actors. For reservations, call 212.581.3044. Tickets are $20 (cash at the door).

One of the stars of THE SANDMAN spent some time with us, discussing the production and the time period. Winning high-praise for her portrayal of a down-and-out actress is Valerie O’Hara. Let’s hear what a  leading actress things of playing the other end.

headshot 2015-6NY in the 70 was a tough place … is it better now?

I was living in the suburbs in New Jersey during the ’70s, so I don’t have a lot of first-and experience of what the city was like.  I do remember, though, that there were definitely areas you didn’t want to go into alone, and Times Square was rife with triple-X movie houses and questionable characters.  The transformation of midtown, especially the Times Square area, makes NYC seem like some kind of theme park, with chain restaurants, musical theater based on Disney cartoons, and pedestrian islands.  The city was grittier 40 years ago, but also more genuine.
This is an expansive play, would it make a good movie?
I tend to think of plays as driven by words and movies as driven by images.  I believe we do a good job of telling an interesting story with our production, but can see how it would also make a very good movie.  A translation to film would allow location shooting (especially out in the woods), mood music and lighting for the bar and pool hall, and POV and close-up reaction shots.  Plus, the transformation at the end could be more complete.

 

What is your role in the play and what is your creative process?

I have a thoroughly delicious supporting role as Peggy, who spends a good deal of her time at the Sandman.  Lynn graciously provided me with a lot of Peggy’s back story in the text of the play, which has made it easy for me to get inside her skin and her head.  If anything, I tend to approach a role intuitively rather than technically.  I have been told that it is important to find something to like about any character you play, even if the character is evil.  Well, Peggy is far from evil and I just LOVE her!  

 

Your are in an historic theater. There’s only about three or four of the “original” off-off Broadway spaces left, how is it to work there  

The first time I stepped on stage was right here, in 2006, when this was the Chernuchin Theatre.  It was a single performance of a one-act play in a play festival.  Since then, I’ve been in shows in all of the theaters at ATA, including two Shakespeare productions in this theater, and it feels like home.

 

What’s next?   

I don’t have any projects in the works after The Sandman, so I guess it’s a matter of what happens in auditions!

The Homeless at-home at MITF

GriotyWrda Hussain reviews Platform Griot

Pharah Jean-Philippes production of Platform Griot captures the essence of a life as a homeless person living in New York City. Baindu D. Kalokoh plays said-homeless woman in this solo show where the audience gets a sense of feel of how life is through the eyes of the destitute. The audience is taken through a vast journey to view her life before and after losing her home. We are told the things she experienced, the relationships that faded, the disputes that arose in the streets and her home and how she came to be where she is now. It truly gives us a new – and true – outlook and encouraged us to look at the homeless differently, not as something below us but as people of the same worth as us.

Baindu D Kalokoh was very empowering. The switch between characters was accurate and her oration and demeanor suited each role. Costuming was accurate added realism to her role. She wore various layers of clothes that had rips and stains. The props added further starkness to each scene such as the bag full of empty plastic bottles, a cardboard sign asking for money and a small coffee cup used to collect change. The stories she told throughout the play were relatable and made her character come alive.

This production does a great job at displaying the homeless in a different manner. Usually when we look at the homeless we see people who’ve lost everything and we don’t think much of it but in reality they were once like us living regular lives, going to work, having a family and this play does an amazing job at displaying that.

In just forty-five minutes this production was able to give its audience a different outlook on the homeless.

Killing his mother well.

Wrda Hussain reviews Hanoch Reim’s production of Why I Killed My Mother

Theater photographyThis play follows a story about the harsh relationship between a teenage boy and his mother. Throughout the play we are shown the conflicts that arise in this mother-son relationship. This production captures the essence of the hardships faced by a child due to negligence of a parent. Dor Zweigenborn is able to incorporate his humor as well as portray resentment and hatred towards his own mother.

Dor Zweigenborn is able to mimic various roles to portray his father, mother and his little sister all the while keeping the storyline flowing. In this play he’s able to act out various roles through action only. I found his impersonation of a westerner to be accurate, humorous and well delivered to his audience. The playback music influenced each scene allowing the audience to acquire a profound sense of feeling of each act. The clothing was basic, a simple button down with jeans, which I believe added realism to his role. What I found very interesting about this play were the small little impersonations he did that in a sense, replicated Charlie Chaplin’s style, mirroring a silent film. I think that that was very fascinating to watch, just seeing the actor carry out various actions and being able to perceive what he’s doing without dialogue, I just found it to be very interesting and, in my opinion, was the best part of the production .

 

Dorian Palumbo reviews WHO ARE YOU at MITF

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It’s really hard to come up with an original premise for a musical.  It has to be compelling, relatively novel, yet universal in its appeal.  Simon Chouinard and T. Michael Vest, the writers behind “Who Are You?” have certainly found a story worth experiencing.

The show is quite small in scope.  Seven performers, three of whom pull Greek chorus duty, are participants in a reality show.  Three imposters, people who’ve either co-opted another’s identity or simply fabricated one, “catfish” style, vie for the prize – a brand new identity into which they will be allowed to disappear completely.  The show is named for “Kaspar Hauser”, the infamous perpetrator of a 19th century German identity hoax, and the host of the show identifies himself as the actual Kaspar Hauser, popped up shiny and new in our present day.  The show-within-a-show then uses the three imposters’ competition as a frame for Kasper’s own story, which is unsolved to this day.

In May of 1828, so the musical tells us, a 17 year old young man appeared in Nuremberg with two letters in his possession – one, a plea from his young mother who was forced to abandon him at his birth, and the other a letter written by the man who subsequently raised him, asking that he be taken into the military.  Both of these letters were written in the same hand, and from the time Hauser was discovered, until his death in 1833, the details he gave about his personal journey were never confirmed and, in fact, Hauser changed them over time. Werner Herzog explored this same story, albeit in a more (only slightly more) straightforward fashion, in his film “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” in 1974, which was, itself, inspired by the novel “Inertia of the Heart”, written by Jakob Wassermann in 1908.  Thematically, all three of these works explore the same thing – are we who we say we are, no matter what we say we are, or are we merely what others expect?

Daniel Bender Stern gives a sweet and poignant performance as Kaspar, both in his present-day host persona and during the scenes meant to evoke the period.  Ed Rosini as Frederic, the contestant called “The Chameleon”, has an eminently castable voice and played his characters’ obnoxious entitlement with panache.  And I’m very much looking forward to seeing more from Noah Reece (“Piano Man”), whose lovely voice and acting chops make him suited for at least a dozen juicy roles in the musical theatre canon – I walked out of the theatre wondering what he would do with Sondheim’s “Johanna.”

SELF YELP might not get five stars on YELP

Wrda Husain reviews SELF YELP at the MITF

Video and FilmDoug Widick’s production of Self Yelp follows a series of Yelp reviews that showcase one’s opinion on various places. The first Yelp review is about a furniture store, the second, follows a golf course where an accident occurs, the third, is at a restaurant, the fourth is at a doctor’s office and the last and final one is on “Yelp heaven”. This production conveys a different outlook into the 21st century where one’s opinion affects our judgment on place and or things.

Helene Ellford and Emily Thomas both had great energy, powerful tone and effective meaning. They gave depth to the storyline. Unfortunately, the humor was stereotypical and predictable, making the play and the acting seem forced.  and became boring. The use of the phrases such as “say woke” and “hash tag” seemed out of place. The costumes were basic and casual.

Dorian Palumbo reviews THE SANDMAN

sandman poster 3“All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.” – Spike Milligan, Irish comedian and creator of “The Goon Show.”

The relationship between money and happiness has always been fraught, and there are a lot of plays that explore this thematic territory.  Muscling it’s way into that territory is Lynn Navarra’s play “The Sandman”, a dark comedy that begins with two cops looking for a little side-hustle renovating an Irish bar, and winds its way, like an Irish country road, through the lives of the various folks connected to the place.

Set in 1979, Sandman follows buddy beat cops Paul (Lead actor Michael Bordwell) and Sal (Ben Guralnick, in the sidekick spot) as they stumble upon a huge stash of cocaine being minded for a wee while in the Sandman, the bar owned by an ex-pat Irishman, and his lonely, put-upon wife.  The wife, Diane, played with a sweet desperation by Meredith Rust, hasn’t got a clue that husband Tommy (actor/Director Ken Coughlin) has allowed the Irish mob to park their supply at the Sandman, and Tommy seems to be shielding her from his nefarious activities somewhat out of consideration, and a bit out of practicality, but mostly to avoid her potentially haranguing him over it.

The plot thickens courtesy of Tommy’s friend Donny Finn (Dan Lane Williams), a bookie Tommy’s known since they were both back home in Ireland.  Tommy trusts his friend, his “brother”, Donny with the information that he’s holding the drugs, and Donnie, under the duress of a loan-shark slicing and dicing, shares the information with his captors in order to buy himself out from under a gambling debt.

While this could easily give over to silly farce, Navarra keeps the play well-tethered, instead, to the emotional lifelines, old and new, between the characters.  Policeman Paul develops an affection for the lonely Diane, and also for the Sandman’s only barfly, a faded Irish rose called Peggy (Valerie O’Hara) whose golden years are being spent in a decrepit SRO.  Like the rest of the characters, Peggy has her own difficult history with money, having been punished for her acting aspirations by having her family wealth taken away.

Director Coughlin evokes the period with the appropriate music and even a carefully inserted commercial or two from that just-barely-not-the-80’s time, all while playing pub-owner Tommy in a brutally authentic and unsentimental way.  Michael Bordwell keeps a steady hand on things as Paul, evoking a bit of Nathan Lane in the comedy and the pathos department.

As in all comedies, even the dark ones, all’s well that ends well, but with dark comedies in particular, the happy ending comes with a price.  But playwright Navarra leaves us on an up beat, perhaps money will ultimately not buy them the happiness they were hoping for, but Navarra has us rooting for them to have their chance to find out.

Sandman will run at the John Cullum Theatre, American Theatre of Actors (ATA), 314 West 54th Street, through Sunday, August 20th, 2017.  For tickets, please call the box office at 212-581-3044, or visit the ATA website at americantheatreofactors.org.

Another teacher at MITF

Altonya Longmore reviews

annes-planMiss Anne’s Plan is a documentary-style play about a woman who decided to pursue her career in education and faced many challenges as she tries to do what she loves. As she moves from position she realized that no matter where she is, there will always be some obstacles. They are inescapable. She first worked at a public elementary school in the ghetto and was astounded when she came to discover that one of her students that she truly cared about was being abused. When she realized that there was nothing she could do to take these children out of their predicament, she left because she couldn’t bear experience this for much longer. She then decided to only work with the wealthy and healthy students in good neighborhoods.

Being around the age of her students, I find I can relate. I’ve been to difficult schools and I’ve missed my own drama teacher.

This was an excellent production, peppering the drama with much-needed humor. I really enjoyed it but my only qualm is here imitating accents … they all sounded the same. In this PC world, that can seem insulting. Forgiving that, the piece was well-done.

The Parable of Mental Illness at MITF

Altonya Longmore reviews

Not-StampedIT’S NOT STAMPED ON YOUR FOREHEAD written and directed by Natasha Cobb; starring Erica Johnson and Adetnuke Adetunji. Forced into therapy after leaving a mental hospital a shattered woman struggles with how to thrive while living with bipolar disorder. (Drama)

It’s Not Stamped on your Forehead is a play about a woman named Sasha, recently diagnosed with Stage 1 bipolar disorder, handling a future with it. The play focuses on a therapy session. She tells her therapist about all the hardships about her disability. Disadvantages like not being about to read or write like she used to, not feeling like she could thrive with being bipolar, and feeling like people think of as a threat to society. This play was very emotional and gave me a strong sense of how others with this disorder might feel we view them as.

Sasha is a very lively character and made this play feel as powerful as it is meant to be. Erica Johnson did a great job at portraying how this disorder makes people feel. She talked about depression and thoughts of suicide bring a sense of understanding and care from the audience. Instead of uplifting her and making her believe that she can thrive, she is treated her like a criminal.  Adetnuke Adetunji as the therapist “Ann” played a major roll in creating the tension and the understanding.

What’s surprising to me is that later on in the play, it is divulged that the therapist also has a mental disorder. The play’s ending is left open to our now-somewhat-pessimistic imagination as suicide is till on the table.

Meredith Rust: Playing with the Boys in the Sand[man]

17796453_2908919455812331_2638689124875306622_nThe American Theatre of Actors concentrates on dark New York back stories for its summer cutting-edge series. THE SANDMAN, written by Lynn Navarra and directed by Ken Coughlin, tells the story of two beat cops, moonlighting in construction, caught up in a battle between a pub owner and the Irish mob… NYC circa 1979 … will be revived for a limited run, August 9 – 20 (Wed. – Sat. @ 8:00 pm and Sun. @ 3pm). Performances for this revival will be held at The John Cullum Theatre of the American Theatre of Actors. For reservations, call 212.581.3044. Tickets are $20 (cash at the door).
Meredith Rust does well holding her own among the burly tough guys she has to encounter in Lynn Navarra’s play.

NY in the 70 was a tough place … is it better now? 

NYC was a gritty place in the 70’s, Safety was a big concern. Especially for women. My character talks about not feeling safe anymore. The Sandman takes place at the very end of a tough decade full of decline, bankruptcy, gangs, fires, and violence. Muggings were to be expected, robberies, murders. The numbers were on the rise. Poor people were desperate and the city had nothing to give them. Times Square was downright dirty, sex workers and porn theaters everywhere. Alphabet City was a burned out shell, full of drug dens and burgeoning punk rockers who were the only ones tough enough to move to such a desolate place. New York is very different now. It is changing rapidly. Old neighborhoods are getting major facelifts. In many ways it’s the reverse of the 70’s, which saw “white flight” of middle class New Yorkers moving out to the suburbs because it was a place they no longer wanted to raise their kids, now the “white flight” is into the city, and Brooklyn. There are strollers and kids on scooters everywhere you look. The people that make it here have money. Young adults are moving here straight from college to get their dream job, and eventually buy a brownstone in Brooklyn and renovate it, and move in and start a family. And they plan to stay.

This is an expansive play, would it make a good movie? 

I think The Sandman would make a great movie!

What is your role in the play and what is your creative process? 

I play Diane Cassidy, the Irish-American wife of Irish bar owner Tommy Cassidy. The upkeep of the bar and my husband’s drinking and shenanigans have taken their tolll, on both of us. I have a nostalgia for the seventies and have always wanted to own my own bar, so this is a real fantasy role for me. I have a lot of my moms’ clothes from the seventies, as well as some I’ve acquired myself. So the costumes are really fun for me and that helps me to form my character, but really Lynn Navarra’s writing is the basis for everything. There are so many nuances that I can draw upon to create the world of the Sandman in my head, which I hope translates to the audience. I search for the truth in every line, and In every scene and relationship. There is so much there to draw on. The world keeps getting bigger the more I explore it.

Your are in an historic theater. There’s only about three or four of the “original” off-off Broadway spaces left, how is it to work there.

ATA is such an in retesting place to work. It’s a whole world that Jim Jennings has created here and he runs a tight ship. He is completely dedicated to running every aspect of it for over 40 years, back to when he first opened it.  So many great actors have trod the boards. It is really an inspiration. I feel very lucky. I have also met so many great and generous people that work here regularly. It’s a great group to be a part of. Last year I was in a Jim Jennings original play and I was bestowed the Jean Dalrymple best supporting actress award for my work in it. I felt incredibly honored.

What’s next?   

Next up for me is work with another company I am a member of called Wednesday Repertory Company, or Wedrepco. We are currently working on a full length original play which we are workshopping and we will have a reading in September for that. We do two one act shows yearly that each of us has either written, will direct or perform in, and the next is in November at the Iati Theater on east 4th St. Dan Lane Williams (Donny Finn) and Tony Scheer (Ian O’Rourke) are also members and will be a part of it.

sandman poster 3

Dorian Palumbo reviews “Saving Stan” by Gary Morgenstein

savingstanWhat happens when a man who used to be a mover and shaker suddenly can’t even hold a spoon to his own mouth?  According to playwright Gary Morgenstein, a lot happens, most of it is unpleasant, some of it darkly funny, and all of it is very undignified.

In this one-act, Morgenstein uses a convention whereby powerful attorney Stan Nagel, played by Carlo Fiorletta, is unable to speak following a series of strokes, but can be heard in dialogue nonetheless by best friend Jack Sanders, a failing playwright who is Stan’s only visitor.  Stan’s home health aid Patrice, played by the brilliant Olivia Baseman, experiences Stan as non-verbal and unable to accomplish the simplest of tasks, but Jack, when Patrice leaves the room, can hold complete conversations with Stan about everything from old sexual conquests to the meaning of success.

The play is brief, but nonetheless achieves a kind of slow burn, as we learn that Stan has left seven million dollars to Jack in his will, which may be executed sooner than Jack thinks.  Patrice has designs on Stan herself, planning a wedding to a man who has no more agency nor independence of movement than a ventriloquists dummy.

Jordan Auslander as Jack brings an engaging authenticity and desperation to his role, making us feel for the guy who brings his cantankerous best friend a pet to keep him company and trying, despite the objections of his caregiver, to reintroduce him to the joys of prosciutto.  Olivia Baseman plays the dippy Patrice with subtlety and flair, making us see her point of view despite that point of view being from somewhere in cloud cuckooland.

In the end, the play has something to say about connections – how they are built, how they are dispatched, and how they can end.  Stan has three ex-wives who only care about his money, and even potentially a soon-to-be widow in Patrice, but it’s the relationship with Jack that ultimately pays off in a way neither of them expected.

Stephen King recently tweeted that he thought the most interesting stories are the ones about tensions between two friends.  Having seen “Saving Stan”, I think Gary Morgenstein might agree.

Saving Stan will be performed again at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y on Monday, August 7th, at 7 PM.