Women of Cause, Women of Conscience. The Working Women of Off-Off Broadway. Part Two

A Four-Part Series in Drama-Queens and reprinted in OuterStage
Written by Sander Gusinow

The Off-Off Broadway scene surges with revolutionary female voices. Whether writers, directors, or producers, women have advanced the Off-Off community for decades, continually clawing against the gender bias of the for-profit theatre world. It is a time-honored tradition for us to acknowledge some of this swelling talent; celebrating a chosen few women for their time, commitment, and good old-fashioned theatrical know-how. Without further ado … the next installment of some of the hardest Working Women in Off-Off Broadway!

Part Two: KRIS LUNDBERG: Shakespeare’s Sister Company

10428708_10152325912942475_1387033952609351193_n‘What if Shakespeare had an equally talented sister?’ mused Virginia Woolf, Patron Saint of Kris Lundberg’s bold and inspirational company. Lundberg propels Shakespeare’s Sister forward as producer, writer, and performer. Treading the tightrope between the modern day and romantic past, (producing both Shakespeare and Theresa Rebeck) Lundberg’s company uses powerhouse theater to electrify the audience with stories old and new. Shakespeare’s Sister aspires to give the audience a gasp of realization, a flash of insight into both a character and themselves.

10590526_10152665726522430_5767518337633915148_nIn her new play Muse, Lundberg both writes and portrays Renaissance model-turned-painter Elizabeth Siddal; a dynamic artist who finds the strength to succeed in a world that fights incessantly against her. Lundberg’s play isn’t about the struggle of ‘us against them,’ however. Muse is more about giving yourself the permission to succeed. While ridiculing external limitations is necessary, it’s the internal blockage that most often inhibits growth.

10152622_10152374787722430_6562624925442943457_nIt’s a message Lundberg carries with her into schools, helping children from 1st grade . Her company is adamant in its initiative to bring literacy, team building, and critical thinking to students. Shakespeare’s Sister offers a unique blend of creative and constructive learning methods using Common Core academic standards. Lundberg’s drive is strengthened by her belief that all students should have the opportunity to recognize the gifts they have inside of them. Making a difference, empowering her audience both on and off the stage, Kris Lundberg is woman Virginia Woolf would be proud to call compatriot.

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Review of MUSE by Sander Gusinow
Theatre for the New City

 

muse1I’ve always been a staunch adversary of the so-called ‘Lofty Concept’ theatre. Plays claiming to be ‘about art’ are often quick to abandon being art themselves. The ceaseless high-brow brow-beating, the monotonous monologues about the playwright’s topic-du-jour, these plays are some of the most somniferous on the market. Surely one can understand the inherent skepticism facing a play like Shakespeare’s Sister company’s Muse, about the historical romance between turn-of-the-century painter Dante Rossetti and model-turned-painter Elizabeth Siddal.

The play begins with Rossetti, played by the absorbing Greg Pragel, alone in his loft and quite charmingly insane. He bemoans the loss of his Muse. Through flashbacks, we are led through his memory as he recalls his love affair, and later subsequent marriage, to his fiery-haired model Elizabeth, played by Kris (also the playwright) Lundberg.

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Romance bristles between the boastful, charismatic Dante and the bright, humble Elizabeth. The brambles of their affair revolve around Elizabeth’s budding talent as an artist, and her eventual eclipsing of her beloved in popularity. (she sells entire collections while he teaches at 18th century community college)  Dante renounces his ego (and his other models) to marry Elizabeth, and Elizabeth, through Dante’s (mostly) supportive efforts, finds the strength to succeed in a closed-minded era.  They inspire each other to new heights; and foster each other’s growth as artists and individuals.

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Despite the period, what captured me most about Muse was just how close to home it could cut. Lundberg’s script earnestly captures the trials of a modern egalitarian relationship;  incessant work travel, pregnancy complications, and  occasional ‘I don’t want my wife making more than me’  Alpha-male anxiety. Were Rossetti and Siddal really that ahead of their time? Who knows (and who cares?) but if the point of a historical drama is to build a bridge to the past, Lundberg is a competent mason.

Muse simmers with Wildean wit and Lazzi-esque physical comedy. One of the early scenes in which Elizabeth has a gleefully one-sided conversation with the self-absorbed  Dante (all while modeling) is particularly engrossing. Director Jay Michaels creates an elegant passing of time through lights and suggestion as the play jumps years in just a few moments; he does so with playful montage depicting the years gone by and the evolution of the relationship. The scrumptious costume design of Jessa-Raye Court are also worth a mention; a play with a model can’t skimp on the silk.

Still, Muse inevitably muses. Lengthy banter about the Royal Academy, Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and artistic Raison d’etreoccasionally falls on deaf ears. Although the lofty and circuitous discussion wears out its welcome from time to time, Lundberg and Pragel are swiftly to the rescue with intelligent nuance and electric chemistry.

Muse is a soulful, intelligent success. For all it’s historical pertinence, educational value, and keen feminist undertones, the play triumphs because it accomplishes what every great romance must; It’s delightful watching Dante and Elizabeth fall in love, and it’s agony seeing them ripped apart. In the end, death separates the duo rather than jealousy or difference of opinion (though they have both in spades). Without Elizabeth, Dante is lost. One can’t help but think that if their fates had been reversed, his wife would have mourned him with the same fervor. Each was the others Muse; their love supplied their lives with meaning.

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A TheatreGoer’s Diary: A reading of “The Winter Palace”

A reading of “The Winter Palace”
Ruddy Productions

A TheatreGoer’s Diary by Mary Ann Randazzo

As for the reading, my review is a bit different from the past reviews.  Since this play is still new it could use some tweaking. I wrote the review not to be critical but to be helpful for when it does appear on stage.  Whether or not they take my advice its up to them.  I do appreciate all works of writers (since I am one) and only want the best for them.  I do wish them the best and who knows I may be seeing this on stage next year. 

“The Winter Palace”

Though this was only a reading of “The Winter Palace” I felt I lost something in the very beginning of the play.  I wasn’t sure if the father purposely lit the fire or there was a fire in the house.  Was it an accident or suicide? After that I felt I had a hard time catching up on to what emotions the characters were suppose to feel or at least trying to display.

Also the characters playing the ghost of the deceased father wasn’t believable, my suggestion (I’m not sure if this is written in the play) is to get an actor to play the father.  I know dreams can be chaotic and not make sense, however, in this case the actors didn’t interact with the actor playing the father seriously.  I would think if there was a male actor standing there portraying the father then I would have seen a more realistic conversation. It just didn’t seem like a real father/daughter, boyfriend/father exchange.

As for the Gabrielle and Grace’s relationship, please correct me if I’m wrong, Gabrielle was only hanging around the house to reconnect with Grace. When Gabby had gotten a chance to connect with Grace alone she should have been more persuasive since it was obvious Grace was irritated with her subservient boyfriend, Peter.   This portion of the play could have been delved into deeper since this is one of the skeletons that lived in that house.

The person to keep an eye out for in the future is Sasha Dominy.  I believe this young lady has an acting career in front of her.  She was the most convincing of them all.

Of Cause & Conscience: The Working Women of Off-Off Broadway

A Four-Part Series Starting This Week in Drama Queens and reprinted in OuterStage

Written by Sander Gusinow

The Off-Off Broadway scene surges with revolutionary female voices. Whether writers, directors, or producers, women have advanced the Off-Off community for decades, continually clawing against the gender bias of the for-profit theatre world.

It is a time-honored tradition for us to acknowledge some of this swelling talent; celebrating a chosen few women for their time, commitment, and good old-fashioned theatrical know-how.

Without further ado … some of the hardest Working Women in Off-Off Broadway!

1920153_10202843612744201_3294278400870598138_nPart One: MARY ELIZABETH MICARI
Genesis Repertory & The M Center

Art is healing, if you ask Mary Elizabeth Micari, co-founder and artistic director of off- Broadway’s Genesis Repertory and Bay Ridge Brooklyn’s M Center for Arts and Wellness. Micari has always felt the calling to be a healer, and to this Artistic Director/ Energy Healer/Ordained Minister/ Wiccan/ Voice Teacher, crafting art is about helping yourself and others be who they want to be. Unclogging the stoppages and tending to the terrors of the mind. She even created a line of homoeopathic products to help her people help themselves. A noble effort to be sure, especially when the artistic field is so full of sharks with rapacious egos.

Lead Singer of Reverend Mary and The M Band

Lead Singer of Reverend Mary and The M Band

1398176_10151752653723873_1023011365_oMicari creates theatre by-and-for the people of New York. For too long she’s seen shows imported into places that need organic art the most, and schools slashing opportunities to give creative students a chance to shine. Recently she [re]entered the music scene as a solo artist as well as forming a band, cheekily named Reverend Mary & the M Band. All art is fair game for Mary.

From cultivating the fresh new work of local writers to staging the timeless prose of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Aristophanes, Micari brings accessible, healing art to people of all walks of life. Despite her insistence on home-grown theatre, she can’t help but keep one eye on the world, staging a critically-acclaimed, NYIT Award-nominated Israeli-Palestinian Romeo & Juliet  in 2007.

Healer with her own line of mystical medicinals

Healer with her own line of mystical medicinals

An artist, teacher, and always a healer, Micari teaches her master classes in vocal performance, and oversees playwriting and piano with the same devotion she musters to minister to the sick and sick-at-heart. It’s the beautiful mystique of her technique; no matter the endeavor, as long as the work continues, the healing has already begun.

 

Teaching at The M Center

Teaching at The M Center

Micari's M Center

Micari’s M Center

 

Backstage of the premiere of "The Check Is In the Mail" at the Fringe Festival. Mary Micari, director

Backstage of the premiere of “The Check Is In the Mail” at the Fringe Festival. Mary Micari, director

Analyzing Love

Julia and Buddy – part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival
Review by Ashley Hutchinson

jb_webMany romances have a predictable mold. It’s easy to tell exactly who is going to get the girl (often the underdog best friend) or how the girl is going to get the boy (usually via some sort of mistaken identity and then a full, happy realization by the end). However, with Julia and Buddy, there is a quality of unconventionality about it. It opens on Julia, a fledgling philosopher (played by Claire Warden), locked in her room and having a panic attack. Finally a maintenance man named Buddy arrives (played by Matthew DeCapua), and we begin to see the inherent ironies these two people come with. Julia, a philosopher, tries to understand Buddy and “put together the pieces of the puzzle” as she puts it, while at the same exact time Buddy seems to realize that Julia knows very little about herself: Just as Buddy figures out that Julia is calling for a maintenance man to unlock her door, when she is actually afraid of leaving the house, Julia simultaneously realizes that even though the maintenance man is supposed to fix the ills of an apartment, Buddy quite literally can’t do any of the things in his job description. The two prove to be completely self deluded as to their actual standing in the real world, not fully comprehending their own ridiculousness. However, as I watched the two figure out the other’s flaws in front of me, I found myself completely transfixed by the actors playing caricatures of people, yet truly finding the realness of both of them. Though Julia’s various phobias and stigmas and Buddy’s multiple problems and shortcomings pose a certain threat to their respective sanity, the two find solace in their understanding of one another.

Julia’s knowledge of Buddy and Buddy’s acceptance of who Julia is contributes to the two becoming a little saner. In the end, the truly impressive thing about Julia and Buddy was the character development amongst the two actors onstage, and never have I seen a quirkier couple make more sense. At times the plot would become a tad winding, especially in the second section, which takes place on a boat. The two characters become even crazier, perhaps by portrayal, and the realness that was found in the first section became a tad faint as the characters began playing a little more into stereotype; Warden’s Julia becoming more “tortured philosopher” and DeCapua’s Buddy becoming more “easygoing actor.” This being said, however, the script was still rather charming even with the little twists and turns along the way, and was helped along by Julia’s discovering the topic of her academic speech/thesis by the end, once again through Buddy.

Further proving their perfect imperfections as a couple, and the clarity found when the two are together. With the perhaps disjointed second half the audience at least gets a sense of the two characters’ problems with each other and the dissimilarities between the two and their subsequent ability to overcome these differences.

With direction by N.G. McClernan, Warden and DeCapua make Julia and Buddy respectively, become true depictions of real people, even with a fantastical script. Thus, with various philosophical questions being asked throughout the show and modern stereotypes being broken, this was a romantic comedy that was anything but predictable.

A Golden Voyage

Demerara Gold Part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival Review by Ashley Hutchinson carib13k-12-webAs a rule, I’m usually very wary of one-man shows. The presentation is often cheesy and the different characters the one man is forced to play very frequently become caricatures of people. In the case of Demerara Gold, the format was much the same, a bare stage with a single chair and a single woman. However, the difference between the molds I’m used to and this play is the love that went into it. Ingrid Griffith plays herself, in a show that she has written, telling the audience of her story coming to America. The feel of the piece seemed to be a branch of storytelling, the theatricality associated with the word “play” seemed rather lax and instead the theatricality employed when telling a captivating story was present in the room. That being said, Ingrid Griffith’s ability to hold an entire audience’s attention is a talent that not many have. Her big, expressive eyes would widen with ever portrayal of her young self. Her childlike countenance is really quite impressive, and I found myself believing that she was indeed younger. The format of the show was rather memoir-like, focusing on memories that particularly stuck out to Griffith in her formative years. Though the subject matter proved serious and often truly heartbreaking, as when her parents moved away from Guyana and went to America, leaving Ingrid and her sister behind with their grandmother. Griffith recounted a time when she wrote her parents a letter asking, after four years of their absence, when they would be home, or if they would be home. This specific moment in the show was when I found the audience to truly be invested in the scene before them: as Griffith revealed that it had been four years, I heard the audience let out an “aw” of sympathy, and I discovered two things about Griffith’s performance. First, Griffith had created a memoir that had a certain magnetism due to the scenes chosen. I found that the amount of thought put in to which memories would be told might possibly have been the most ingenious detail of the show. And second, time throughout this memoir seemed to go at the pace of the emotional journey of the story: time was of no object; time hardly mattered, as with many of the great novels I have read. Griffith’s story might very well have been one of the best works of literature put to stage I had seen, and certainly created a strong bond between herself and the audience. Reciting lines to a room full of strangers takes quite an amount of bravery, but telling one’s own personal story is even more so. Damerara Gold was a bold performance full of heart and soul, and really makes us think about which moments in our lives truly count.

A Toast to “Champagne Lady”

“Champagne Lady” part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival

Reviewed by Mary Ann Randazzo

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Anyone born after 1980 might have lost some of the value of this smart and witty play “Champagne Lady.”  References to Lawrence Welk and the infamous champagne lady of the popular show may have gone over many of the alternative rock music lover’s heads.

Richard Burd, playwright/director did a brilliant job in combining comedy and drama while family secrets unfolded during Thanksgiving.  The brothers, played by the talented actors Kevin Bianchi and Patrick Tumulty were outstanding.  Joan Saunders as the Aunt Esther was first-rate.

I truly enjoyed this delightful story.  It was truly “wunnerful, wunnerful!”