What Simon says … we should hear.

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Review by Amy M. Frateo

Samuel A. Simon is not an actor … many of my colleagues might find that a hindrance. I found it refreshing. Many will say he wrote a story and not a play. I find it to be the very essence of what a theatre piece should be. We have a large lesson to learn from Sam and Susan Simon.
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High above the posh setting that is Theatre Row in their smallest, but by no means less-compelling, theatre, a regular guy shares his deepest and most traumatic moments with total strangers. His beloved wife – diagnosed with cancer – went through a devastating journey. What Sam shares with us is the fact that so did he! He went from a husband and businessman into a caregiver waiting for his wife’s “actual dance” over night. We then get his pain, his fears, his calculations, his procedures, his humor, his wit, his courage … all in an hour. Pure theatre as it was initially meant to me.
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Sam – as stated – is not an actor. This creates some uncomfortable staging, even with the obviously strong leadership of director Kate Holland; there might be the occasional fumfer; even a light cue to two that seemed a bit off. But what replaces it, is head-and-shoulders above the theatrics.
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When Sam talks of his wife and his journey, he’s not acting. The gush of love for her is real; his shock at her resolve is real; the tears when thinking the worst are real; the glint at talking about touching her in that husbandly way is real. The audience found this reality intoxicating and was with him every word – forgiving the fumfer and the stumble. The discussion afterward only added to the catharsis of the night.

The play is looking to tour – a wonderful idea. One day Sam might turn the role over to another to perform it. At that point, the imagery and the technique will be cleaner, more “professional” … but no one, not the finest actor, will give it the same heart.
The production runs the month of January. See it. Now. Then go home and hug the one you love.
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UNDONE: Theatre of Reality

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Review by Sander Gusinow

Undone,’ written and directed by Infusion Art’s Beth Newbery, walks into the depraved world of sex trafficking. Our underworld guide comes in the form of Anna, an Appalachian girl forced into slavery at the age of seventeen. Set on the last day of Anna’s job at a hair salon, (she’s set to open her own business tomorrow) Anna recounts her traumatic experience to her friends. Over the course of the show, she lapses into hallucinations of talk-show fantasy, and grim flashbacks of her dehumanizing past.

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Jessie Fahay, an artistic crusader in her own right, tackles the character of Anna with sanguine intensity. A character with a mind polluted by years of abuse, Anna is at once pitiable and arresting. It’s a role that would have been easily botched by a lesser performer, but Fahay’s Anna powers through, and delivers perhaps the most merciless sequence I’ve ever seen in a one-person show. Fahay’s dedication to Anna would be enough for a riveting, emotional hour, but for whatever reason, Writer/Director Beth Newbery doesn’t seem to think so.

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The play is mired by Newbery’s decision to write in inconsistent fragments. It’s a high-risk, low-reward endeavor. Anna is forced to pontificate on her childhood far too often. There is an over-reliance on projection, and most upsetting of all, Anna doesn’t even come close to to finishing her odyssey. She describes (quite stunningly) her first instance of rape as a sex slave, but then she’s right back in the hair salon, with nary another word about what occurred during her years of bondage, or how she even escaped. (if she even escaped. The ending suggests perhaps she’s hallucinating the entire show) The script bewilders when it ought to brutalize. In a play with subject matter as critically prescient as this, it’s a gamble one can ill afford.

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The show does not place enough trust in the performer. Jessie Fahay is an actress more than capable of electricity. I can only hope some slicing, dicing, and smoothing out is in order before the show moves on to Theatre Row come this February. A play like this has the potential to break an audience with harsh reality. In a time when theatregoers are too often lulled to sleep by flippant poetics, I can’t think of a goal any more worthwhile.

M is for Brooklyn Arts

Not a month went by in 2014 without an article or listing featuring a big pink M in it somewhere. Bay Ridge Brooklyn’s preeminent arts training ground, The M Center, opens the doors to the performing arts for people of all ages and walks of life.

Much has been said about M Center playwright, Mohammed Saad Ali, and his recent notoriety as one of the voices of the new immigrant experience in America with successful runs of the award-winning Old Men Are Full of S**t at the Midtown International Theater Festival and Canaan at the Manhattan Rep. But also Asian actress (and M acting and singing program member) Emmy Pai returned to the professional theatre in another production fostered at the M Center. Pull the Trigger, written by M playwright Christopher Sirota featured Ms. Pai. This enigmatic tale was reminiscent of early Samuel Beckett. Sirota’s comedy, Stalled, will received a run at producer John Chatterton’s Midwinter Festival along with Mr. Ali’s play Canaan. And the list goes on.

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Emmy is not the only artist of a certain age who reaped the rewards of the M Center. Retired city worker-turned-playwright, Ted Montuori, had his play, Curtains, enjoy a run at Roy Arias theaters in the Spring; Brooklyn local, Joel Charles also studied for two season at the M; and musician Robert Cricket Cohen played bass guitar with M Center’s MBand for a short time. “From the first time I became part of the many activities at the M Center it was a happy day for me! My participation playing bass for the M Center’s show “Voices” in the heart of NYC’s theater district was an honor and a pleasure. My goals are in both learning and teaching and the M Center satisfies my artistic passions full to the brim!” exclaimed the musician who toured the world with numerous bands including opening for the Drifters, and has a decades-long career working in the cutting-edge theatre of the 60s and 70s with some of the industry’s most recognized names including Manhattan Theatre Club, LaMama, and the legendary Ridiculous Theatre Company.
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On the other end of the spectrum, what started as a small program on Sunday afternoons has blossomed into the MKIDS. A full section devoted to working with pre- and early teens who display great potential in the arts.

The programs created two “stars” so far: Alinna Gonzalez and Martin Richards.

martin Wendy Richards, Martin’s mother, had this to say about her son’s progress at the little place with big ideas: “Martin’s singing and acting ability, and his confidence level, have drastically improved since attending the M Center. Your place prepared him for performing arts schools auditions: he would not have had as much confidence if he did not have training.” Martin also got the opportunity to serve as a production assistant on Voices 2014, an annual concert initially hosted by the M Center’s sponsor, Genesis Repertory. “Your show allowed the people involved to be part of a professionally run production. Most need to work at primary jobs and are only able to enjoy their performing arts passion on a secondary basis in lessons and sometimes on weekends: your show allowed them to perform on a stage in the city and validated their real skills” Wendy continued. “I am very happy our family was introduced to your organization, and hope to continue our lessons indefinitely.” When Wendy says family, she is not speaking in a general sense, her husband, David Richard, so impressed with his son’s progress and energy, enrolled in voice classes as well. Dave, a former stand-up comic and song writer in California, has taken this opportunity – and the M – to get back into the industry. “I’ve always wanted to try Shakespeare” Dave said upon learning of the studio’s Macbeth workshop.

Joining Martin as an MKid is Alinna Gonzalez. Alinna, a member of the Sunday afternoon program, displayed a great deal of artistic potential for one so young. Mary E. Micari, the M’s founder and program manager, decided Alinna should join the Voices concert on stage. Alinna stopped the show.

CAM00858Alinna’s mother, Rhonda Abdinoor-Gonzalez, commented that Alinna is a different person when she’s at the M; looking at the studio as her second home. From breath control to vocal power, Rhonda has seen a great change in her nine-year-old daughter – and in herself. “You are really genuine. You do this because you love it. I have a new respect and understanding for the arts and the passion of artists” replied Rhonda; “and you’re right here in Bay Ridge!” she concluded.

As with the Richards family, Rhonda’s son, Andrew, is now a member of the M. He studies guitar and has aspirations of joining the MBand.

The concept of giving the next generation a leg-up has always been in the forefront of M Center Founder, Mary Elizabeth Micari’s plans. Micari and producer Jay Michaels moved Genesis Repertory, the nonprofit arts & education organization that sponsors the M, to Brooklyn and began presenting classical works. Her first production in Brooklyn was Romeo & Juliet. There she gave 16-year-old Nelson Anthony the part of Romeo; a decision that send shock waves and dubious thoughts through the community. After standing ovations and rave reviews, community opinion changed quickly. Today, Nelson is a graduate of the High School of Performing Arts looking to a future on stage. Micari followed that with a SteamPunk production of Hamlet that eventually was the foundation of a new film.

The M Center will be stepping up all programs for 2015, creating even more opportunities to learn and grow in the arts. There is a second Voices Concert coming in May; entitled SHOWTUNE, this one will focus on learning and performing in the American Musical Theater. There will be a director’s class added to the burgeoning performance program that already includes acting and playwriting. And a special Shakespeare workshop is in the ready and will focus on Macbeth.

All programs are designed for all ages… well, maybe not Macbeth.

One of Drama-Queens’ “Women of Cause” takes on a painful topic in a one-woman piece

JESSIE FAHAY, artistic director of Ripple Effect Artists, and the focus of one of Drama-Queens’ annual article highlighting the women of off-off Broadway, (see part three of “Women of Cause and Conscience: The Working Women of Off-Off Broadway.”) appears in a riveting drama written and directed by BETH NEWBERY, founder of Infusion Arts, entitled UNDONE.

Both Ripple Effect Artists and Infusion Arts are international organizations dedicated to creating social awareness and change through the arts, so the UNDONE collaboration is a natural fit.

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UNDONE, a one-woman performance – is the story of Anne – a victim of sex trafficking. Anne, while devastated, was still one of the lucky ones… She survived. And now she is determined to help others by telling her story. At times heartbreaking, honest, and even humorous, UNDONE explores what the TV cameras never catch and the reporters never say: the inner pain these unfortunate people go through, even years after. UNDONE is inspirational and informational – shedding light on multiple causes to end human trafficking and support its victims. UNDONE, premiers at the Kraine Theater, January 10 & 11, 2015, before moving uptown to Theatre Row in February 2015.

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Performed in observance of National Anti-Trafficking Awareness day (1/11/15)
Saturday, January 10 @ 2:00 & 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, January 11 @ 3:00 p.m.
The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street, New York City
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/920213

MAMA MIA: MESHELLE joins Entertainment’s Women Warriors!

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MESHELLE “The Indie-Mom of Comedy”

Roseanne, Tina, Tracey, Ellen, Jennifer, Meshelle … the first five are pretty recognizable. The last name is on its way to the same.

Meshelle “The Indie-Mom of Comedy,” star of the touring one-woman show, Diary of a MILF (Mother I’d Like To Follow… fooled ya… admit it) is gaining popularity at a rapid rate. Her celebrated run at the Midtown International Theatre Festival this past summer added steam to her momentum and another jumping-off point for a tour and even discussions with various television stations. MILF has already garnered awards already including a 2014 MITF award and 2012 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival.

Acceptance speech that brought down the house at the 2014 MITF awards

Acceptance speech that brought down the house at the 2014 MITF awards

Her stage show asks the question: Can a “Mom” have it all? Meshelle stands alone on stage and assumes characters and situations sharing her journey as she dares to create a flow of motherhood and marriage while creating and living her dreams as a Stand-Up Comic. Can she be a classroom parent, bake a vegan casserole, maintain during the yuletide season, perform nightly, and still be a sexy woman? Joining her in finding out the answer will make you laugh till you gasp.

Her audiences are usually quite vocal:
“An extraordinary and hilarious performance of the day in the life of a multi-faceted mom”
… Eric Johnson, Sew Graphic
“A truly hilarious one woman show that portrays the strength and courage of an everyday mom” ... Andre Braddy
“Bold, fresh, vivid… genius! I had to see it twice” … T. Johnson
“I laughed, empathized with the characters & enjoyed the music” … Debbie Bosch
“Fresh, funny, energetic and entertaining…a must see” … Nettie Seaberry
“Meshelle is the next big thing.” Hanif & Janiece Harris

Thanks to appearances on BET, TV-ONE, STARz, and Nickelodeon, Meshelle is a recognized figure. But she is also a noted Social Justice advocate. An Alumni-Fellow of the Open Society Institute, Meshelle is founder and executive director of Goaldiggers: The Sankofa Project, whose mission is to connect inner-city teen girls of African descent to education and gain college access. She is also author of 101 Things Every Girl/Young Woman of Color Should Know, anecdotes and strategies to assist girls and refresh young women as they face life’s inevitable challenges.

Oh yes, there is the MOM part: MESHELLE is a mother of two girls and one boy, and married for a decade and a half to Dr. LaMarr Darnell Shields, educator and co-founder of The Cambio Group LLC.

Many have attempted Meshelle’s mathematical equation she calls life, but few have figured it out like she has. Family + Philanthropy + Fame = A Mother I’d Like to Follow

MAW_0053Follow this mom at http://www.meshelle.net