Dorian Palumbo reviews “An Energy Tale”

In the trailer for the sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth”, Al Gore explains that one of the most incendiary things postulated in the original documentary was the potential flooding of the World Trade Center Memorial.  In 2006, people reacted negatively to that idea more than to any other idea explored in the original film.  During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the World Trade Center Memorial was, indeed, flooded, just as predicted.  There’s no pleasure in that kind of “I told you so”, and Anthony J. Piccione, the writer of the children’s play “An Energy Tale”, seems to know that, but how do you feel inconvenient truths to children in around an hour without scaring them to death?  Chocolate.

an-energy-tale

As Dr. Science (Ciara McGovern) explains, the kids in the audience will be asked to answer questions about what they’re watching, but the sweet surprise is that the audience participation is rewarded with Hershey’s kisses, flung out of McGovern’s pockets when she hears the answer that she, and Ciccione, are looking for.  I don’t know if other children’s plays do this – I don’t have kids, so I wouldn’t know – but it seemed like a genius move to me.

“An Energy Tale” is a fable about catastrophic climate change as a flashback from a dystopian future, so it’s not exactly the most likely way to give little ones a rollicking good time.  It seems, in fact, more designed to get their parents to vote left, even including a scene where the ensemble play DC politicians.  It’s hard enough to get some 20 year olds to understand what politicians do, let alone kids, but it’s noble to try.  And I’m not sure if an actress portraying “Oil” as a slick, obnoxious fat cat would go over well with parents in Texas or the Bakken.  That said, Piccione does manage to make the hard lesson fun and entertaining.

The absolute find here is tween actress Catherine Ashmore Bradley, who plays the lead role of Sally.  Sally is our future-kid tour guide through the environmental wreckage left by the adults in the “past” (our present day.)  Bradley navigates the stage with the self-assurance of a veteran, and her credits show that, in fact, she’s been performing since the age of four.  I sometimes find child performers hard to take if they’re too in love with themselves out there on the boards – Bradley falls into no such trap, coming off instead as charming, vivacious and smart without being a smartass.

I also want to give a shoutout to costume designer Samatha Lewis.  Low budget, indie theatre is a hard space to do imaginative and lovely work in, and the ensemble were given a lot of storytelling juice portraying nuclear power plants and the like as dressed by Lewis.

I’m not sure “An Energy Tale” is preaching outside the liberal choir, and I do rather think that the six- to ten-year-olds in the target audience are probably told about sustainable energy sources in school.  Like, a lot.  But teachers rarely get to illustrate their concepts with actual actresses dressed as hydroelectric power, or rolling around the floor playing a piece of coal.  And teachers don’t give out chocolate.

 

“Ashman” gets a C

Rachel Ricano discusses UNDER THE C at the Fresh Fruit Festival

download (1)Drag darling, Cacophony Daniels, (aka Jersey Boys‘ Courter Simmons) sings her tribute to Grammy and Oscar winning playwright and lyricist Howard Ashman. This show was directed by Jonathan Hadley with music direction by Kyle Branzel. Beautiful renditions of ditties from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Little Shop of Horrors, as well as lesser known gems from Smile, Babe, and Diamonds.

Ashman’s work was grand but the show itself seemed a bit like a lecture with a twist. The educational seemed to conquer the entertainment too quick and thoroughly. Even as a cabaret, a bit more spice to this souffle would have been helpful.

That said, if you are an Ashman fan, you WILL enjoy it.

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

img_0081

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.