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 Carrera 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/

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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.