Dorian Palumbo says “Soundview” is sound viewing.

IMG_2812It’s always fascinating to watch two different people react in completely different ways to the same, intense circumstance.  In Kate Gill’s masterful play “Soundview Summer”, we get to see two men, one circumspect and in denial, the other channeling his outrage into the public sphere, as they deal with the illness contracted while working at a nuclear plant.

The story itself isn’t new – the American companies whose operations result in toxic waste quite often deal with that waste in irresponsible “cost-saving” ways, choosing to protect their profit margins at the expense of the lives of working class folk desperate for jobs.  American companies do it to this day; hell, one of them is probably doing it right now, thanks to the current administration and its determination to deregulate every polluter from coast to coast.  What is fresh about this unfortunately very timely play is that we put the spotlight on the emotional fallout from dealing with chronic illness.

Billy (Vincent Sagona) is trying to hold it together, living in a trailer with high school sweetheart Ellie (Annie McGovern), despite his physical weakness, disability, and, as we learn later, infertility caused by radiation exposure.  The life that Ellie imagined they would have together was never even on the table, and Billy is not best pleased when co-worker and old friend Jack (Brian Richardson) appears on his doorstep looking to dredge up the past.  It was Billy who suggested the summer job that ruined both their lives, and Billy who seems most invested in pretending that nothing can be done about it.  Jack, on the other hand, is on fire, writing a book, appearing on talk shows, and using what’s left of his time on earth to try and achieve a payday for the remaining members of his extended family.

Facing the truth about our lives, such as they are, isn’t something that any of us are terrifically good at, but in Soundview Summer we see the guilt-wracked Billy submerged in denial.  Jack picks at Billy like a crow, trying to cajole him into taking up the “cause” that Billy seems to want to ignore completely.  But the truth will out, and the festering of these buried emotions damages Billy’s marriage in just the way radiation is damaging his body.

IMG_2798Sagona’s portrayal of Billy is touching and sympathetic; Richardson is a force of nature as the righteous, brave Jack.  Sharon Hope is radiant as Jack’s loving and practical Aunt Jessie.  Annie McGovern as Ellie is enchanting, and the play is given a particularly vibrant shot when Susan Barrett appears to play Cathy, a tough-talking single mother that takes up with poor Billy after Ellie makes her escape into the arms of, ironically, a doctor.  Barrett understands beautifully that her character is largely comic relief, but slips into, and out of, the emotional landscape with subtlety and grace.  Veteran actor Stuard Rudin is great fun to watch as Cathy’s barman brother Joe, and Gregory Erbach lends just the right amount of desperation to Chaney, the engineer who, in flashback, is shown clueing Billy in on the negligence of the Soundview managers.

The play does end a little abruptly – Gill seems to want to eschew a protagonists final speech, and that’s a fair enough choice.  But if the end of Billy’s arc is his decision to finally do what Jack, and seemingly Gill, feel is the right thing, the audience doesn’t get a whole lot of time to savor that moment.  There are also not one but two cracks about women gaining weight in middle age that don’t really add much to the experience and that, as a middle-aged woman myself, I could have lived without.  But, all in all, the play is something audiences will feel absolutely privileged to have seen, and there are a good few performances left on the schedule.

“Soundview Summer” is Produced by Hudson Theatre Works, and will be presented at Theatrelab, 357 West 36th Street on Friday, November 10th at 8 PM, on Saturday, November 11th at 8 PM, on Sunday, November 12th at 3 PM, on Thursday, November 16th at 8 PM, on Friday, November 17th at 8 PM, on Saturday, November 18th at 8 PM and on Sunday, November 19th at 3 PM.

ss

Photos by Susan Ferguson
For tickets, see upcoming events on   www.theatrelabnyc.com
 
Advertisements

Dorian Palumbo understands the UVX-act meaning behind Luxury Universal Experience and Chmaj & Lyle

22730262_124726551551116_4010344431917134072_n

Back in the 1980’s a standup comedian named Andy Kaufman decided that the “bits” and the “routines” he was doing professionally didn’t go far enough in allowing him to express himself.  He approached the World Wrestling Federation and, in 1982, created a character that he subsequently inhabited so often and in so many contexts, the Letterman show, wrestling events, theatrical events, that he effectively created a permanent fourth wall around himself.  He jettisoned his beloved TV character, the reason most of his audience knew him, stopped giving interviews as anyone other than “wrestling villain Andy” and, thus, challenged his audience to question the very nature of what was real about Andy Kaufman, the comedian and also the man.  Many who were used to a traditional comedian’s approach didn’t “get it.”  In fact, his insistence on hiding behind his own personal fourth wall made some of his audience literally hostile toward him.  He didn’t care.  He had a story to tell.

I thought about Andy Kaufman as I watched Wednesday night’s performance of UVX: The Luxury Universal e[X]perience at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side.

lux4 (800x600) (1)The premise of UVX is that a large corporation has found an algorithm to quantify “fun” and is now prepared to apply techniques to its filmic “experience” as various as audience voting, Rocky Horror-type trash tossing, multi-media and Erhardt Seminar Training, to create an interactive experience for the audience that is at once funny and bizarre.    Yes, there is a goofed-up film, preceded by a mock trivia quiz with a somnambulistic rendering of the intro from A-Ha’s “Take on Me” as background Muzak.  But the film is not the point.  All the stuff that goes on in the foreground, with the (hopefully willing) participation of the audience is the point.

In true Andy Kaufman-like style, there is no program naming the creators of the show, listing the actors, or otherwise letting the audience know anything much at all about what it’s in for.  There is only a small brochure which seems to resemble the escape safety brochure from a low-rent airline.  This is rather a shame, as the actors playing the ushers, or “buddies”, were doing quite a good job, and I’d like to call them out by name if only I knew what their names actually were.

IMG_5325 (1) (1)There was also, therefore, no way of discerning, on the night who, exactly, was responsible for creating the theatrical experience I was watching.  Thanks to Google, though, I was able to discover that the piece was created by interactive theatre veteran Lyle Sterne and self-described multi-media jack-of-all-trades Alex Chmaj.

The UVX experience also gives a nod to amusement park rides, in the sense that the person who gets onto a ride at Six Flags is entering into an agreement that something artificial is going to, nonetheless, evoke an emotional response as if the circumstance is “for real.”  UVX manages to accomplish this largely through the maintenance of the fourth wall I previously described – Sterne and Chmaj pretend, good and hard, that everything they’ve created is “for real”, and it doesn’t take long for the audience to suspend it’s disbelief and pretend that it’s real as well.

lux3 (1)I’d like to say a few words at this point in praise of silliness.  Theatre, particularly New York Theatre, isn’t often just flat-out silly.  Unintentionally funny, perhaps, but not Monty Python-style, Kaufmanesque silly.  With its battling stormtroopers wielding glowsticks and its gleeful “buddies” exhorting the audience to throw paper airplanes and otherwise have fun, even if one of the ushers should suffer bodily harm or even death, UVX is monumentally, supremely silly.

As with most audience-driven theatrical experiences, the show is more fun when the house is full.  UVX makes a point (one of many) about the corporatization of entertainment by charging a premium to sit in the balcony, able to throw debris on the proles below but not (I assume, since I couldn’t see) engaged by the “buddies” or the stormtrooper characters.  When I visited, there were some empty seats, but I could see that the audience members in front of me, who went “all in” with the participation aspect, were having a good giggle.

This is not the first time Sterne and Chmaj have collaborated, and it won’t, I assume, be the last, but I would encourage theatergoers to visit the Abrons Arts Center while they can still catch UVX and watch something that very few people are attempting to do these days – an example of commercial experimental theatre that requires the audience to engage in a way it may not be used to.

Andy Kaufman would love it.

IMG_5336 (1)UVX: The Luxury Universal e[X]perience will be playing at the Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street, New York City, on Friday 3 November 2017:2:00 PM; 5:00 PM9:00 PM, Saturday 4 November 2017:  2:00 PM5:00 PM9:00 PM and on Sunday 5 November 20171:00 PM4:00 PM

Tickets can be obtained via ovationtix at the URL below:
http://www.abronsartscenter.org

Or by phoning the box office at 646.941.9326

Comedic Susan Barrett takes Soundview Summer very seriously.

10600557_10203438080646854_7507565971670282354_n

SUSAN BARRETT opens this week in Soundview Summer, a daring work that takes a personal look at the after-effects of nuclear exposure.  Ms. Barrett had some interesting takes on everything from being an artist, to being funny, to being in Indie Theater … if that still exists!  

 

Tell us about yourself as an artist? 

ssI’m Susan Barrett, and I play Cathy in Soundview Summer. I’m a comedic character actor who really enjoys transforming into characters to the point where I am unrecognizable on stage. A few years ago, I did an all female production of Othello. We actually played the male roles as men with lots of facial hair, transformed the way we walked and talked. I was overjoyed at our opening night party when someone came up to me and said, did you see the show, who do you know in it? And, I was able to say I WAS IN IT! When people don’t have a clue it is me off stage, that really feels gratifying. Those types of projects are what I am drawn to the most. Also, outlandish comedy with lots of improv. However, I love developing new works, like Soundview Summer, with playwrights, and just working on good stories, and well written plays, whether it be comedy or drama. I really enjoy making folks laugh, so comedy is my “go to,” but it’s also nice to portray a serious drama where hopefully what I bring to a role can help to ignite something in someone in the audience. If I reach some person in some way as an actor, and tell the story well, then I know I have done my job. I also love the medium of television and film. It’s really quite a privilege to get to do what we do as artist’s.

 

 

What do you hope to convey to your audience regarding this powerful topic? 

This question is a challenging one for me. My character Cathy, doesn’t comment at all about the topic. She simply plays an important relationship in the story with the main character at a transitional time in his life. Cathy pops in and out very quickly near the end of the play, and is very “slice of life.” I hope the audience finds her relationship with Billy refreshing and fun as she adds a bit of levity to the story. We get to see a different side of Billy with Cathy as both their lives progress forward.

tn-500_3671852_orig

Do you feel a stronger sense of responsibility when the subject matter is so serious? 

Again, difficult for me to comment on this particular question because my character Cathy isn’t really effected directly by the subject matter. Since the play is not really about her journey, and we only get to see a glimpse of her life with Billy, I would say that perhaps there is more of a strong sense of building a lasting relationship where two people come together by circumstance to teach each other a lesson, and to help and aid one another at a particular cross roads in their lives. That alone in telling the story is a strong sense of responsibility. I think just telling any characters story is a strong sense of responsibility, no matter what the subject matter is.

 

Tell us your feelings on Indie Theater? 

That’s an interesting question! I’m not sure Indie Theater still exists, at least not how it did, or the way I knew it in NYC in the 80’s up to around 2008. So many great companies (some of which I was a part of) have had to close their doors. Even the Fringe Festival has taken a hiatus. It makes me very sad to have seen that occur as NY has changed so much in the last decade. So, I say Bravo and Kudos to anyone who is able to continue to produce, develop and bring new works to the forefront, and continue to create on ANY level. It’s so important to keep ALL of The Arts going, no matter way, and to be able to express, create and tell valuable stories through any medium in this crazy unsettled climate we are now living in. We can’t stop making a positive impact on the world!

 

What’s next? 

If you find out before I do, please let me know! LOL! Actually, I shot an episode of Shades Of Blue opposite Jennifer Lopez over the summer, and that should be airing on television mid-season, sometime after January. My goal is to continue to work more in film and tv, and work towards a recurring role on a series, so if anybody with any influence out there is reading this, please keep me in mind. Again, LOL! I was fortunate enough recently to audition for a recurring role on a new Showtime series that shoots in late December, so here’s hoping….working on remaining faithful, and taking it one day at a time. Also, I am teaching again, and would really enjoy focusing on coaching younger actors, and doing more teaching artist residency work.