Great Theatre … with a Vengeance! Dorian Palumbo reviews “Vengeance Room”

One of the things that Beckett fans love about Beckett is the ability that he had of using the absurdist form to distill human emotional interactions down to their basics, without needing a lot of conventional expository writing.  Playwright Michael Hagins’ “The Vengeance Room” is not only an homage to Beckett, it’s actually a good one, which isn’t something we often see.  It’s also, in its own right, a fairly tense and quite fascinating approach to a genre we don’t often see onstage – horror.

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Into a dimly lit room, complete with an assortment of weapons, five characters arrive, in various states of anxiety, some stumbling and coughing, some simply disoriented.  They are strangers to one another.  They are, to an extent, strangers to themselves.  They don’t remember their names.  They are unclear as to how they arrived.  They discuss whether or not they have been kidnapped, but don’t recall anyone abducting them.

Eventually the weapons, a gun, a knife, a baseball bat, a sword, are spoken for, variously traded, and brandished with various degrees of success.  Alpha Male “D”, played with confidence and pragmatism by Michael Mena, goes for the gun before anyone else arrives, hedging his bets.  The bullying mean girl “X” comes in afterward, and chooses the sword, although her tongue is far sharper.  As played by Ariel Leigh, X is a consummate shit-stirrer and wickedly fun to watch.

Ashley Lauren Rogers “G” is a sweet soul who wishes to harm no one, yet is bullied into wielding first the bat and then, eventually, the gun, though she’s got no fight in her we can discern.  Rogers plays G with a sweetness and vulnerability that grounds the tension for the audience deftly, giving us someone we could potentially root for, though we don’t know why nor do we know what the circumstances around the tension quite are.  Rounding out the cast is an apparent couple, the henpecked “M”, played with a terrific comic haplessness by Michael Moreno, and the fired-up “O”, played alternately sweet and sarcastic by the wonderful Kat Moreno.

As the characters circle around each other, each knowing the game is for one to kill all the rest in order to escape, Director Janelle Zapata manages the dramatic tension in the small space with great skill and respect for the form.  And, most important, she never telegraphs any of the twists and turns, allowing the audience to go ahead and make assumptions that, I guarantee you, will turn out to have been false.

The Vengeance Room not only adds an exciting and interesting one-act piece to the canon of absurdist theatre pieces, it also provides something that contemporary theatre can often lack: fun.

The Vengeance Room will run at Kraine Theatre, 84 East 4th Street, on February 22nd at 10:30 PM, on February 24th at 8:20 PM, and on March 4th at 1:50 PM.  For tickets, please visit the Frigid New York Festival website at http://www.horsetrade.info/frigid-festival-df84

 

 

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Mr. Right … Tall, Grande, and Venti!

Antonia Kasper is fed-up and overly-caffeinated! 

Me with pink cup of coffee

 

Her book “45 Coffee Dates” is an uproarious account of her pursuit for Mr. Right through a sea of Mr. Right-For-Anyone-Else. Making Starbucks her nerve-center, Antonia created thirty-eight year old New Yorker, Rachel Yardley,  and began notating her crusade along the dusty trails of the internet and online dating. 

Watch some excerpts from 45 COFFEE DATES [CLICK HERE]

The book and the play are about to explode onto New York so we wanted to grab her while she could still be grabbed.

 

 

Tell us about yourself … how did you get here? 

HeadshotI grew up in a small town in Oklahoma then graduated from Tulane University with a BA in Theatre Arts/ English.  Originally, my dream was to be in musicals on Broadway.  I did a lot of regional theatre and decided to create my own work.  That’s when I discovered the Stand-Up Comedy circuit.   Making people laugh was addictive and that’s where I really learned how to write.  Writing a simple joke was probably the most difficult writing I had experienced.  But it really taught me about comedy.

What’s the book and the play about? 

wpqh9b0g3xib6qamq85v“45 Coffee Dates –In search of my soulmate through cyber-space and beyond!” is about my real life online experiences when my sister dared me to meet 50 men in 90 days through the internet and over a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  I was in my late 30’s and suddenly realized I wanted to get married and possibly have a child (if it wasn’t too late).   The book and the show are about my own personal journey and how meeting all kinds of men (even the worst of the worst) had a positive take away for me.  It was a path of self-discovery and what I learned about improving my own flaws and beliefs by changing my outlook on life.  Fake it til you make it…real.  I wrote the book mainly as an inspiration to other women of all ages that: “It’s never too late for self-discovery…or love!”  

What did you learn about yourself during your journey?  

I learned that I was actually a catch in the city and deserved a great guy.  (Even if I wasn’t filthy rich, super young or drop dead gorgeous).  I realized you are who you make people think you are.  And you are what you make people think you are.  Yes, I was still a catch in this competitive city of New York because I was a decent person with a big heart, a good mind and a great sense of humor.  Becoming what you want to attract is so important.  The man I wanted had to encompass the same down-to-earth qualities: integrity, honest, funny, chemistry.  I had to continue to exercise those qualities in myself, empower myself, in order to attract a similar minded mate.  Finding your basic important priorities and attracting the same.  Even through all my “bad dates” I not only learned about myself as a person but learned what I REALLY wanted in a companion…what really mattered to me. Priorities are different for everyone and online dating is a great way for women and men to write down what they really want in a mate.  Discovering your “deal breakers” in a potential partner.  I also learned how to forgive my father and move on from a somewhat traumatic childhood in order to find the right man for me.  Role models play such an important part in our search for a companion.  But bad role models or a dysfunctional childhood or devastating history shouldn’t stop us from finding a healthy happy relationship.

How has the dating scene changed?   

Well, now it’s very tech driven for online dating. (Apps/Texting/IMing etc/Google Searching/Facebook) and the personal touch and discovering people and who they really can be very misleading or no longer mysterious.  Who wants to meet and get to know someone when they think they know everything about them on Facebook.  So in that way, people could be missing out on a really great connection.  We are so “computer connected” and quick to judge that men and women aren’t socializing the natural way. Depending on where you are in your life (or what you are looking for) that still varies.  I think today’s women are okay with “hooking up” and having casual sexual partners without any traditional sense of commitment–(and that’s okay…it’s about time that women aren’t judged so harshly for having casual sex) I believe today’s 20-30 year old females are focused on their career and handle casual dating more unemotionally.  Twenty years ago (even 10 years ago) those women were judged differently even though many men were so casual with women and that was okay.  Anyway, I think if you are in that place of fleeting encounters it’s fine only if that is what both individuals want.  But for me, I was no longer in that mindset.  I wanted something real, committed, healthy, happy, long-term…a family of my own.   

Relationships and finding a great person is still the same…difficult for many.  In my situation, I was longing to be courted in the old fashion sense so I actually pretended to be a modern day princess but with very old fashioned values and actions.  It’s different for everyone.  I believe it can be even more difficult in New York City and other cosmopolitan areas because everyone is so busy with their careers and/or “hooking up” or hanging out as buds.  Mainly because there are so many options of men and women.  With so many types of people in the rat race, and the grass looking greener on the other side of the fence…(In NYC there are tons of lawns)when you are looking for a committed relationship it can be difficult in the dating arena deciphering someone’s true intention.   

What’s it like being a woman entrepreneur in NY? 

I’m not only a writer/producer/performer (Kasper Productions) but I also own and run a rapidly growing on-site corporate chair massage company called StressbustersNYC (www.stressbustersnyc.com).  It can be challenging sometimes but I’m not sure if I hit roadblocks because I’m a woman or because every entrepreneur has small mountains to climb.  Because there are more women entrepreneurs nowadays, when dealing with female clients I find there is a common bond especially when closing the deal.  I close more deals with women than men in my experience and I don’t think that’s just a coincidence.  Strong women helping and believing in other strong women. Girl Power and all that jazz.  But when it comes to being taken seriously as a business owner or in the arts/producer, I think it is still perceived that men are the better, more successful business owners. As in my book, women have a fine line to balance.  I talk about how it’s difficult to celebrate your femininity without being “a feminist” but still be ballsy, as an entrepreneur, in the workplace, AND in dating.  However, with today’s current climate of women (standing up for ourselves)and finally being taken more seriously in the workplace (and the world) for our brains, our strengths, and not just noticed for our looks, I’m hopeful that now is finally the time: for not only a women’s revolution but a woman’s revelation–We as women are just as important and deserve the same admiration and respect as men when it comes to business, politics, the arts, and social equality.

Pretty Me with Coffee Cups Pink Background - Copy45 COFFEE DATES
written and performed by Antonia Kasper
(based on her book currently on sale)
Directed by Katherine Elliot

April 6 & 7; 14, 19 & 20; 28 @ 7pm
April.15 & 29 @ 2:00 pm

The Players Theater
115 Macdougal St
New York City
http://www.theplayerstheatre.com

Info: JMAE.events@gmail.com

Natalie Lifson is mad for “Madman”

Diary of a Madman Review by Natalie Lifson

You walk into an office building. The same office building you walk into every day. You take a seat at your desk. You look around at all the familiar faces. Nobody’s looking at you. Nobody’s ever looking at you. You don’t matter here. You don’t belong here. You could be someone important in another life. Someone worth glancing up at as you enter the room. Someone worth loving. She doesn’t want you and she never will. You’re alone in the world. You’re nothing. Insignificant. It’s enough to drive a person mad.

img-2556_1_origDiary of a Madman , a one man show adapted by actor Ilia Volok and director Eugene Lazarev from a story of the same title by Russian author Nikolai Gogol, explores the psyche of a man, Poprischin, who feels so dissatisfied with his own role in life that he gradually descends into a sort of madness characterized by paranoia and grandiosity.

img-2487_1_origThroughout the brilliant painting that is Volok’s performance, every twitch of his face, every jerk of a limb, is another artfully placed brushstroke on the captivating emotional landscape of Poprischin, the civil servant who just wants to be noticed, who just wants to  matter  in a world that seems to have completely discarded him. 

Even with a minimal set that consists only of a blank stage framed by two ladders, Volok manages to transport us into not only into the early 19th century, but into Poprischin’s rapidly declining mind. As Poprischin progressively loses touch with reality, as he determines that he is, in fact, the king of Spain, as he stalks Sophie, the woman he is in love with, Volok’s movements become jerky and over exaggerated. His eyes bug out as he shouts sentences that a sane person would utter at an ordinary volume. He pauses in the middle of sentences to breathe rapidly. His face contorts to display his dwindling internal conflict like an open book. It is so easy to forget that Volok is not, in fact, the elderly madman with a limp that he plays so skillfully. Likewise, Volok is so gifted at miming that suspension of disbelief becomes second nature. When Poprischin talks to a dog, the audience feels as if the dog is truly there. When Poprischin enters Sophie’s bedroom without permission and addresses her, the audience can almost­but­not­quite see her out of the corner of our eyes.

Volok is particularly engrossing to watch in the moments in which madness utterly consumes Poprischin. A particularly riveting scene finds Poprischin ranting about women and the devil. As he shouts and stomps and lurches his body in different directions, the lights, designed by Ken Coughlin, bleed a dark red.  This , Coughlin, Lazarev, and Volok alike seem to indicate,  this  is true madness.

While  Diary of a Madman  certainly keeps the audience on the edges of their seats throughout the entirety of the performance, the highlight of the show by far is the use of sound, as designed by David Marling, particularly when Poprischin discusses Sophie. When Poprischin as much as hands Sophie a handkerchief, he pauses where he stands, his movements become fluid, and he babbles on and on about the object of his obsession as music begins to play. In the background every time thoughts of her pop into his head, the song “Una Furtiva Lacrima,” sung by Izzy, plays in the background and dictates his bodily movements. “Una Furtiva Lacrima,” which is from the Italian opera  L’elixir D’Amore  and details the emotional experience of a man who uses a love potion on a woman who he had tried and failed to win the heart of, is a fitting song choice that flawlessly characterizes Poprischin’s manic passion in  Diary of a Madman.

The raw emotion displayed by Volok in these moments, paired with Izzy’s voice in the background, is intoxicating and impossible to look away from.

In addition to being a powerful and entertaining piece of art,  Diary of a Madman  is a profound commentary on mental illness, homelessness, and empathy. Despite Poprischin’s madness, it is impossible for the audience not to empathize with his situation. Although his emotions are amplified, the experience of loneliness, of invisibility, is one that is universal. Poprischin begins just like any man; he is an average office worker with average job performance and an average life. He is someone that anyone could know, that anyone could  be.  He transforms from this universal character into a homeless madman claiming to be a king on the street, not dissimilar from people we walk quickly past on the street every day and avert our eyes from. Poprischin may be a figment of Gogol’s imagination, but truthfully, he could be anyone.

The production is extended through February 18 so there are still ample times to see this masterful work.

Dorian Palumbo reviews “PRISONER OF LOVE”

20429949_10214068605698360_2950732610393084544_nCrafting a cabaret performance that’s cohesive as well as charming isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do.  Fortunately for me, Andrea Bell Wolff, with the help of a great team of musicians and terrific musical direction, managed to more than pull it off on Saturday night at Don’t Tell Mama with her new show, “Prisoner of Love.”

Andrea herself is a sprightly, bubbly musical theatre vet, and has a story or two to tell about her life on the road, but one of the most interesting things about her show is the choice of songs.  Many of them are playful, but just as many are thoughtful, heartfelt, and dovetail seamlessly into her own life story.  The songs are given an extra dash of poignancy once Andrea reveals that the arrangements were done by the late Barry Levitt, who passed away just a few short months before the show went up.

Director Peter Napolitano and Musical Director Mathew Martin Ward keep the show moving and the pace varied, and pieces like Kander and Ebb’s “Colored Lights” and a cover of Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train” pop lightly along, while more introspective pieces like Joni Mitchell’s “River” deepen the experience.  There is even an original song, the titular “Prisoner of Love”, written by Napolitano and the late Levitt, that reminds us that musical theatre pieces can have breadth and depth as well as being tuneful and catchy.

23376502_10155099690924607_2991523961033331475_nBell Wolff is absolutely charming and very engaging as both a singer and raconteur, and she brings the right tone to each song in the show, whether it’s Sondheim (Could I Leave You?) or James Brown (a very earthy rendition of “This is a Man’s World”).  I particularly enjoyed “Other Lady”, a Leslie Gore tune that one doesn’t hear all that often.

Keeping Ward on piano company is John Miller on bass, Howie Gordon on drums and percussion, and Rob Thomas on violin, and the quartet provided a delightfully full and coordinated sound without overwhelming the audience in close quarters.

Andrea’s show was only scheduled for one night, so my normal plug to see it doesn’t apply here.  However, I’m certain she’ll perform it again sometime soon, and Don’t Tell Mama Cabaret’s brick room will be the better for it.

Sidney Meyer’s Don’t Tell Mama Restaurant and Piano Bar  [http://donttellmamanyc.com/] on 46th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, has shows seven days a week, with matinee’s on Saturdays and Sundays.

Dorian Palumbo reviews ‘AS IS”

Cast of As Is 5_previewAs with the recent London revival of “Angels in America”, and Regeneration Theatre’s recent revival of “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” audiences are momentarily curious as to why these LGBTQ plays are being revived now.  In fact, a woman in the audience next to me was musing about that very thing after we’d both just seen Regeneration’s newest offering, a revival of William M Hoffman’s “As Is.”  It didn’t take us long to remember that we are still, unfortunately, in Trump’s America, we have a Vice President that believes in conversion “therapy” for gay youth, and that, therefore, we all have to make as much effort as we can to remind the public that we will not allow ourselves to be pushed back into the intolerance and ignorance of the past.

Cast of As Is 6_preview“As Is” is very much a play of the 80’s, as the pre-show music reminds us.  And not so much was known about HIV/AIDS in 1984 as is known now, about causes, prevention, or treatment.  But now, in 2018, the slogan “ignorance = death” can be applied to so many different things that depicting the original inspiration for that slogan onstage inspires a deep and many-faceted experience for today’s audience, which is absolutely Regeneration Theatre’s mission statement.

Cast of As Is 1_previewAll that said, “As Is” is not just an issue play.  It’s never just been a play about HIV/AIDS.  “As Is” is a play about love and friendship in crisis, which is something to which everyone can relate.  Leading the cast as Rich, Brian Alford paints a compelling portrait of a deeply frightened and sensitive man acting out after his diagnosis in precisely the way all of us would.  Rich is at once hopeful, angry, biting, and, ultimately, vulnerable in ways he wouldn’t have been before becoming ill.

Brian Alford Robert Maisonett 7_previewRobert Maisonett plays ex-lover and current companion Saul with depth and breadth, nailing Saul’s jealousy and neurosis as well as his love, humanity, and loyalty.

I have also to give Regeneration kudos for continuing to revive plays with somewhat larger casts.  This play employs nine actors, though some of them do double, and when many regional theatres limit productions to six actors, or even just four, Regeneration pushes against that tide and often produces plays with more.  Without Regeneration, not only wouldn’t we necessarily be seeing “As Is”, but we wouldn’t have been treated to supporting performances by Jenne Vath (Hospice Worker/Narrato), Daniel Colon (Chet), Aury Krebs (Lily), Sara Minisquero (Business Partner), Rick Calvo (Pat), Mario Claudio (Barney), and Colin Chapin (In a sensitive and deft performance as the dying Rich’s brother.)

Director Marcus Gualberto keeps things moving apace in a very small performance space, and allows the actors to navigate the overlapping dialogue and the emotional landscape without overmuch fuss and fugue, guiding everyone gently toward the poignancy of the ending without veering into melodrama.

I would advise that you check out the revival of this play, not because you might feel it’s an artifact from some other, bygone time, but precisely because it’s not.  As Is, particularly in this production, reminds the audience that situations are only addressed when they are identified, spoken about, and rallied around.  Some of the  voices that brought the discussion about HIV/AIDS into the spotlight during the Reagan era were, sadly, silenced.  But in these days when the political climate seems to be swinging back toward intolerance, ignorance, and violence, all of us must do what we can to put a chock in that pendulum and prevent it from pointing us back toward a dark age of indecency and separation from each other.  As Is will remind you that every voice is needed, even an echo from the past.

Regeneration Theatre will present As Is now through February 11th, 2018, at the Workshop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues.