Dorian Palumbo reviews Corporatesthenics

There are some things that a sketch can do that a one-act play can certainly do better, and I was delighted on Friday night to be introduced to the work of Baindu Kalokoh, whose biting and witty “Corporatesthenics” obviously demonstrates that she not only knows the difference between the two forms but can exploit the one act for all it’s worth to make her point.

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As part of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival at Theatre 80 St. Marks, Corporatesthentics introduces us to fitness instructor Candy Dandy, a high-energy beam of light that shines brilliantly on the dark underside of corporate life as navigated by African American women.  Using the convention of a television broadcast, and playing the role of Candy herself, Kalokoh high-steps us through the denigration and frustration of the corporate experience by exhorting the audience to learn how to fake-smile through it all while seeking out mentors who “look like you” and simply knowing that others, like Candy, have been through it all before.

Particularly well-observed is a sequence where Candy walks the audience through a corporate evaluation process. An employee who has been given exemplary report cards for over a decade is suddenly found lacking due to nothing more than a desire for her employers to kick her to the proverbial curb.  Though the rest of the work has some funny moments that hit home, involving wigs and hula hoops, parts of the play show that Kalokoh knows her corporate stuff first hand, and this is where she truly shines.  These are the moments that really elevate the material above mere sketch comedy to the place where the audience can really relate, and have something to think about on the way home.

“Corporatesthenics” ran for only one performance as part of the festival, but I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from the talented and fearless Kalokoh.  Both as a playwright and as a performer.s

 

 

 

 

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Dorian Palumbo reviews Strong Man … A Strong Work

It’s been said about playwright August Wilson that he wrote about ordinary people trying to survive in the struggle.  I was recently able to catch J.E. Robinson’s play “The Strong Man” at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival at Theatre 80 St. Marks this past Friday, and Robinson’s characters are as authentic and lively as Wilson’s, but the twist is Robinson hewing toward the darkness in life in his own, unique way.

“The Strong Man” begins in the Great Depression, and is set in a barber shop, where four old friends are gathered seemingly to shoot the breeze, get a haircut, and perhaps play some checkers.  But these are no ordinary friends.  This is the Crabtree gang, led back in the day by Pearl (Fulton Hodges), who once supplemented their income as entertainers by occasionally killing someone whom someone else wanted dead.

At first, the discussion seems to center around the gang being willing to pull off one last job, to eliminate a young man in the community who has been messing around with multiple women and drawing too much attention to himself.  However, as the haircuts progress, and the conversation turns to what happened to the money they made, and the gun they all used to jointly own, it becomes abundantly clear that the barber, Lawson, played with strength and earnestness by Jeffrey Butler, has something else in mind. Rounding out the cast is Victor Arnaz, adding a dash of panache as the dandified Victor.  Hodges’ Pearl personifies a man who is doing well for himself, relative to his old friends, yet keeps a streak of impatience on the surface that let’s us believe this is a man who could have killed another man without much difficulty.

Once Pearl (Hodges) becomes suspicious that there is a plot being hatched between Lawson and his mentally disabled brother Geech, played with subtlety at a slow simmer by Jay Ward, he manipulates Geech over a game of checkers to try and get the whole story out of him.  And once it’s revealed what Lawson requires from his old pal, Pearl, like the audience, is shocked.

“The Strong Man” is a strong work – playwright Robinson shows us the harsh realities of African Americans during the Depression without being preachy or melodramatic, and the direction, by Lawrence Floyd, was deft and masterful.

“The Strong Man” ran for only one performance as part of the festival, but it is available for future productions by accessing it online as part of the New Play Exchange, https://newplayexchange.org/plays/98715/strong-man

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Robert Viagas was on a “Coffee Date”

“45 Coffee Dates”

The Players Theater through April 29

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

 

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Writer/actress Antonia Kasper had to kiss a long line of frogs—44 to be exact—before she found her real-life Prince Charming. Using a semi-fictional alter-ego named Rachel Yardley in her new solo comedy, 45 Coffee Dates, author and star Kasper recounts how she staggered through an online dating death march of Mr. Wrongs.

Her war stories are mostly horrifyingly funny—one guy who throws up on her, another brings his mother on the date, and then there is “the guy with OCD…who was an SOB.”

Some of her dates are rejected on what seem like purely “lookist” standards. There is the story of the “philanthrojock” who turns out to be much, much shorter in person than in his profile pic. “You lied to me, Napoleon!,” she snarls. But since Rachel becomes the target of plenty of the same treatment, it only seems fair.

Let’s just say that If this becomes a TV special, Match.com will not likely sponsor it.

What keep 45 Coffee Dates from being simply an elongated stand-up comedy routine are her stories that swerve into the heartbreaking, such as when she loses her father, her dog and her unborn child in the space of just a few weeks. She compares herself to older women to see how their various life choices worked out. At age 39, her quest for a life partner becomes just one facet of a genuine midlife crisis. The fact that she’s able to muster such a wry sense of humor about it all proves a testament to her tenacity.

And just when it seems as if her comic misery will go on forever, the play swerves again, this time into a happy world where her dreams actually do come true. She earns them.

Katherine Elliot directs the production, which continues through April 29 in the upstairs space at The Players Theatre in Greenwich Village.

The production is advertised as leading up to the release of the story in book form later this spring.