Dorian Palumbo reviews COMMITTED

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In August of 2004, a ten minute film titled “Submission”, by Theodoor Van Gogh, was broadcast on Dutch Public television.  The film addressed violence against women in some Islamic societies by projecting text from the Koran onto the nude bodies of women as they spoke to Allah about what had happened to them.

Subsequent to the broadcast, death threats were received by Van Gogh, by the writer of the film, Ayan Hirsi Ali, and by others who worked on the film.  Muslim-born Hirsi Ali went into hiding, eventually residing in the United States, and is, today, an outspoken critic of Islam, saying it is a religion of violence against women.  Van Gogh refused protection after the release of the film.  He was assassinated on November 2nd of 2004 while riding his bicycle by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim who objected to the film.

Why did Van Gogh refuse protection after threats to his life were made?  Was it artistic integrity that drove him to continue to speak in public in support of the film despite those threats?  Natalie Menna, in her new play “Committed”, directed with precision by Brock Harris Hill, renders a fictionalized version of what the last days of Van Gogh’s life might have looked like, in an attempt to answer those questions and more.

IMG_0788Theo Van Gogh, played with style and panache by veteran actor Brad Fryman, was certainly a provocateur.  His previous films were irreverent, even blasphemous, regarding the Catholic Church, which was, of course, the main source of censorship in Great Granduncle Vincent’s day.  In Menna’s rendering of Theo’s character, we often see a man who might just have, as they say, no filter.  And yet, in other moments, he seems to be putting on a brave face for dear friend Azzad (Francisco Solorzano), journalist Victoria (Ivette Dumeng), and, in particular, young son Lieuwe, played by relative newcomer Philip Schneider.  Schneider’s resume isn’t very long, but he has the stage presence and skill level of a much more experienced actor, and I’m sure we can look forward to more great work from him.

Theo is also constantly under the influence of alcohol, so it’s difficult to unpack whether he’s actually brave and facing fear, whether he’s simply not taking the threats all that seriously or if he’s too intoxicated for them to register.   I’m not sure if this is an element added by Menna in order to facilitate the drama, or if Van Gogh actually was a hard drinker.  In any case, he describes himself as “the village idiot”, an actual snippet of conversation reported by Hirsi Ali herself, and muses that no one would go out of their way to actually expend the energy to do him harm.  Whatever the reason, he fatally underestimated the zeal of his enemies.

IMG_0797Victoria (Dumeng), and Azzad (Solorzano) conspire, at one point, to manipulate Van Gogh into canceling his public appearances in order to keep him safe from danger.  When Van Gogh discovers their plan, the ensuing conversation is the closest we come to an examination of the central question of the play – whether self-censorship and self-imposed exile make sense when one ‘s life is threatened, or if the refusal to give in is a stand that must be taken to show bullies they cannot succeed.

Interestingly, the question seems to be answered by the one character in this drama who is spoken about but never seen – Ayan Hirsi Ali.  A note left on Van Gogh’s body by his murderer was a direct threat to Hirsi Ali.  She did respond to the threat by retreating for a time.  She did not, however, allow her voice to be silenced.  Since “Submission” was broadcast, she has written four books openly critical of certain practices of Islam, and has founded the non-profit AHA foundation that combats crimes against women and girls such as forced marriage.  Theo Van Gogh would no doubt be proud of her accomplishments.

Committed will run at the 14th Street YMCA, 334 West 14th Street, through Saturday, September 23rd, 2017.  For tickets, please visit the website at www.14thstreety.org

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September Spotlight on Women in the Arts: Kallen Blair

Marlin Thomas’s riveting new play concerns a pawn broker during the Second World War called upon to be a middleman between the Nazis and our allied forces. He must help hammer-out a deal between two people in Zurich. The collateral: cash, weapons, and prisoners of war.

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The play features Kallen Blair.

We spoke with her about what it means to do a Holocaust drama today.

 

middlemanTell us about yourself as an artist. 

An artist who is still learning about who I am as an artist! The reason I made theater as a kid is different to the reason I made theater in college and is different still to the reason I continue to do it as a young professional. I know for certain that I view my chosen profession as a responsibility as much as I view it as a joy. If it’s a question of what kind of theater I want to make — I believe it is important for people to see theater and feel hope, or feel like their perceptions have grown, or feel known. That is the kind of work I hope to offer as an actor. Beyond that, I know I’m still growing as an artist. And I hope I never stop!

When dealing with historical dramas, do you feel a stronger sense of responsibility in conveying the play’s message?

Yes and no. I actually don’t think I feel a stronger sense of responsibility about conveying the message as I feel about “doing the character justice” if that makes sense. If this is a human who actually lived and had real dreams, passions, triumphs and failures — then I want to breathe life into their words in a way that validates those dreams, passions, triumphs, and failures. However, I remember having a conversation with a mentor after a mini freakout over this exact situation, and they reminded me that every character on a page could have lived a very real life, so how is this any different? Any drama could be a historical drama in that sense. So I suppose there should not be a difference. As far as a “conveying a play’s message” — I don’t believe that should ever really be the focus. Tell the story truthfully and it will come out. 

What role does independent theater play in the New York art scene ? 

It gives rare theater a platform. Usually the indie theater scene is where that eccentric but genius production happens because the Off-Broadway and (obviously) Broadway circuit can’t afford to take a chance on it. I have definitely left an underground theater thinking “wow I wish every person in the world could see this.” Granted, I have also left without such positive reviews …. but still fully acknowledge that independent theater gives everyone a chance to put their work out there. I am working on my own right now, actually.

Dream role? 

Oh wow. This list is always growing! My absolute dream is originating roles in new works. I am thankful to have had the opportunities before and will continue to seek them out. It is an honor to be trusted by a playwright to help them find a character’s voice and facilitate the making of a story that is identifiable by the people watching it. 

I tend to nerd out on the topic of contemporary playwrights so working directly with them is definitely a dream. Aside from that, there are a whole host of Tennessee Williams’ ladies I am itching to play, as well as a wide range of Shakespeare’s characters (Imogen, Desdemona, Puck to name a few). My off the wall dream role is Cyrano de Bergerac; I am not aware of a previous gender-bent version of Cyrano but I have full plans to make it happen in the future!

 

THE MIDDLEMAN BY MARLIN THOMAS
A FEATURED EVENT AT NYSUMMERFEST

THURSDAY, SEPT. 14 @ 9PM
SATURDAY, SEPT. 16 @ 1PM
SUNDAY, SEPT. 17 @ 6PM

THE HUDSON GUILD THEATER
441 WEST 26 STREET
(BETWEEN 9TH AND 10TH AVENUES)
NEW YORK CITY
BROWNPAPERTICKETS.COM/EVENT/2966037

 

 

September Spotlight on Women in the Arts: Kimmy Coleman

One in a Million, a rousing off-Broadway musical, encompasses the teachings that the apostle Paul instructed to Timothy about wealth. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9 NIV). The play is set at the home of Wanda and Suzy Velez. They both host an annual Christmas party attended by several members of their church. The evening would test their convictions and reveal secrets about themselves. As the story unfolds, each character in the play – no matter how holy they purport to be – becomes tempted by the idea of how more money would make their lives better. Without careful consideration of the consequences, they all throw caution to the wind and find themselves gambling. One in a Million is produced and directed by Kevin Davis.

 

Drama-Queens, in honor of our September Spotlight, chatted with the ladies of One in a Million:

Kimmy Coleman

Kimmy Coleman

 

Tell us about yourself as an artist.

As an artist, I strive to constantly be a part of something that is going to impact people and make them think. I am fearless.

When dealing with pieces that delve into religious or spiritual matters, do you feel a stronger sense of responsibility in conveying the message?

I feel as though there is a great responsibility in conveying every message in every story I tell as an actress. The responsibility of telling it truthfully and wholeheartedly no matter the underlying message. As a Christian actress, I do feel a strong responsibility to share my personal faith with an audience authentically.

What role does independent theater play in the New York art scene ? 

Independent theater is so important! It gives so many great play-writes, actors, actress, and many more general creatives the opportunity to create. It’s a great way to build on and nurture ideas and meet amazing people along the way!

Dream role? 

I have way more than one, but I would love the opportunity to play a strong female lead. I’ve always wanted to play a Wonder Woman type role, so whenever they decide to make a Nubia movie I hope to get the part!

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One in a Million Musical Performance Schedule

Thursday, November 2, 2017, 7:30 PM
Friday, November 3, 2017, 7:30 PM
Saturday, November 4, 2017, 7:30 PM
Thursday, November 9, 2017, 7:30 PM
Friday, November 10, 2017, 7:30 PM
Saturday, November 11, 2017, 7:30 PM

https://www.itickets.com/events/381324.html

 

September Spotlight on Women in the Arts: Christy Pasqualicchio

One in a Million, a rousing off-Broadway musical, encompasses the teachings that the apostle Paul instructed to Timothy about wealth. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9 NIV). The play is set at the home of Wanda and Suzy Velez. They both host an annual Christmas party attended by several members of their church. The evening would test their convictions and reveal secrets about themselves. As the story unfolds, each character in the play – no matter how holy they purport to be – becomes tempted by the idea of how more money would make their lives better. Without careful consideration of the consequences, they all throw caution to the wind and find themselves gambling. One in a Million is produced and directed by Kevin Davis.

 

Drama-Queens, in honor of our September Spotlight, chatted with the ladies of One in a Million:

Christy Pasqualicchio

Christy Pasqualicchio

As an artist, I like to be versatile. I’ll play pretty much any role given to me except I draw the line with nudity and  same sex roles due to my Christianity. The most exciting thing for me as an artist is hair, makeup and costumes. I strive to be the best that I can be so I give it my all and work very hard. 

When it comes to a role with a religious message, I personally feel there is a greater conviction to be mindful of what my character is doing and how the message will get across. With these roles, we are ministering to everyone and planting the seed of God so there may be some unsaved people in the audience whom by watching a religious play/musical just might turn their lives around. Any way that I can lead them to God, I’m all for it. 

There’s a few dream roles I’d love to portray. Having grown up playing on sports teams, one of my dream roles would be an athlete. Another dream role would be a strong willed, strong opinionated, almost argumentative character. Finally, I’d love to be casted as a victim character who is either going through or has been through something traumatic. To dive deep into your emotions while on stage or behind a camera, shows a lot about your craft.

Independent theater plays a huge role in the NY theater scene because I think that’s where it all starts in terms of building your professional career. You get to know yourself as an artist. You discover your strengths and get to work on your weaknesses. For example, not having a dance background and being cast in musicals has given me a new found respect for the art and strong determination to learn and and give a great performance. 

one in a million

One in a Million Musical Performance Schedule

Thursday, November 2, 2017, 7:30 PM
Friday, November 3, 2017, 7:30 PM
Saturday, November 4, 2017, 7:30 PM
Thursday, November 9, 2017, 7:30 PM
Friday, November 10, 2017, 7:30 PM
Saturday, November 11, 2017, 7:30 PM

https://www.itickets.com/events/381324.html

 

September Spotlight on Women in the Arts: Lauren Elder

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Actress, singer-songwriter, and whistler (yes, I said whistler) Lauren Elder,  living in New York City, has been seen on Boardwalk Empire (HBO), Louie (FX), Law & Order (NBC). She also appeared on Broadway and West End revivals of Hair; and the Broadway revival of Side Show. She performs regularly in NYC at 54 Below, Joe’s Pub, Birdland, and other local venues. She also writes original music blending the sweet sounds of the ukulele with her expert whistling and influences of folk, jazz, and pop to create her unique, whimsical sound. She recently released her debut album, which is available on iTunes. In addition, Lauren teaches musical theater at New York Film Academy.

Lauren now joins the fun in Granny’s Blue-Mers, opening in October (see artcile on Rachel Kaufman)

This ambitious woman ain’t just whistlin’ dixie! Let’s hear all about it…

September Spotlight on Women in the Arts: Natalie Menna

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Natalie Menna is an award-winning playwright and actress living in downtown Brooklyn.

A native New Yorker, she recently won Outstanding Overall Production of a Play and Best Actor for her full-length drama Committed at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity 2015. Now running at the Theater of the 14th Street Y, Committed, received six nominations, including Outstanding Production of a Staged Reading, Outstanding Playwright For A New Play in a Reading, Best Director, Best Actress, and Two Nominations for Best Actor.

She was nominated for Outstanding Writer for her full-length comedy ZEN A.M. in Planet Connections Theatre Festivity 2014. Her solo show ROBERTA! was featured in United Solo Theatre Festival, Theatre Row, in November 2014. Select previous awards include The Nettie Award for Best Solo Show for her play i-POD in the Network One-Act Festival, and Best Actress for i-POD in The Midtown International Theatre Festival.

Robertai-POD, and Zen A.M. were recently published by indietheaternow.com and are available to purchase.

We spoke with this club kid at heart after a victorious opening weekend of COMMITTED.

Tell us about yourself:  I’m a native New Yorker.  My latest play Occasionally Nothing was nominated for Planet Connections Best Sequel 2017.  I am a resident playwright at Stindberg Rep and adapted Stug Dalager’s Journey in Light and Shadow in 2017.  My solo show I-pod won awards for Best Solo Show in MITF and Outstanding Actress in The Nettie’s 2011-12.  For more info and awards, please visit www.nataliemenna.com

What’s it like being a female  playwright in NYC?:  Exhilarating! I started as an actress, and while I still love performing, playwriting provides an opportunity to right the wrongs of the universe, or ar least attempt to.

Do you find there are more/less opportunities because you are a woman?:   All playwrights face the same challenges.  I don’t think opportunities are particularly based on gender anymore.  Income seems to play the determining role in a playwright’s opportunities, which is a disturbing trend.  However, the disparity in income between men and women does make it harder for women to gain a foothold in this field.

What influences your choice of subject?  Has to be incredibly hilarious or horrifying to motivate me.

What happens the day the play closes?: The sun comes up. ( Pause). Hopefully.

committed-posterTell us about COMMITTED: I was fascinated when I first heard the story of Theo Van Gogh’s life-death.  This was the first historical fiction piece I wrote.  It was a challenge to write about a person whose behavior was offensive on so many levels, while maintaining the integrity of his character.  Of course there is a natural reluctance even to approach a character with such abhorrent views, yet I felt compelled to write about such a character and also to address his underlying humanity.  I hope this play may raise consciousness of otherness and the damaging role of aspersions cast upon others.  I would like this play to reach a wider audience to realize the destructive role of prejudice and unchecked people.  I hope it might open up a significant societal discourse on free speech and the role of responsibility in public discourse.

September Spotlight on Women in the Arts: Rachel Kaufman

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Brooklyn native, Rachel Kaufman, is now musical director of the feisty phenomenon, Granny’s Blue-Mers.

Granny’s Blue-Mers has been touring the cabaret cricuit for over a year, playing to sold-out crowds in Manhattan, Brooklyn,a dn even in West voirginia where star, Mary Elizabeth micari, sang at Blues & Swing Week.

IMG_9164Rachel is a multi-instrumentalist who has music directed and/or played for well more than 300 musicals and cabaret shows world-wide at venues including New York’s Duplex, Metropolitan Room, Don’t Tell Mama, Rose’s Turn; Chicago’s Davenport’s and Montparnasse … and The Piano Bar in Mykonos, Greece!

She lent her talents to Off-Broadway shows including The Babies, The Fartiste, Oliver! (with Brian Stokes Mitchell), Schoolhouse Rock Live! (Lamb’s Theatre), CYCLE (Cherry Lane Theatre, co-composer); Regional shows including Hallelujah, Baby! (Arthur Laurents, dir.); Tom Jones (North Shore); and on tour with Rent, Phantom of the Opera, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Sophisticated Ladies, Five Guys Named Moe, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, and Golf: The Musical. She holds a B.A. in Music (and Russian) from the University of Chicago.

We spent a  few minutes with her off the piano!

 

IMG_8529Tell us about yourself as an artist.

I’m an artist in several different ways – besides being a pianist, l also play around 20 other instruments, and have done gigs on most of them in a vast range of gigs all over the world. Also, besides being a musician, l have also worked as a professional magician, and am a very decent cartoonist. I come from a long line of professional artists, all in the visual arts. I am very passionate about expressing myself, no matter which instrument or field of arts l’m involved in, and love to entertain, as well as collaborate. There is so much hardship and pain in the world, and art universally brings comfort, joy and inspiration to people. I am proud and happy to ever be a part of something that affects people in such a wonderful way..

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What the biggest obstacle you are facing with this show

This has been an obstacle-free production for me, being that l am working with such professionals as Mary, Lauren and Andrew.

What is your opinion of indie film and theater? 

I support it all – indie film and theater can have just as much – if not sometimes more – beauty and importance as mainstream film and theater.

 

 

 

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Finally, my favorite, since you all have commercial and indie on your creds, what’s its like being a woman in the NYC arts scene in the 21st century… commercial v indie. 

It is an honor and a pleasure to be a female music director and accompanist in the NYC arts scene. It is my understanding that this is a position that is dominated more by men than by women, both in the commercial and indie scene, and perhaps that will change one day.

 

 

 

 

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Ivette Dumeng is – and in – COMMITTED

The Altruistic Theatre Company, an organization dedicated to social change, presents Committed – a fictionalized account of the last two days of the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. The play is written by Natalie Menna and directed by Brock Harris Hill.

Van Gogh worked with the Somali-born writer and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali to produce the short film, Submission (2004), which exposed the treatment of women, and resulted in an outrage from the Dutch Muslim community.

He was murdered in November of 2004.

The play explores the inevitable tragedy when artistic radical temperament collides with religious and political realities. Can friendship, family, or love save Theo from his biggest threat — himself?”

The cast features Ivette Dumeng.

IVETTE FLTC NAME #3We got a chance to speak with Ivette Dumeng – literally inbetween shows as she opened GUILTY with Nylon Fusion Theatre and now dives into COMMITTED with Altruistic…

Tell us about yourself as an artist/artisan.
I never imagined doing anything else. I was born and raised in New York. I don’t have any artists in my family but I seemed to have been connected to something beyond me… I have been performing since I was a teen. And I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. Darn fortunate to be able to do what I do.

When dealing with topical dramas like this – especial such a hot topic – do you feel a stronger sense of responsibility in conveying the play’s message? 
I play Victoria Blackman a headstrong reporter for the San Fransisco Chronicle – my character has a built-in responsibility to deliver the news as is but she also feels compelled to protect Theo Van Cogh the protagonist, which seems almost impossible given his strong stance and commitment to his views –  inevitably this leads to his ultimate demise . I think it makes for good drama.

What role does independent theater play in the New York art scene? 
Independent theatre plays a very significant role in the New York art scene. I founded a theatre company here in NYC, so for me… this is where my heart lies. Someone recently walked up to me and said – “I am still thinking about that production you did three years ago. I remember feeling very fortunate to have been there.” It’s pretty special.

Dream role? Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and I always wanted to play a [Jazz] singer in a show (a play now in the works) —  I would be returning back to my roots. I was fortunate enough to sing opposite of Andy Karl in a performance of John Shanley’s The Monkey Show a musical several years ago and I remember the joy that it gave me to be able to sing  (of course I was completely terrified too! ) — I mean, you sing when you can no longer contain yourself. It certainly would be nice to do it again.

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Produced by the Altruistic Theatre Company in conjunction with the Theatre at the 14th Street Y, 344 E 14th St, New York City, Committed runs: Friday, September 8 @ 7:30PM; Saturday, September 9 @ 7:30PM; Thursday, September 14 @ 7:30PM; Friday, September 15 @ 7:30PM; Saturday, September 16 @ 7:30PM; Sunday, September 17 @ 5:00PM; Tuesday, September 19 @ 7:30PM; and Saturday, September 23 @ 7:30PM. Run time: 90 Minutes; No Intermission; Tickets: $18 at 14streety.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S36000004SimNEAS.

 

Many Happy Returns of IRTE!

reviewed by Turan Koyuncu

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Happy Birthday, Stupid Kid directed by, Robert Baumgardner, IRTE’s latest interactive arts piece – lots of improv with swathes of fine acting mixed in, allowing we, the audience, to have a chance to come up to the stage and celebrate a birthday party.

I myself went up to the stage and joined the fun.

20664849_1632156593469188_9216800486649938445_n (1)Impressive acting, quick thinking, on-the-spot staging, and brilliant improvisation made this one of the better presentations at the festival. You are greeted at the door with birthday hats and leave with cake in your hand.

20770304_1632156596802521_1122562444961830092_n (1)In between, the cast is joined by balloons to play with and also face paint! Also, some of the audience were having a conversation with the actors about how did you know the aforementioned stupid kid, Jamie, and – there you have it – we are now actors and characters, and even plot devices.

20664657_1632156650135849_4683008464882262619_n (1)Imagine the ACTUAL parties this amazing group can do!

Two Gents get Four-Stars

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Reviewed by Ashley Khan

Verona-900x675Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of his more clever and powerful comedies, made even more engaging by some excellent work by director Ariel Leigh and stage combat master, Michael Hagins.

When Valentine arrives to Milan he meets Silvia and automatically falls in love with her. Proteus, as well, travels to Milan leaving his partner Julia behind. Proteus then realizes he’s in love with Silvia. Knowing that he’s betraying best-friend, Valentine’s trust, he still continues to fall in love with her more. Julia being the best partner that she is visits Proteus realizing that he’s in love with Silvia. Both Valentine and Julia are angry and confronts Proteus. Proteus than realizes that he loves Julia and forgets about Silvia. Valentine as well forgets and continues his love for Silvia. The simplicity of the temptation and infatuation make this relatable and enjoyable without a glossary.

The terrific ensemble of actors made for an energetic and enjoyably evening with particular praise to the “two gentlemen,” Daniel Pascale and Dylan J. Sampson, for clever word play and perfect sword play as staged by Michael Hagins. Kudos to Beth Devlin, Erin Patrick Miller, Isaac Allen Miller, Noah Parks, Annika Gullahorn,  Vanessa Schanen, Vanessa Wendt, and Michael Whitten.

The C.A.G.E. Theatre should be praised in general and particularly noted for their powerful attention to character and stage detail.