Thursday, January 19, 2017

Spotlight On...Danny K. Bernstein

Name: Danny K Bernstein

Hometown: Hartsdale, NY

Education: Cornell University, Class of 2014

Favorite Credits: Far From Canterbury (Winner - Outstanding Overall Musical, FringeNYC 2015)

Why theater?: I grew up on musicals. They honestly just make me really, really happy, and despite originally selecting a school for its psych and neuroscience programs, found I couldn’t really escape what I was passionate about. Also, psych and neuroscience is really hard.

Tell us about The Bishops: The Bishops is an original musical about two fathers and their two kids who are thrown into the national spotlight when a video on their younger son detailing their unconventional family history goes viral.

What inspired you to write The Bishops?: A few things. In the age of Next to Normal and Fun Home, I really wanted to see a different-looking family musical, and one where the stakes weren’t confined to the house they lived in. The idea of a family conflict having national implications seemed like an interesting idea to explore. Thus, The Bishops was born.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Oh, gosh, I don’t know; it’s constantly changing. My favorite musicals are Into The Woods, Company and Urinetown. I love smart, witty comedy, I love music that really digs into how characters are feeling, or what they’re trying to do, I love lyrics that are honest, and truthful. I guess I probably look up to Sondheim, Schwartz, Flaherty and Ahrens, Jason Robert Brown, and William Finn.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Katya Zamolodchikova. Or Ben Platt.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Dear Evan Hansen, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: "Danny, Did You Write it Yet?" starring Sutton Foster as Danny K Bernstein.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Original Broadway production of Ragtime.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Sporcle quizzes. I”m not really guilty about doing them, but the amount of time I spend on that website is alarming and embarrassing.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Psychiatric research, or some form of engineering, and I’d probably be terrible at it.

What’s up next?: I’m having another show at Feinstein’s/54 Below this February! Stay tuned for more details!

For more Danny, visit  dannykbernstein.com

Block Talk: Episode 4- Matt Mastromatteo



In today's episode of Block Talk, we sit down with Matt Mastromatteo as we dive into the world of balancing life, grad school, and producing a FringeNYC play!

To listen to Block Talk, visit us on iTunes or Soundcloud!

And don't forget to become a Patron at patreon.com/theaterinthenow

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Spotlight On...Jason Lasky

photo by Svetlana Lasky
Name: Jason Lasky

Hometown: I’ve got two of them: Sleepy Hollow, NY and Monroe, NY. The first one’s high school mascot was the Headless Horseman (yes, that Headless Horseman), and the second one was the Crusader. The fact that both of these images featured men who lopped heads off of people they didn’t like only dawned on me while answering this question. That’s violent imagery for ya.

Education: I graduated  magna kum laude with an All University Honors BS in Anthropology with a Biology minor from Binghamton University; I am an alumnus of The Actors Studio Drama School’s MFA Playwriting program (non-degree); I’m four semesters and a perfect GPA into my Masters in Education / IB Teacher Award Certification. I also just became a licensed theatre teacher.

Favorite Credits: Acting: The Homecoming (Lenny), Birdbath (Frankie), Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat (The Husband), The Zoo Story (Jerry), As You Like It (Touchstone). Playwriting: They’re all my favorite, but I’m really proud of a few: Rendezvous: A Tragicomedy (co-written with my wife Svetlana and co-produced with Shanghai LGBT for their 6th Pride in 2014); Mend the Envelope; Fanta Non Verba; 40 Days of Night (in progress); The Lifeguard; Last Exit Before You’re Off The Grid.

Why theater?: Unlike identifying bodies, murder weapons, blood spatter patterns and the like (see below answer about not working in theatre), the theatre is the most alive experience you can have next to living, no matter the capacity you find yourself in when it’s Lights Up.

Tell us about Last Exit Before You’re Off The Grid: I’ll copy and paste what I sent to my father: The play is about where America - or any other country with shaky politics- is headed. I've shown it to a playwright in Kenya and an actor in Ghana, and they both think the play speaks to their countries given some reference changes. If Hillary had won I'd have peppered the play with references to her, but instead Trump's stench is present. It's also about people needing to have contact with other people while wanting to maintain a certain distance. It may also be about the need for us to collect and organize things/possessions. Lastly, I think it has a touch of female empowerment.

What inspired you to write/direct Last Exit Before You’re Off The Grid?: The good old US of A influenced the writing, for all its posturing like it was a bird of paradise putting on a show for the rest of the world (thanks Attenborough), in reality it’s a place where people think they stand a better chance than the rest of those non-American folk around the globe, which only inflates its ego that much more. That’s not to say it’s all bad, but the bad s**t is pretty f**king bad sometimes. This is actually what I’ll deem the third play in a series about modern America. The first one I wrote was about the Wikileaks scandal that began a few years ago when infamous computer hacker Adrian Lamo called the FBI after chatting with Chelsea Manning who made public classified US government information. I was trying to figure out what was going on in Obama’s America, and I made a parallel to Nixon’s in the playbill’s notes. I called it Sons of Liberty, and I staged a reading of it in 2012 in Shanghai, China. I donated a portion of the proceeds to a local food kitchen. These volunteers went out once a week around 7 pm to deliver food to the homeless living across one of Asia’s most expensive cities. My outing touched me, which is probably what influenced the second work in the series: a collection of monologues based on the pleads and rantings of homeless New York City dwellers compared to a collection of the pleads and rantings of a strange generation. This second collection was originally written for a certain cohort at ASDS over the summer I decided to go on a leave of absence from the program and get married and start a family. Can I mention my daughter is made in China? My son is, too, but he came out of his factory box in Russia. … Anyway, the US is a most fascinating place to observe and make conclusions about, and forget about our politics, because those are probably in the Top Ten of God’s punchlines.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I enjoy something that takes my breath away in a corporal, emotional and spiritual sense. I mean, all three together. It’s rare that it happens, though, which is why when it does happen it really hits me. What inspires me is trying to get someone in the audience to connect to their life or to feel some kind of care about mine in the world of the stage, and if that happens even once then I’ve succeeded in breaking through the fourth wall (and not in the ‘merc with the mouth’ sense). In my published play Mend the Envelope one of the characters his paralyzed from his C5 vertebra down after a horrible hot air balloon accident. The play ran in two festivals in NYC while I was living in Shanghai, and one of the audience comments passed onto me was that the wife of a guy who is stuck in a wheelchair understood the characters of my play and really thought I got him right. That’s the most gut-wrenching yet pleasing thing someone could say after seeing something I dreamed up in my head and working out in Final Draft. If I can keep finding exciting ways to dream and mine for gold, then I’ll live a satisfied creative life.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: In no particular order: Victor Almanzar. Kim Rios Lin. Neil Patrick Harris. Cate Blanchet.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I got to meet Stephen Adly Guirgis after a showing of Between Riverside and Crazy after it transferred and ask him about his ending and why he changed it from something dark to something lighter. I later wrote him a fan/I’m a playwright, too letters, but he still hasn’t responded. I recommend that one if it’s playing in a city near you. Besides that, all the shows I’ve ever been in because the odds are it’s been a lot easier to get my friends to see my work than strangers. When I started not to suck as much they started bringing dates. But when I come to think about it, the brutal truth is that I don’t have many friends state-side. I haven’t lived full-time in the country since August 2006, and it’s true that once you leave whatever country you call home and stay away for awhile, some things change, and some things don’t.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Slava Polunin. "The Epic Nose"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The Who’s Tommy. The first rock opera is the greatest of them all, in whatever form it takes. I’d love to have seen Birdbath and anything else by Melfi when they prepared.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: My vices are of no consequence.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A forensic anthropologist. I went on the FBI tour one summer and got turned onto the idea of being that kind of scientist. I got so close to actually seeing an autopsy while I was in Binghamton. At the end of the day, I don't think I could have really stomached that sort of thing as a career.

What’s up next?: Who’s to say? We’ve been living in Nairobi, Kenya since this past August, and it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride; I’d been appointed Head of Drama at an international school, but the school couldn’t get a work permit for me, which left us scratching our heads and trying to figure out what exactly is next. We’re a hardworking bunch, though, so I’m not worried.  We’ve got a few new play ideas we’d like to work on jointly that will keep J. Lasky Production busy for a while. We’re finishing up 40 Days of Night and plan to have that up and running in Russia within the next several months, I’m talking with International Theatre Institute’s Zimbabwe coordinator about leading some movement training, I may end up in Spain this summer at ITI’s World Congress to create some original work, my wife’s got a bilingual (Russian and Chinese) children’s book coming out soon, I’m writing an article for Malini Singh McDonald’s website, a movie I acted in called "Train Station" by Collabfeature is coming out on Amazon and iTunes soon, and we’re thanking the Universe for keeping the adventure rolling along and letting us have an Awesome life together.

For more on Jason, visit www.jasonlasky.com. For more on Last Exit Before You're Off the Grid, visit http://www.wbisgroveproductions.com/

Review: Love, Loss, and Batman

By Michael Block 

Jason O’Connell has one true love. Batman. As the singular constant in his life, O’Connell tells the story of his life as it paralleled the Batman movie franchise. From Keaton to Affleck, The Dork Knight chronicles his highs and lows using the movie series as benchmarks.
Kicking off the new year, Abington Theatre Company production is the story of an average guy's hero journey through love, loss, and Batman. As a man who lives and breathes Batman, Jason O’Connell didn't define himself by the bat but he sure played a role in his life. He shares a narrative of finding solace in a fictional character when loves came and went, a father disappeared as a new father figure took on the role, and the acting gigs just weren't coming. The Dork Knight pays homage to the DC comic character while showcasing O’Connell's intimate storytelling skills and his prowess for impeccable characterizations. Know him or not, O’Connell opened his heart and let the audience into his world without ever begging for emotion. O’Connell's approach to storytelling is reminiscent of a stand up comedian, something he’s no stranger to. This set is just missing the microphone and stand. Though there may be a stretch or two in the parallels, he keeps his personal journey consistent. Like a true superhero, O’Connell introduces a conflict to overcome through the adversary of the villain within. Keeping the Batman lore accessible for the casual fans provided O’Connell to tell his story without having to play teacher. And even if you have a loyalty to Marvel Comics over DC Comics, it’s the geek within that you fell in love with. Between his strong writing style and his hypnotizing charisma, O’Connell found a way to stage his greatest assets. O’Connell’s impressions are comedy gold. Whether you’ve seen the movie franchise or not, his take on Michael Keaton’s Batman, Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Jim Carrey’s Riddler, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze brought the house down. As the night moved along, the anticipation of the impressions to come kept the crowd on edge.
photo Ben Strothmann
Director Tony Speciale had great trust in Jason O’Connell and his performance. So much so that he allowed O’Connell to virtually stay put. With a three-quarter thrust configuration, if you weren’t sitting in the center section, you likely didn’t receive the full show. Not to say the sides missed out, it never quite felt inclusive. Speciale took O’Connell’s story and hit the notes of comedy and tragedy. By keeping O’Connell standing for the majority of the piece, the moments Speciale asked him to sit, you knew there was much weight about to come. The scenic design by Jerry Marsini featured a stunning black chair you’d expect straight out of the Batcave. The lighting design by Zach Blane explored colors when O’Connell broke into his characters. Each color and look was reminiscent of a certain character. Though yellow is not the most pleasant color on stage, including it in the preshow look was the right choice. Costume designer Hunter Kaczorowski dressed O’Connell is layers. Layers upon layers. For a piece like this, the only logical reason to put the solo artist in a non-stop piece in layers is there would be some reveal. Perhaps a Batman t-shirt. This was not the case. And it was a gigantic missed opportunity. Even if O’Connell didn’t quite move about the stage, his attire felt cumbersome.
The Dork Knight is one of those rare solo plays that has the power to engage an audience from start to finish. It won’t change the word but Jason O’Connell’s story reminds you to never give up on your dreams and if you love something so much, it doesn’t matter what others think about it.

Spotlight On...Sean Dunnington

Name: Sean Dunnington

Hometown: Waimea, Hawaii

Education: Currently a sophomore studying Visual and Dramatic Narrative at University of Redlands in the Johnson Center for Integrative Studies

Favorite Credits: Rodger in Grease (Kahilu Theatre), Mr. Mushink in Little Shop of Horrors (University of Redlands), George Gibbs in Our Town (Dramatiques).

Why theater?: Creating living and breathing substance—something that can be examined, questioned, loved, and forever lasting… that is what theatre is to me.

Tell us about Flat Fish: When Willy goes missing, his older sister Jill goes on a quest to bring him home. By reading the journal he left behind, Jill comes to understand her brother's misguided search for love--and, ultimately, uncovers not only the answers that Willy has been looking for, but makes unprecedented discoveries about herself. Through witnessing the complicated and unpredictable past of Willy, as Jill unfolds her disregarded issues, Flat Fish tells a haunting story of family, connection, and love.  

What inspired you to write Flat Fish?: In a short story that my dear friend wrote, she said that when she lost her mother, she lost her soulmate. Something about that line stuck with me, uncomfortably. Her concept of a soulmate did not fit in with what I have always known and wanted it to be. As the famous saying goes: write what you know -- but if you only do that, then you’ll never learn. So I decided to write a story about what made me uncomfortable.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Any theatre that addresses connection speaks to me. I think connection is the most beautiful part of existence, and I think every form of theatre intentionally and unintentionally explores it. William Shakespeare. He has written thirty-seven plays. Thirty-seven, all of which get performed. If he taught me anything, it’s to just keep writing, writing, writing.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: My sister. I think the way siblings connect is so odd and particular that I want to see how it affects the breath and life of a show.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Company.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Jennifer Aniston stars in "Wait, what?"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love. I want to see the original blend of realism and fantasy, and especially the audience’s reactions to the deep, real, and incestuous love that is right in front of them.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Board games. I own too many. When packing for college I dedicated one suitcase for clothes and the other for games. I regret that.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Political activism.

What’s up next?: This upcoming spring, I will be performing as Horatio in my university’s production of Big Brother Hamlet, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The cast will also be traveling to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland to perform in theSpace venue!

For more on Flat Fish, visit http://www.blackcoffeeproductions.org/flat-fish

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: Never Forget to Remember

by Michael Block 

I've never really been to Providence, Rhode Island. I've been stuck on an Amtrak train for a few hours right outside the station after striking an Amtrak worker. Not really a great moment. So I've been to Providence, but not really. The kids of Nightdrive are going to tell you about their version of said titular city-town in Providence, RI. As part of the The Tank's Flint and Tinder series, Providence, RI is an ode to the place that many visit and others call home.
Written by Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques, Providence, RI tries to paint the New England hamlet as an "everytown" through playful vignettes that eventually tie together. Whether you know the place by heart, the energetic five-piece ensemble builds a world with boundaries. Though those walls get shattered, especially that fourth wall. Playing an assortment of denizens, and creatures, the cast takes the audience on a tour of the town after spike taping it on the floor of the theater. From there, the play, broken into three "parts", a generous term for acts, feels like a whirlwind. Though the titular location is the loose thread, the overwhelmingly larger event is the town's celebration of the Dog Park Massacre one hundred years ago. It's also jokingly referred to as the 50 After 50. Without a doubt, this piece desperately needs to be edited down with more cohesion and clarity. There are moments and beats that are interesting as a singular vignette but in the big picture, there are hordes of questions that arise. From the family role swapping to the extravaganza that was the third part, what made sense to the creators didn't always shine through for the audience. Fox and Henriques have a unique voice together. Their ability to incorporate humor and poetry kept the piece afloat. It's playful dialogue yet tragically full of itself. As fun and cute as pancakes, lollipops, and making the audience play along in the game on stage, when the show creeps close to a third hour, the message that is trying to shine through gets lost in the clouds.
photo by Christopher Annas-Lee
One of the scribes, Skylar Fox, took on the directorial role. His vision was ambitious to say the least. When it came to staging, it was busy and chaotic, often upstaging itself. Whether it was lost in translation or another body was needed, the boldest and most cumbersome moment was the audience becoming family bit. Late in Part III, we watch the long lost siblings reunite and bring their family along for the ride. With only five performers, the audience took on the role of the family and were brought on stage. The idea was clear yet the execution was fatal. By the third go around, it was obvious the game bring played but the amount of time it took to bring rows and rows of people on stage sucked out all the momentum that was previously established. If you're familiar with The Tank, you know it's a glorious black box space. Fox's transformation of the space was brilliant. The wood paneling on the walls brought a new spirit to the space. What it was supposed to evoke is debatable but nevertheless it brought vivacity before the play began. At first glance everything points to something set in the 70s but the costumes from Corina Chase look like a haggle of hipsters hijacked The Tank. But I suppose it's true, fashion comes and goes and comes back again.
There was immense trust and compatibility in the five piece ensemble. But as a whole, the quintet provided some presentational performances, especially at the start. Imagine a sing-songy Our Town and that's how the show began. Once this conceit was abandoned, each actor brought their A game. Far and away, Zina Ellis was the strongest most well-rounded performers. Ellis’ grounded presence captivated, bringing an allure to her storytelling. Co-scribe Simon Henriques served as the lone male on stage but it was his portrayal as an existential squirrel stopped the show.
There's great promise in this piece. It just needs fresh guidance from a new source that can truly capture the message Nightdrive is trying to convey. Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques were too close to truly bring Providence, RI to all its glory.

Spotlight On...Jenna Spiwack

Name: Jenna Spiwack

Hometown: Brewster, NY.

Education: Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.

Why theater?: Three things come to mind: 1. Because of the sound of an audience watching something exciting, moving, shocking, or inspiring. 2. Because of the people I’ve met, the people I hope to meet, and the stories I want to tell and help tell. 3. Because of the stories that are brought to life in a way that cannot be reproduced anywhere but the stage. There are so many reasons and yet it may be one of the hardest questions to answer.

Tell us about Flat Fish and Big Stuff: Flat Fish is a story about love, family, and finding yourself. The main characters are on a journey to understand each other as they speak across time and distance in a desire to connect and better understand one another. Big Stuff is a story about a moment in a couple’s relationship where they check in about having different long-term goals. My hope is that the play takes the everyday experiences of dating and getting to know new people and looks at the complex nuances of the communication that entails. It asks the question “How do we strike the balance between living in the moment together and planning for the future?”

What inspired you to write/direct Big Stuff/Flat Fish: Both Big Stuff and Flat Fish navigate through themes of love, communication and understanding. When I read Flat Fish I was immediately drawn to the main character’s search for love and how it existed in tandem with the journeys for all characters in the piece to self-acceptance and accepting love in many forms. Big Stuff was inspired by having conversations with my peers and others about wants and needs as a young adult in the world as well as some of my own experiences. Figuring out what you want from your relationships as well as the way to communicate that when aspects of your life may be in flux can be very tricky. These conversations fascinate me as I move through the world, which has led me to write about them.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I most often find myself coming back to plays about relationships and the complex nuances of communication. I am most intrigued when a play truly surprises me, moves me, and/or when it finds a method to hit close to home in a way I didn’t expect.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: There are too many talented people in this business to pick! I feel lucky that I have been able to work with such kind and generous people so far, so more people like that I would say.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: In 2016 I kept coming back to Men on Boats, Party People, and Small Mouth Sounds.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I polled my friends and Jenny Slate was the top choice. The title? Maybe “90% Extrovert” or “I Have That Kinda Face: A Face Where People Just Tell Me Stuff”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Maybe an old musical with a big full orchestra.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Old musicals with small plots and big full orchestras.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: My first instinct is to say a photographer, though I’m trying to picture a universe where I’m not in the arts…but maybe I just can’t stay away!

What’s up next?: Sitting down with a gluten free bagel and finishing my next play.

Spotlight On...Kristin Heckler

Name: Kristin Heckler

Hometown: Sellersville, PA

Education: Duke University, BA in Women's Studies & Spanish. The New School for Drama, MFA in Theatre Directing

Favorite Credits: How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel, Stop Kiss by Diana Son, Or by Liz Duffy Adams

Why theater?: When I was about 12 I wrote a poem about how a theatre (or rehearsal room) was the only place I could truly be myself: goofy, intellectual, sappy, a bit anal retentive and full of laughs.

Tell us about Exposed: This play is the origin story of a young and intelligent porn star. We watch her evolve from nerdy high school girl who hides her masturbating in her room to a woman who defends her sexuality on national television. People all over the world attacked her on social media because she was a sexual woman who wasn't afraid to stand up for it. Exposed exposes what happened behind the screens. We wrote the play collaboratively from a combination of found text from articles/interviews and then improved the rest and slowly worked it into script form. It's taken two years!

What inspired you to write/direct Exposed?: I graduated from Duke and we never seem to go more than a few years without a national sex scandal. I was in my first year of grad school when the story of the Duke Porn Star broke and I was obsessed. My first reaction was intrigue with a side of disdain. Just like everyone else, I thought, if she is that smart: why did she have to do porn? And why BDSM porn? Then I read her articles and watched her interviews and I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed for judging this girl who was forced to make adult decisions because American universities (especially my own) have made it impossible to get a college degree without student loans. Presenting this play is my way of confronting that little slut-shaming voice we all have in the back of our heads.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love theatre which deals with gender and sexuality. At this point in my life, I am most interested in how our society undervalues any feminine traits, whether it is displayed in a man or a woman. Why can't men wear dresses? I think they'd love them. Why do we think it isn't work to keep a home in working order? I also especially love when a play has an LGBT character without BEING about being LGBT. The Humans by Stephen Karam is a mainstream play which does that beautifully. The sister's homosexuality plays little to no bearing on the main themes of the play, it just is. My favorite playwright is Paula Vogel and I have definitely borrowed the structure of How I Learned to Drive while developing Exposed.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Well I already blew up my spot but Paula Vogel obviously. Or Sarah Treem! The How and The Why, go read it now.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Indecent by Paula Vogel directed by Rebecca Taichman. I saw the first production at Yale Rep by recommendation (and obsession with Paula) and sobbed through the curtain call because I was so proud of the artists who created it. And it's coming to Broadway in April! Sometimes Broadway does in fact get the good stuff, PLEASE see it! www.indecentbroadway.com

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Well I get Natalie Portman more than anyone else and to get a celeb doppleganger who is actually brilliant is rare so I'll take it ;-). It would be called Singular or I just want to know

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Hedwig with NPH.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: SVU and network TV in general

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A midwife.

What’s up next?: I'm working on a play called Newsflashing with one of my fellow New School grads, Lorne Svarc. The protagonist is a conservative news show host, Nora, who hosts a sex guru on her TV show. The sex guru has started a movement for female ritualized masturbation to reduce stress and relax women. Nora originally scoffs at the idea but is secretly drawn to it. She enters the movement as an "undercover investigative journalist" or maybe just as herself in denial.

For more on Exposed, visit http://www.recognizetheatre.org/

Monday, January 16, 2017

Spotlight On...Liarra Michelle

Name: Liarra Michelle

Hometown: Denver, Colorado

Select Credits: The Public Theatre's Twelfth Night. Also, Captive Audience, The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy, Smoke on the Mountain, and Inherit the Wind. She is an active member of New York Deaf Theatre and The Shelter NYC.

Why theater?: That's not an easy question to answer. Theatre, for me, is basically like water. I could technically live without it, but the quality of life would be greatly diminished. As an actor, there is something beautiful in taking the words someone has written, creating a character and - alongside the director and creative team - finding the best way to present the story intended. We get to take the audience on a journey, away from whatever good or bad they have in their real life and escape to experience another world. The audience is as much a part of theatre as what is going on stage. It's magical to feel both their presence and their connection.

Who do you play in Consider the Lilies?:  My character is Angela, who is also David's girlfriend.

Tell us about Consider the Lilies: For me, this play is about identity. How do we define ourselves and how much do we allow other people or situations to affect those definitions.

What is it like being a part of Consider the Lilies?: It has been a wonderful journey! I already knew a few people involved, so I looked forward to working with them, and it is always exciting to have the opportunity to work with new artists! Also, I have admired Austin's work for some time, and it is wonderful to watch him and to act with him. My scenes consist of myself with one other actor, and both of them (Austin and Josh) are talented, kind and generous partners. Everyone--actors, creative team and stage management--has been very kind and open and it's been a lovely experience of making art with them.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love new work, interesting relationships, theatre which challenges a perception or "truth", and anything that seems challenging for me as an actor. While that might seem to cover every play in existence, trust me...it doesn't. :) What inspires me? Truth. I know that's vague, but truth in art is invaluable and magical. When someone writes truthful words that draw me into a story, move me, and make me want to be a part of that art, it is exciting and beautiful. The same goes for other actors. When I see someone give an honest and raw performance, it takes my breath away.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Too many! I'm really drawn to intelligent and well-spoken characters. It's exciting to see more and more playwrights include these (intelligent female characters) in their stories!

What’s your favorite show tune?:  It depends on my mood at the time.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Are people actually able to answer this? My goodness...there are so many! Zachary Levy, Cynthia Erivo, Kelly McAndrew, Laura Benanti, Audra McDonald...I'd love to be directed by Joe Mantello...and I haven't even started in the Off- and Off-Off-Broadway circles... I really could just go on forever.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself, and what would it be called?: Anne Hathaway in "Who Needs Sleep When You Have Coffee?"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?:  Most recently, I missed both Fun Home and Gin Game, which is a shame, and I would love to have seen anything with Julie Andrews in it.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:  Something Rotten! before it closes. It's well done and a really fun musical!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  Not sure if this counts, but I love Sci-Fi.

What’s up next?: Nothing I can announce at the moment, but you'll be seeing me around. :)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review: Crisis in Parenthood

By Michael Block 

Married life can be bliss. And then a baby enters the equation. In Lawrence Dial's DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA, two city-dwelling couples are each two kids deep, each with their own set of marital woes. When a playground accident causes a broken limb, the individuals are equally shaken and begin to question everything about their spouse and themselves.
Virtually reminiscent of a mild version of God of Carnage, DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA by Lawrence Dial is a play about thirtysomethings in crisis. Danny and Kris are in a play date. Well, their kids are on a play date. As their children run around, they give each other their own personal run around, spilling some intimate details of their lives. Back at home, Danny's wife Donna is on the verge of a big promotion that will keep Danny in the stay at home role while Kris' wife Veronica is having issue upon issue at her inherited pizza shop. After Danny and Donna's oldest daughter breaks her arm after falling out of a tree, personal crisis ensues. Dial's script explores a narrative that is poignant. Even if you're not in that stage of life, there's something of substance within the narrative. The characters that Dial has written are clear and the relationships are honest. But in world of caring about these individuals, it's quite difficult. There were certainly redeeming qualities in each but they lived so deep within their own bubbles that their conversations come off as whiny.
photo by Steve Fallon
What makes DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA interesting to the eye is the exploratory staging by Jeff Wise. Marrying a realistic style with a heightened theatricality, Wise's vision brought variety but lacked consistency. Bouncing in and out caused clarity and importance to falter. With the way Dial crafted his piece, Wise was given the gift of challenges but without a consistent vocabulary in staging, the message was muddled. Wise needed to either allow the dual scenes to be staged around one another or go full Cock and play theatrical games in every single scene. No matter the direction, the tempo needed to be notched up significantly. Using the two-sided seating arrangement in a proscenium house was a strong choice. It gave a black box feel without being in an actual black box. That being said, the intimacy was lost. The simplicity of the set from Brittany Vasta allowed the story to take shape. The strong linear feel played a part in every aspect. From the large plush ottoman to the basement of the benches, the rectangular playing space captured the predictability of life. When chaos in the form of toys were thrown into the mix, that's when the characters' lives began to unravel. If you're not one to look up, you missed the best part of Vasta's set. The branch and lantern installation on the ceiling tied the great outdoors into every element of their lives. The lighting design from Drew Florida was sharp but with Wise's staging, some side lighting turned blinding for the crowd. The rain metaphor played heavy in Dial's text. Justin Propper honored this though it was not as atmospheric as it should have been.
By far, Kris was the most complex character in Lawrence Dial's story. With a rich backstory, Kris was the character that you wanted to see shine and overcome her personal adversity. Suzy Jane Hunt took the complexity and found gold. Ben Mehl's Danny was a bit more man child than dad with a plan. Mehl made his Danny feel like he'd fit right in on a live audience sitcom. Kudos should be given for his incredible beat boxing on "Sweet Dreams." As Donna, Rachel Mewbron had a strong, domineering presence despite the character needing a bit more textual support. Liz Wisan was a bit aggressive as Veronica. Wisan tapped into the heart of the dialect which gave her a gruffness and prickly exterior. Veronica is a hardworking woman but Wisan didn't necessarily give us something to grasp onto.
The title is certainly a captivating way to draw an audience. But the reality of this piece is these four individuals are not as slammed together as it seems. It's really all about Danny and Kris and their relationships.  "Play Date" may have been a little more apropos. No matter what, DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA got a little too big for its britches. There's substance within but the execution was all about trying to be grandiose.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Block Talk Episode 3- Tess Howsam and Blaire O'Leary



Block Talk is BACK! In this episode, Michael Block talks with Exquisite Corpse Company's Tess Howsam and Blaire O'Leary about everything ECC including Corpse Revival Series: Like Clockwork at Dixon Place January 24th-26th.

To listen to Block Talk, visit us on SoundCloud or iTunes!




Spotlight On...Lawrence Dial

Name: Lawrence Dial

Hometown: Newburgh (Evansville), Indiana

Education: The Evansville Mafia (University of Evansville)

Favorite Credits: In the Room, produced by Slant Theatre Project, Kelli Giddish, in Association with Wheelhouse Theater Company

Why theater?: Why not?  No one can tell you not to do theater; all you need is a writer and some actors, and it can better than anything on TV or in the cinemas.

Tell us about DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA: DKDV is a play I wrote after my second daughter’s birth, entirely during nap-times, in daily 60 minute increments.  It’s about two couples, both with two children each; two of the spouses embark of the beginnings of new friendship, an emotional affair.  The play is about where that friendship leads, and the ephemeral qualities of life we all need that can’t always be given to us by our spouses.  

What inspired you to write DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA?: I was curious to explore the conflicting feelings I was having at the time; the beauty of parenthood, and the emotional struggle of the stay-at-home spouse, who in many ways is forced to dramatically abandon the life they previously lived in favor of their new responsibilities.  The working spouse has his/her own struggle with the time they’re allotted to bond and connect with their children, while also taking on the emotional stress of being the family bread-winner.  Parenthood is tough, but also the most rewarding I’ve ever done…by a long shot. When you give up pursuing your personal (possibly farfetched) dreams and devote yourself to caring for another individual, what’s left of your own personality?  Who are you?  DKDV explores these questions…

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: For the most part it can be anything.  When the lights go down, no matter the production or playwright, big or small, I’m always rooting for you with a smile on my face.  It’s hard for me to dislike a piece of theater.  Don’t we realize it’s all just opinion and personal taste and perspective?  I always see the creators’ hopes and dreams in their plays.  I wouldn’t look you in the eye and tell you that’s bullshit.  Anyone pursing theater, especially after a sustained amount of years, inspires me.  Theatre is an awful, awful, deeply rewarding profession…  If you’re lucky enough.  I’m beyond thinking it’s about talent anymore, because talent is everywhere I look, and I suspect that behind every successful artist there’s a moment of nepotism that propelled that artist’s talent.  You gotta be lucky…

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I still have friends I want to work with!  Let alone theater celebrities (who I don’t care too much about).  To be honest, once a certain level of success reaches an artist, and some of their struggle to be recognized lifts, the ego that follows is almost universal.  (Because!) once we achieve that success we want to believe it’s based on talent and perseverance, and it is, but it’s also based on unforeseen circumstances as well.  Strange Alchemy.  Luck.  So I think the ego happens because no one who’s successful likes to admit that without that one lucky thing that happened that one lucky time, they might still be struggling today or have given up long ago.  For this reason, successful artist are often the ones who believe the most in talent.  So while there are great big theater celebrities I’d love to be in collaboration with, they’re not necessarily creating better Art than my friends, especially considering the money, time, and resources they’ve been given.  I’ll take my friends…

What show have you recommended to your friends?: My own!  DKDV!  Everyone’s busy, come see my work, and then we’ll talk about all the other good stuff we’ve seen!

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  Paul Rudd, the Paul Rudd story, by Lawrence Dial.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?:  Any August Wilson play; any Sam Shepard play from the 80’s—not picky.  So much great theater.  In fact, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing that U of E production of Norman’s Getting Out from way back in 96 that originally got me into theater.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Late night munchies with my wife on the couch, rubbing her feet, watching who-cares-what on the couch…  Or just playing with my kids and not doing the chores.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be?: Right now, I think I’d live somewhere outside of New York, I’d open a climbing wall/gym, and exercise and climb and run that business every day.

What’s up next?: Rest sleep.  Sex at Dawn…