Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: Tales of a Straying Heart

Sometimes we want what we shouldn't have. Those things that are attainable but cause an avalanche of consequences if acquired. But why do we want them? Maybe because we're unhappy in a current situation. But when you're heart and mind are set upon achieving the thing you shouldn't have, not even your best friend or spouse can stand in your way. Such is the case in Jim Jiler's Half Moon Bay, presented in rep by Nylon Fusion Theatre Company at The New Ohio Theater
In Jiler's drama about human connection and desire to fulfill the unfulfilled, Richie develops a fascination for a young woman that may not be all quite there. As his obsession grows deeper, Richie pushes away his pregnant wife for a stranger he strives to save. Told through a narration lens by cynical and confident best friend Tom, Half Moon Bay features an unsavory situation that drives the play into madness. The plot is unsettling mostly because the reality of possibility. What Jiler writes about is not uncommon. Sadly, it happens more often than not. So from a story standpoint, Jiler has crafted something that is bound to allow the audience to feel something. But when you dissect the text, there’s something off about Half Moon Bay. And it may be due to the character of Alicia, the troubled young woman Richie strives for. As we learn the truths about Alicia, it’s hard to understand why Richie does what he does. What is it about this stranger that ignites his passion? The way we view Richie is that he is impulsive and irrational with an obsessive fascination with an unstable woman. And the more we learn, the less we sympathize for his situation. You long for Pam, Richie’s wife, after she’s abandoned. You end up liking Tom, the overly confident best friend, even if some of his comments are brazen. But with the focus on the relationship between Richie and Alicia, there feels as if there is some repetition in the ninety-minute play. The way Jiler has crafted his play is sharp, allowing the action to move. But he seems to give away the mysteries early on. Which may have been the point. When Richie is finally rejected, he comes groveling back to Pam. And we see what happens as a result. We see his punishment. There’s something about ambiguity that may have been desired in this final moment.
The star of the show was Brennan Taylor as Tom. Taylor had the unique task of being a supporting character that drives the narrative. Taylor is suave and cynical yet completely endearing. The way he was able to rock the shiny silver suit proved his worth has a character. As Richie, Ben Gougeon looked out of place. It was a bit hard to imagine him as the sarcastic lawyer’s best friend with the girl of his dreams. But when you have it all, you have to prove why you’re willing to give it all away. Gougeon didn’t quite do that. Gougeon seemed to follow the formula as prescribed by the playwright without straying or making any bold choices. Like the character, he was just missing something. As Pam, Jean Goto was overly affected in many of her acting choices. It wasn’t until she stood strong that Goto’s confidence resonated. Ivette Dumeng as Alicia had an incredibly difficult character to portray. Dumeng had to control the character’s unraveling without revealing the her instability too soon. Partly due to the text, it was hard to see the connection between Alicia and Tom. Additionally, while it may have been a character choice, Dumeng was soft spoken causing some audibility issues even in the second row.
Director Margarett Perry took Jiler’s fluid script and made it translate onto the stage. Timing was everything with Perry’s vision. Perry did not utilize any props or scenic elements to allow for the scenes to quickly ride into one another. The transitional vocabulary was a bit mixed, either having characters linger on stage or rush right off stage, but there was consistency in cohesiveness between the lights and sounds by Wilburn Bonnell and Andy Evan Cohen respectively. Bonnell used sharp shifts that may not have caught Brennan Taylor in his light every time, but the intent was present. The simplicity of the percussion from Cohen was a wonderful touch to the world of the play. The set by Kyu Shin was primarily featured by the monochromatic blue floor that looked like a topographical map.
Half Moon Bay is quite an interesting text. There’s something enticing about having an emotional connection, whether good, bad, or indifferent. But there is a spark missing that can set this play apart.

Spotlight On...Andrew Scoville

Name: Andrew Scoville

Hometown: Elmhurst, IL

Education: New York University, Playwrights Horizons Theater School

Favorite Credits: Love Machine (Incubator Arts Project), People Doing Math (ongoing podcast, live show at Ars Nova), Fresh Ground Pepper (co-founder/co-director) Associate Director of Here Lies Love (Public Theater and National Theater)

Why theater?: I like people! It's most collaborative art form and I think its the most direct artistic conversation you can have with an audience. Good theater is like your favorite sandwich from your favorite bodega, umami, you know.

Tell us about Kitchen Sink Experiment(s): Kitchen Sink Experiment(s) is a play about a couple who let a scientist into their apartment to observe them. They become increasingly self-aware and are forced to deal with some of the unspoken elements of their relationship. It is done in a hyper-realistic style, so when the characters cook pancakes they are really going to be cooking pancakes and it will take place in a real life lived-in apartment.

What inspired you to direct Kitchen Sink Experiment(s)?: I was inspired to direct this piece because I am a fan of Colby! I had been interested in working with him, so when he brought this to my attention I was instantly intrigued. I am always looking for projects that deal with science or technology in one aspect or another, so the fact that there was a scientist as a character and the situation of the play was a scientific experiment, I was like "Wohoo! Double bonus!"

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I can't help it, I like high tech theater. Things that use technology in interesting ways. I am very drawn to the present and beyond. I like to imagine what the future might be like and put that on stage in interesting ways. This project is a different kind of passion for me, which is rooted somewhere in really trying to crack what life is like today, as a window into how our lives may be affected tomorrow. I am inspired by the radio, podcasts, and LOVE! Love is so inspirational, right?! In my experience, it makes everything better and more meaningful.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad from Radiolab, Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Books, and the eyeliner at 3LD.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Stay tuned for Medialounge, a pop up exhibition space for new digital art. It's gonna be bananas. And I always tell friends to check out Fresh Ground Pepper to find new collaborators and explore new ways of working!

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I say Dwayne Johnson, my friend said a very friendly dog voiced by George Clooney, my wife said Josh Gordon Levitt . Either way, I'm pretty sure I just want it to be called "Bill Murray."

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The Big Bang! Or I'd like to go to some o.g. Colosseum Programming-- any of those ancient amphitheaters.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Cooking shows and "Shark Tank". A week ago, I would have said competitive cooking shows, but now that I've seen "Chef's Table" on Netflix, I'm like F#*& that!

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Working for NASA.

What’s up next?: BOSSS Festival! I'm working with En Garde Arts to create a new piece with Bina48, the world's most advanced social robot. Dave Tennent and I are cooking up piece where actress Lynne Rosenberg will be going on a date with Bina48 for four performances between October 23-25. Also working towards a new live recording of a podcast I'm collaborating on called People Doing Math!

For more on Andrew, visit

Block Talk Episode 1- Christopher Diercksen

After four plus years, Theater in the Now is expanding! And part of the expansion is a new podcast feature called Block Talk! We will talk to some of New York's finest theater artists about their current projects, their thoughts on theater, and so much more! At the end of the episode, we'll do something called "Pop Five" where we'll ask our guests to give us rapid fire answers to five people or shows or evens in pop culture. And end it with our guest asking our next guest a question of their choice!

To kick things off, I'm beyond excited to talk with my good friend Christopher Diercksen! Chris is currently directing Rush by Callie Kimball at the Paradise Factory. Rush is Team Awesome Robot's inaugural production. We talk about working on this production, how Team Awesome Robot came to be, and hockey!  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review: A Sucking Good Time, or Transylvania Mania

In their latest drunken theater spectacular, Three Day Hangover hunts the world's most famous vampire. Staged in a fittingly perfect room at The West Park Presbyterian Church, Dracula, as written by Steven Dietz, is a sharp modern spin on the Bram Stoker classic about the titular vampire.
In this immersive production, the audience is taken on a vampire hunt to stop the immortal Dracula before he sucks all of New York. Their blood of course. Layered with modern pop culture gems and spoken with a modern tongue, Dietz's script is ripe for the boozy games. To tell this tale, director Kristin McCarthy Parker allows the crowd of vampire hunters to drink and mingle before they are greeted by Renfield, preparing everyone with the rules of the night. While the evening is prescribed for you, you are truly in charge of your own personal experience. You are encouraged to move around and see the action. If there are bad site lines or you can’t see something, it's completely on the audience. But be warned, the closer you are to the action, the more likely you'll be dragged in. The story follows bffs Lucy and Mina as they grow excited about the prospect of having same name boyfriends. Lucy's potential suitor is Dr. Seward, who runs the local mental hospital while Mina's bae, Jon, is on assignment at a castle in Transylvania. When the titular bat gets loose on a blood hunt, he finds a victim in Lucy. Lucy grows sick, causing Seward to grow concerned. He discovers two bite marks on her neck and instantly calls in the reinforcements in the form of his former professor, the newly sponsored Van Yeungling. And the hunt is on. They fill up on their defense items, rosaries, garlic, stakes, and holy water in the form of alcohol because vampires' kryptonite is booze. The action horror comedy is fast paced and truly what you make of it. The bar stays open during the entirety of the show so if your glass runs low during the thunderclap drinking game, best to fill up. By keeping the show minimally staged, Parker kept things simple. Even in an open room, she was able to create specific spaces by using the audience as natural walls. This also allowed some of the magic to happen by drawing focus to a certain area. With the blend of modern comedy and period melodrama, Parker was able to guide her company through the world with the greatest of ease.
With recognizable characters, finding something fresh was integral. And some of the cast found some great new nuances for their characters. As the professor formally known as Van Helsing, January LaVoy has grit and dry force. LaVoy, even with a mic, had such power. Jonathan Finnegan as Seward may have looked like a mix of Matt Smith’s Dr. Who and Brad Majors from “Rocky Horror”, but Finnegan made Seward his own. Seward’s geeky charm was a wonderful juxtaposition to Miranda Noelle Wilson’s Lucy. Paul Kite as Renfield goes crazy in all the right ways. As the possessed loony-bin inmate, Kite made bold choices to create a strong character.
Sometimes the most important element of an immersive theatrical experience is the atmosphere. With previous Three Day Hangover productions, staging the work at a bar provided a long list of pros and cons. In Dracula, moving it to a great hall where the architecture married the scenic and prop flawlessly brought the experience to a new level. The scenic and lighting design by Christopher and Justin Swader was strongly executed. Their attention to detail and ability to create an environment reminiscent to the world of the play allowed the audience to feel even closer to the action. The sound design by Toby Jaguar Algya blended the period with modern sounds, filling the room with each thunderclap.
Three Day Hangover continues to serve original theatrical experiences. The marriage of classic material with boozy theater may not be all that new anymore but the way they engage the audience is what keeps audiences coming back. If you’re eager for Halloween to come quickly, head over to Dracula for a funny fright.

Spotlight On...Kristin McCarthy Parker

Name: Kristin McCarthy Parker

Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC

Education: University of Evansville

Favorite Credits: Hold On To Your Butts, Kapow-i GoGo

Why theater?: The stories we tell and how we tell them have an immense impact on how we view the world and ourselves within it--an impact that is most tangible in a live setting in the company of others.

Tell us about Dracula: Dracula is an immersive retelling of Bram Stoker's novel, set in an old church on 86th and Amsterdam that we've decked out to feel like a Victorian haunted house of sorts. The adaptation is Steven Dietz's--this is actually the New York premier of this play!--and we've peppered it with Three Day Hangover's signature drinking games and audience interaction. It's one part terrifying melodrama, one part audience participation, and one part comedy.

What inspired you to direct Dracula?: I was actually brought on board as the associate director under Lori Wolter Hudson, one of 3DH team. There was a little surprise in the form of her beautiful baby girl being born, and it became necessary for me to step up as director. This type of show--immersive, fast-paced, physical--is right in my wheelhouse, and I've been dying to work with 3DH for some time, so it was a happy accident that things worked out how they did.

What kind of theater speaks to you What or who inspires you as an artist?: I enjoy seeing pretty much everything, but I love directing comedy. I love working on shows that are surprising, physical, and directly engaging with their audience.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: There are like a million directors on this list, but I would love to be in the room for a show with Bill Irwin.

Who would play you in a movie about your life and what would it be called?: A young Sigourney Weaver.. It would be called, “Where Did I Put My Keys? ...and other daily struggles”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Always bummed me out that I missed Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns...

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Weirdly enough, I started watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" a couple weeks before being brought on to this show. It's fitting, but I'm very much immersed in the 90s--early aughts right now because of it.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Something in academia, most likely. I always loved doing research and writing papers in school... #nerd

What's up next?: I have a few things right now... Two plays by Matt Cox at The Peoples Improv Theater: Kapow-i GoGo ( and the upcoming Puffs, about a certain underestimated house at a certain school of witchcraft and wizardry. I'm also directing for the Atlantic Acting School and helping out with a project called This Is My Brave, which aims to destigmatize mental illness by allows those who live with to share their stories in a safe and supportive setting.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Spotlight On...Tom Slot

Name: Tom Slot

Hometown: I grew up just outside of Washington D.C. on the Maryland side, then spent about ten years in Baltimore before moving to NYC in 2006. So at this point I consider New York home.

Education: I did my undergrad work at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland double majoring in English and Creative Writing. I then went back and got at Masters degree in education from Loyola and an MFA in acting from Columbia University.

Favorite credits: As an actor I was lucky enough to be part of two international festivals playing Sebastian in The Tempest at the Folkwant International Shakespeare Festival in Germany and playing Nikos in Chuck Mee’s Big Love in the Setkani Encounter Festival in the Czech Republic. It was really incredible to work with actors  from across the globe and share ideas and explore the creative process together. As a writer and director, I was extremely proud of Farewell to Sanity and Other Irrational Constructs that played in the Gene Frankel Theater in June of 2013 as part of the Planet Connections Festival. It was a cocky play that mixed reincarnation, mental health, super heroes, and a 19th century whale captain. It was also the first time I got to direct David Stallings who delivered an amazing performance as a burnt-out shrink charged with righting the cosmic scales.

Why theater: Because theater is personal. The energy exchange between audience and performer is an amazingly powerful relationship. If you put in the time and work, and treat that relationship with the proper respect, it has the ability to create transformative moments of connection. And ideally calls upon performer and audience to reflect. Nothing can replace that shared experience and connection to the human experience. I know a show is good if the audience leaves the theater exploring the questions the play raises. I know the show is truly successful if they are still talking about those questions the next day.

Tell us about Macbeth (of the Oppressed): It's a new look at the classic Shakespearean tragedy that asks the question: what can be learned and unlocked in the text by changing the gender of the roles. How does a line like “unsex me” change when a man speaks it? What happens to traditional gender perceptions when women play the two greatest warriors in the play, MacDuff and Banquo? What does making Duncan an Elizabethan style Queen instead of a king help us discover? What do we learn about ourselves and society as a whole by casting the witches as minorities? When you start tinkering and playing with these elements of the play, suddenly new motivations and insights arise and the action of the play is grounded in a fresh and exciting place.

What inspired you to adapt and direct Macbeth (of the Oppressed): David and Antonio approached me with the concept at the end of 2014. I’m a big fan of both of their work and was inspired to play in this world and see what came of it. So I jumped at the invitation and started adapting Macbeth. We had talked about a few different ideas at first, including Hamlet, but Macbeth was the one that immediately got me thinking so we ran with that. Plus the thought of Hamlet scares the crap out of me.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I’m always drawn to pieces that have flawed characters and dark humor. I don’t know, I guess I like seeing characters get in their own way and then finding a way to still make it work. Or fail epically. Both are exciting to see on stage. I also like work that tackles spirituality in an honest and truthful way.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: For stage or film, I’d love to work with Bill Murray. It would be a dream come true. He’s a genius and always gives the most honest and connected performances. I’m a huge fan of his work. For a musical I’d love to work with Adam Pascal, the original Roger in Rent. He’s able to convey so much emotion in his voice.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I told all my friends to go see Once when it was still playing. I’m a big fan of musicals but there was something really special about that show: the rawness and honesty of the performances really pulled you in. You forgot you were in this gigantic theater space. It felt like just you and the actors on stage together. And I thought the set design was fantastic: using the bar on stage as a functional bar before the show and during intermission. It created an amazing sense of community.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I’d love to get Gonzo from the Muppets to play me. Or Animal. Gonzo because he’s a free spirit and Animal because he’s got the energy and likes to break things apart. It would be called "Running Theater".

If you could go back and time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I’d love to go back in time and see some Vaudeville performances. The energy of those shows must have been insane. It was the ultimate variety hour. You look at the old footage and its like anything could happen on stage – you saw elephants dancing, balancing acts, musical acts, monologues – the audience never knew what they were going to see from minute to minute. That level of surprise and wonderment excites me.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Gummy food and anything fried and covered in buffalo sauce. I’m a marathon runner so I tend to eat a pretty balanced diet. But when I’m working on a show on top of my regular teaching load, my hours get crazy and I suddenly start craving the unhealthiest food I can get my hands on. I use to live on Dr. Pepper and Gummy Worms in rehearsal. I’m a little better now, but I still get the KFC, Taco Bell, and candy cravings while working. I ate several bags of Twizzlers on this show alone.

If you weren’t working in theater you would be _____?: Empty. Sad. Unfulfilled. I’d probably have to be an English teacher.

What’s next?: I’m directing a student production of Twelve Angry Men in November. After that I’ll be workshopping a musical adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream I’ve been developing called Dream 70. It’s a rock musical that takes the classic comedy and explores its themes and story through a lens of race and social change by setting it in Athens, Georgia in the summer of 1970.

Spotlight On...Colby Day

Name: Colby Day

Hometown: Alamo, CA

Education: New York University, Department of Dramatic Writing

Favorite Credits: Felix & The Diligence which a high school in Vermont performed and it was the most magical experience of my life. It’s a fishing adventure with mermaids and sea monsters and Nazi spies. Everything Flashes, a tour of your memories which I’ve developed and am still developing with so many folks (The In-Between People, Theater Reconstruction Ensemble, and Pipeline Theatre Company), and this video: The Greatest Play Ever.

Why theater?: It’s magic. Sometimes with LITERAL magic. Great theater is the closest I think I get to a religious experience. Bad theater is the closest I get to hell. And as a writer, theater is definitely the most fun form. You’re working with people, often smarter than you, and if you work with the right people, they’re making your stuff WAY better the entire time. And then you get credit for it.

Tell us about Kitchen Sink Experiment(s): It’s a kitchen sink show with a real kitchen sink. It explores what it is to feel observed, what it is to feel judged, and asks how the heck can we ever get comfortable in our own skin.

What inspired you to write Kitchen Sink Experiment(s)?: I wanted to challenge myself to write something hyper-hyper realistic and see what that would mean for an audience. It’s a show you can kind of live in and reach out and touch, without being “immersive” in the ways I don’t like. Nobody is going to force you to do anything, you can just observe and be taken care of. The seed of the idea came from a podcast I’d heard about a similar research project that had not gone well, and I thought “Oh, that’s a play!”

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Honestly? Magic. It doesn’t need to be real magic, but if you can do something that seems impossible onstage, I am sold. That can be big, like redefining a space, or it can be small, like taking me somewhere emotionally I did not expect. I like twists and turns.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I have to second pretty much ALL of Andrew’s list. And would add probably Woodshed Collective into the mix.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Go see Pipeline Theatre Company’s The Gray Man. It’s running right now and is beautiful and spooky and magic.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I’d like it to be Ryan Gosling and it would be called “That Colby Sure is Sexy.”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I’d love to go back and see the original failed run of Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real. That show is such a mess in a way that I love and admire and would 100% want to see. Or Our Town? I’m a sucker for sentimental shows.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Black & White Cookies. I will never not buy and eat one and I have strong opinions about each and every brand available in the NY metro area.

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

What’s up next?: I’m doing a workshop of my show [untitled time dilation play] in November and then am putting together a reading of Edgy Christmas Reboot, a dark, gritty re-telling of the Rankin & Bass Claymation Christmas specials.

For more on Colby, visit For more on Kitchen Sink Experiment(s), visit

What Happened to Theater Etiquette?

by Michael Block

I had the great fortune of finally getting an opportunity to see Hamilton. I felt like I was the only person who hadn't seen it so when the chance for standing room tickets was presented, I jumped on it. At the Richard Rodgers Theatre, you're stuck in the back of the orchestra having to navigate the overhang of the mezzanine in order to see the upper level of the set. But in the back, you also get to witness the actions of those in front of you. At this particular performance, there was a quartet of women who seemed to be celebrating a night out. Maybe dinner and show. I can only assume. They came in just before the show began and seemed to require more time than the average person to turn off their phones. You know, a few minutes into the start of the show. The glow of the cellphone was a bit of a distraction but hey, "we're used to it". Once the show began, all seemed fine. Until about midway through Act 1 when two members of the party had to take a bathroom break. Being in the middle of their row, their exit to the toilet required everyone next to them to get up. And this happened twice. This isn't something new at the theater. It happens. There's some whispering that occurs, but again, nothing new. Intermission comes along and one woman brings the quartet vodka gimlets in Hamilton show cups. It's clear this was not their first adult beverage of the evening. Act II commences and all seems fine until a phone drops during Jonathan Groff’s next appearance. Whispers turn to giggles, and the distraction grows beyond that one row. This continues on as understudy Alysha Deslorieux, who's on for Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton, is proudly singing “Burn”. The couple next to the giggle girls grows furious, a girl from the standing room section ushers the usher to become a hero and quiet things down. And then things get out of hand. When attempting to remedy the situation, the couple begs the ushers, now two, to remove these women. The husband physically forces the two gabbers out of the row, all while Ms. Deslorieux shines on stage. The two remaining woman are upset and make their way out of the row, again forcing the rest of the row to stand. An altercation ensues in the back of the house. Now nearly every back row of the orchestra at the Richard Rodgers Theatre has turned around to observe, and yet Ms. Deslorieux sings proudly on. One of the woman can barely stand up straight as she’s pleading to stay. By the end of the song, the ruckus has died down and we back of the housers give Alysha Deslorieux an extra loud applause.
So why is this story important? Because just two weeks earlier, I attended a performance of the incredible revival of Spring Awakening where a young couple, so disturbed by the content, stormed out of the theater during the climatic Act 1 finale. They protested the content claiming it was the most disgusting thing they had ever seen. I attend a lot of theater, most of which nowadays is downtown or Off Broadway. And yet the latest two Broadway shows I attend there are instances where people feel the urge to disrupt not only their fellow patrons but the performers pouring their heart out on stage.
There seems to be a string of incidents in big market New York theater of late. The young man who had the urge to charge his cell phone on the set of Hand to God. The cellphone monster that faced the wrath of Patti LuPone at Shows For Days. The drunken fellow who professed his love for Keira Knightly at Therese Raquin. Even that Hollywood actor who attended Cabaret and made a great big scene. And I'm confident there are more that have gone undocumented. No matter where you attend theater, Broadway, Off Broadway, regional houses, there’s always that one person. Maybe it’s that lady in front of you who can’t hear or missed something and asks “What? What did they say?” and a response comes which begins the symphony of shhhs. So why is this happening and how can we avoid this rising epidemic?
It seems some of the documented occurrences have a common denominator. That being the consumption of alcohol. So is a solution to rid Broadway houses of liquor? Of course not. How else will theater capitalize on the consumer? And then there are those people who can’t seem to detach themselves from their cellphones. And the fine folks at AT&T didn’t help the situation. So is a solution to ban cell phones from theaters? Of course not. But maybe you shouldn’t be granted entry until the cell phone is in the up right and off position. And then it’s those talkers. Should a muzzle be given with each ticket purchased? Of course not. Then we can’t sing along to our favorite showtunes.
All joking aside, it seems as if theater etiquette has gone down the tubes. And it’s unfortunate. Theater tickets seem to be skyrocketing. With production values becoming astronomical, producers are forced to match the cost of producing a show of worth by upping ticket prices. It used to feel as if theaters were filled with the occasional theater fan alongside the artists who support their peers. Nowadays, you almost need to be well-off to attend a Broadway show. And perhaps the rules of etiquette don’t apply to the privileged. Certainly that’s a generalization and likely not true. But where has the etiquette gone. I feel like the most awful person in the world if I have to cough in the middle of the show. I don’t want to disrupt anybody. But it seems the logic of fear of disruption doesn’t apply to everyone. And it’s a shame. Is it the clientele? Who really knows.
Last week, an instance occurred at The King and I involving a young boy having an outburst. The audience instantly turned on the child and mother. As castmember Kevin Moon Loh poetically wrote about the situation on Facebook, we don’t always know the facts and the situation. There are certainly occasions at the theater that goes beyond our control. That happened to be one of them. But the instances that are just plain rude? How do we minimize it? For us artists, we take great pride and joy in sharing our work for an audience. Whether it is for a house of ten or a theater of thousands. It’s our passion that drives us. And all we want is a little respect. And by respecting the people on stage, you’re in turn respecting the patrons around you. Whether you pay $35 for a ticket or $435, we’re all entitled to have the same experience. Remember, you’re not alone. There are people around you. has a nifty 13 rule theater etiquette article. Maybe with every ticket purchased, these rules should be attached. Or maybe it should be common knowledge. It's time to start a conversation so we can all be entertained again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Spotlight On...Mel House

Name: Mel House

Hometown: Baltimore

Education: 2 Year Training Program at the William Esper Studio, MA Applied Drama:  University of Exeter's School of Drama  (UK), BA Theatre:  Goucher College, Study Abroad:  Iona Center (Athens),  NIDA (Sydney),  Globe Theatre (London)

Select Credits: Peter Weiss' Night with Guests (NYFringe), Hedda Gabler (Baruch Performing Arts Center), In the Bones (NYIT Award for Outstanding Actress), Shrunken Heads (Playwrights Horizons), Rabbit Island (Backstage Critics Pick), Homunculus: Reloaded (3 NYIT Awards), East of the Sun West of the Moon (Baltimore's Centerstage), Much Ado About Nothing (Baltimore Shakespeare Festival), Nerve (Edinburgh Fringe Festival).

Why theater?: When I was six, my mother took me to Baltimore's Theatre Project to see Uncle Vanya.  I fell in love!  And knew instantly that I wanted to play on stage for the rest of my life.

Who do you play in Macbeth (of the Oppressed)?: Macduff.

Tell us about Macbeth (of the Oppressed): Macbeth of the Oppressed is Shakespeare's Macbeth, paired down a hair to keep it fast-paced and super active.  What makes this production unique is that the audience isn't viewing the story through the typical white, heteronormative and gender-binary lens that the majority of theatre is presented through.  Instead, you follow the story while seeing a world that more truthfully reflects New York City.

What is it like being a part of  Macbeth (of the Oppressed)?: The cast and crew are AMAZING!  A generous, supportive, love fest.  And they let me fight with an axe, so I'm killing it!

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Art that feels like Truth.  That reveals new possibilities for Living, Being, Expanding.  Anything that lets me see the bizarre ugly beautiful fullness that is being alive, and helps me to accept my essential humanness more.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Vanda in Venus and Fur, Joan in Saint Joan, Margie Walsh in Good People, Violet and Barbara in August O'Sage County, Nora in A Doll's House, anything written by Carol Churchill, Sarah Ruhl, Melissa Gibson, Lucy Thurber, or Halley Feiffer.

What’s your favorite show tune?: Every song from Next to Normal and "Tomorrow" from Annie

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Uzo Aduba

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Amy Poehler in "Shit Happens."

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: "Transparent" and "Catastrophe"

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Scotch and cheap chocolate covered cherries

What’s up next?: I'm heading to Cape Town, South Africa, in November with Barefoot Workshops to create a short documentary.  And my son and I are making a documentary about our multicultural family:  Join us at Macbeth (of the Oppressed) from October 8-24 at The 14th Street Y!

Review: When Bad Titles Hurt Great Material

Sometimes it’s the stories that you don't know about but the events you do know that are the most fascinating. Unless you were living under a rock in the first decade of the 21st century, you will know something about the Iraq War. But what if there’s more to the story? Inspired by the screenplay “Curveball” by J.T. Allen, Who’s Your Baghdaddy, or How I Started the Iraq War is a musical comedy, yes comedy, that brings new light to America’s darkest times.
With music by Marshall Pailet, lyrics by A.D. Penedo, and book by both Pailet and Penedo, Who’s Your Baghdaddy brings the audience into a fictional support group where members seek solace, acceptance, help, and closure. The catch is, the members of this group all believe that they started the Iraq War. Told through a series of flashbacks, Who’s Your Baghdaddy breaks into musical mode, flipping from campy musical comedy to heavy melodrama. While stylistically the musical is unsure of itself, the way the story is told is expertly crafted. Fourteen years after 9/11, it’s possible that it’s still “too soon” but what Pailet and Penedo have done is avoid glorifying the subject. They present their material in a fine manner. Though, this may be due to the unrecognizable characters and unheard story. Had this musical been about Osama Bin Laden, George W. Bush, and Saddam Hussein, you’re likely to feel that the piece was unsavory. Regardless, with strong storytelling and characters each with a sense of redemption, Pailet and Penedo were able to take the audience on an unfamiliar journey. Audiences love to play detective, learning the clues and linking the facts. Pailet and Penedo fashioned the musical in a way that was accessible and engaging. The characters they crafted each had a strong motivation and a sense of redemption. From the desire of becoming a hero or wanting to do something right, each objective was clear and followed through. When it came to the music, Pailet and Penedo used a wide variety of styles. Who’s Your Baghdaddy blended classic Broadway with pop and rap to reach everyone’s pallet. Each character seemed to live in a specific genre but it may be a smart idea to ease off the theatrical rap. Penedo’s lyrics for the most part were stronger in the more comedic numbers, falling off into hokey melodrama in the ballads.
photo by Remy Daniels
Who’s Your Baghdaddy was certainly an ensemble effort. The characters depended on one another and so did the company. Sometimes it’s the utility players that end up being the strongest actors on the stage. And that was very true here. Brandon Espinoza and Claire Neumann as the multi-character ensemble of two were brilliant. Espinoza and Neumann are triple threats that went beyond the call of duty. From on point dancing to an array of voices, Espinoza and Neumann were the heart of the production. Brennan Caldwell as Richart Becker, the German Jr. Detective brought the house down with “Das Man.” Caldwell is sweet and charming with big heart as the optimistic Richart. He was even game to play along with the overly-recurring accent bit. As dynamic duo Berry and Jerry, Larisa Oleynik and Olli Haaskivi were a perfect yin and yang. Oleynik brought grit and immense depth to Berry while Haaskivi’s Jerry just wanted to make Berry proud. Jason Collins, Bob D’Haene, and Nehal Joshi all had characters that lived primarily in the melodrama. They each had defining moments with their power and strength. Collins commanded the stage, even in his time of defeat.
Directing your own work is a massive risk. Luckily for Marshall Pailet, it paid off, this time. Pailet’s use of the space was smart, allowing the fascinating story take center stage. The transitions were quick and Pailet paid attention to symmetry. As a whole, the movement of the piece was sharp and Misha Shields’ choreography utilized the space well. While the playing area may have been tight, Sheilds’ made it feel grand. Since the playing area was virtually the audience of the Actor’s Temple, lighting designer Jen Schriever’s canvas was unique. She was able to capture the support group general lighting and quickly create a more theatrical aura. Sure, shadows and dark patches were a bit of an issue, it was easily forgiven.
Who’s Your Baghdaddy is a fascinating story with a strong ensemble. But that title. It could be a massive turnoff that does not sell the show properly. The musical is not so much satire as it is musical comedy and finding that middle ground title will encourage an audience that it’s time to start talking about the war that shouldn’t have happened.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Spotlight On...Brandi Varnell

Name: Brandi Varnell

Hometown: Tulsa, OK

Education: New School University

Select Credits: Sylvia, 9 to 5, Kiss Me Kate, Evita, 3 Penny Opera, Staged Readings at The Drilling Company, Abingdon, Dramatist Guild.

Why theater?: The moment to moment that unfolds in theater is so magical. It is so special to see people engage in real time in front of you, knowing that you are seeing the only instance where those exact moments exist. It is immediate and present and exhilarating.

Tell us about Squeaky Bicycle Productions: We just celebrated our 5th Anniversary, and we couldn't be more proud to kick off the season with our upcoming show. Our mission is to create vibrant theatre for vibrant audiences. We value the process of development, recognizing that collaboration offers immeasurable gifts. We seek to nurture every contributor’s artistic journey, offering a safe place to take risks and explore the depths of their talents. We commit to projects that challenge our audiences to examine and assess new institutions, values, perspectives, and ideas. We believe that under served populations deserve a voice, and that through theatre the human condition can be more genuinely explored and understood.

Tell us about Ten Ways on a Gun: It was part of our 2014 Reading Lab, and from there it has been developed into the full production running at Theatre for the New City- October 9-25. It is wickedly funny but also hits you straight through the heart. Tommy Freely buys a gun online to gain control of his life, then timeshares it with his deadbeat co-workers once his vegetarian girlfriend finds out about it. This is a play about a play about that gun. Ten Ways On A Gun is a darkly comedic and heartfelt examination of American gun culture, and an exploration of why anyone, anywhere, does what they do.

Who do you play in Ten Ways on a Gun?: I play Jessica Person. Jessica is an actor/director/co-choreographer and occasional dramaturg of a theatre and dance ensemble, Soul Motion Architects, which we get to know quite well during the play. She has a lot to figure out about life and her art and her possible impact on gun control.

What is it like being a part of Ten Ways on a Gun?: Right now it feels like that amazing roller coaster that you've waited in line for, and you can't wait to get on. You know you'll feel like your guts are in your throat at times, but you also know you won't want the ride to end. It's really so good! The cast is unreal, and working with the playwright, Dylan Lamb, and director, Kate McConnell is the stuff dreams are made of. I am beyond thankful.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Daring, innovative, biting, comical, relevant, heart centered theater speaks to me. The artists who inspire me are those who have passion and who persevere. Those who face struggles and triumphs, and continue on because they feel it is their purpose. I have wonderful teachers and colleagues who embody this. I see them offering their gifts to the world. I'm getting to work with many inspiring colleagues on this show.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I have a big list, but mostly I'd like to originate roles. I love being the first to embody a role in a new play. I would also love to play a tough as nails, calculating character on Walking Dead. We can call that character "Daryl's Future Wife."

What’s your favorite showtune?: "If Love Were All", "Stay With Me", anything Kurt Weill.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Bryan Cranston, Kelli O'Hara, Ed Norton, Adam Driver, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Shumer, Stevie Wonder, and Lee Sunday Evans

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Christine Woods (google her). She is zany in all the best ways. I think the title should be "Brambo", and I think it should be equal parts action movie, awkward comedy, and touching drama.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Jekyll and Hyde starring Sebastian Bach......No wait, I did see that. He killed it. What? You can ask me questions about that in a follow-up interview. Really, though, Glass Menagerie starring Cherry Jones.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The King and I, Pippin

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I like sugary kid cereal. Lucky charms, Golden Graham's, cocoa puffs, etc.

What’s up next?: Squeaky Bicycle's 2015 Reading Lab, auditions, acting class, and a family vacation involving a beach.

Review: Crazies in Love

It's inevitable that a wild one-night stand can make a pretty good story days later. In Red Soil Production's double bill Good Morning & Good Night, two pairs of sex hungry people experience a night they likely will want to forget. Presented at the Producers' Club, the double bill of two handers about sex, love, lust, and insanity, unites a series of mutual themes in a night of physical comedy, moans, and groans.
The first offering of the night was Goodnight by Christopher Wharton. The comedy follows a Brit and a Greek. The dashing Albert Green finds himself at the peculiar home of a woman, simply named The Greek, after meeting a mere four hours earlier. The moment the lights rise, Albert and The Greek are engaged in a heavy makeout session that leads to some madcap foreplay. As the games commence, Albert, in his drunken state, discovers he’s having some penal problems. The Greek takes a bubble bath in hopes Albert will be ready when she finishes, but being alone in her room leads to a series of awful choices by Albert including, and not limited to, snooping around, reading her diary, discovering her preference for male grooming, and stupidly deciding to amend to her wishes. Goodnight certainly has its moments. There are some hardy laughs and many cringe worthy moments that almost beg the audience to vocally react. But the text itself was lacking. Wharton’s script didn’t seem to go anyway. Despite that, the chemistry between The Greek, played by Mantalena Pappadatou and Albert, played by the writer himself, was lacking. There was a lot of dead air that hurt the momentum of the comedy. Despite being a two-hander, the character arc was more fleshed out for Albert rather than The Greek. If Albert had been a character in a sitcom, The Greek would have been a guest role on the episode. Wharton certainly had a posh way about his comedy, and it was funny, but there was just substance missing in his performance. As The Greek, Pappadatou brought a dominating amount of sex appeal. The only struggle was the clarity of Pappadatou’s language.
The second play of the evening was Good Morning by Matthew Stannah, following a similar formula of boy and girl meet and wind up at the girl’s place. Only this time, it was the morning after. The focal character in this piece was starlet Samantha, a Marilyn Monroe-like beauty with a beaming smile and wide eyes. Only as the events of the evening are recalled, you discover that Samantha is way off her rocker. As Jason Lust sleeps, Samantha snoops around his stuff to discover that he is the owner of some sort of entertainment business, instantly turning her into someone who will stop at nothing to find fame, and love. When Jason arises, he has no memory of arriving at Samantha’s pretty in pink bedroom. Nor does he even remember his mate’s name. It’s revealed that the seemingly innocent Samantha drugged Jason and began to plan their life together, as future Mr. and Mrs. Jason Lust. Jason tries to let her down easy, but Samantha will not take no for an answer. Good Morning seemed to be a little more fleshed out, finding a clear objective for both characters. Playing Jason, playwright Stannah played the same action often, though he shined in his physical comedy. Gabrielle Sarrubbo’s Sam gives Kathy Bates in “Misery” a run for her money. Sarrubbo was the highlight of the entire evening. She was strong, determined, and had great delivery. Her rise to obsession with Jason was hilarious to watch.
The parallels in the plays were boundless. Was it to prove the universality of the situations or merely coincidence? Well, that’s up for debate. But some of those moments did garner some chuckles, primarily the groinal grooming bit. Each piece showcased a different side of intensity through the female character. One was overtly sexual, decked out in black, and was proud of her wild side. The other was innocent to the eye, wearing white, but had a deep and dark crazy side. What was interesting about the plays together was the fact that both male characters were virtually the same. Despite being written by two different authors, it would have been more dynamic for the male character to be the same person, allowing this evening of one acts to unite further.
Director Yudelka Heyer had some difficulty when it came to her staging. It was a bit rough. With a small stage with many scenic elements, finding room to move in a non-repetitive manner was hard. Despite the matching bedroom set being aesthetically pleasing, the less is more idea would have been beneficial. Heyer placed the bed centrally on stage, allowing the actors to move around it completely. Both plays featured similar objectives of one party wanting to leave and one party wanting to get the other to stay. With clear escapes and opportunities, the staging of the objectives was forced. You can only do so much with what you have but the job of the director is to figure out how to make it work.
Good Morning & Good Night captures the unbelievably insane stories of one-night stands but they don’t quite reach their full potential. It may have been beneficial for Wharton and Stannah to take themselves out of their own plays and perhaps swap roles in order to hear their texts from a solely playwright perspective.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Review: Waiting for Love

After a nearly solid run at FringeNYC, Andrea Alton's Possum Creek returns at the Celebration of Whimsey, or the C.O.W., for an encore engagement. Written and performed by Alton, Possum Creek chronicles the letters the loveably naive Beth Ann as she pines for her recently departed Civil War soldier husband. Many many years pass as Beth Ann keeps hope, hoping for a loving reunion with her one true love.
Using the device of an educational documentary to share Beth Ann’s love saga, Possum Creek is a delicate comedy that is layered with hidden gems that garner a great deal of laughs, both big belly and those awkward giggles. Beth Ann, the character that Alton has brought to life, is brilliantly na├»ve and gladly optimistic. With the Civil War as the backdrop, Alton is able to fill her script with elusive jabs at social issues that are still an issue today. And when you pick up on them, that’s when you can’t help but smile at the intricate details Alton has put into the piece. Aside from the big picture, Possum Creek and Beth Ann is an entirely relatable character. Sure, her optimism is outlandish, it adds to the truths of love. Whether we want to admit it or not, we’ve all waited for our one true love. Some of us are still waiting. Others, have closure. Beth Ann longs to be reunited but she also thrives for human connection. During her waiting game, Beth Ann encounters an abundance of loss in which she makes up for in new companionship. In her thirty year journey, Beth Ann goes on a journey of self-exploration, discovering the truths of society, love, even sex. And while we easily can laugh at her experiences, it’s the honesty of the character that makes Possum Creek shine. To give this piece life, Alton adopts an assortment of other characters. The production features a slideshow of portraits that give face to the characters Beth Ann refers to in her letters. And Alton expertly gives them a voice. Alton is a strong character actress. Like Beth Ann, Alton breathes life into them. The strongest of which happens to be the blind Pastor who needs his own spin-off.
Despite some technical woes, Possum Creek was clean and clear. Director Eric Chase guided Alton on her journey from happiness to despair to confusion to acceptance to happiness once again. Chase helped Alton find the characterization of each individual, giving each a unique quirk including Beth Ann’s signature signature and hilarious little death cough. The dress designed by Anthony Catanzaro was exquisite. It called out to the period but also fit Beth Ann’s personality perfectly. Even the way Alton interacted with the dress that, at times, could have been overwhelming, was wonderful.
After thirty years, you had to wonder if Beth Ann would ever be reunited with her one true love. And in the end, she did. And it’s so ridiculously fitting. It proves that the moral of the story is everyone can have a happy ending if you put your heart into it. You can’t help but feel happy when you leave. Even if you’re still waiting for your person, Andrea Alton has given you hope. Possum Creek highlights the perseverance of character and actor, never giving up, no matter what is throw their way.