Saturday, December 3, 2016

Review: The Puzzling World of Love

By Michael Block

Love. Who says it’s easy? In Jordan Seavey’s fluid drama Homos, or Everyone in America, the unbridled romance between a young gay couple. Bouncing around in time, Homos lives in a period, yet resonates today. The Labyrinth Theater Company production packs the drama into the intimate space with little escape, physically or emotionally.
The relationship of two men is at the forefront of Jordan Seavey’s searing Homos. Simply identified as The Academic and The Writer, these two go through five years of tears, heartbreak, turmoil, love, and conversation to discover just what their bond truly is. Bouncing around Brooklyn, Seavey opts for a non-linear narrative, incorporating bits and pieces of the story that ultimately creates on big picture puzzle. And don’t think you’re experiencing déjà vu. Seavey’s beats will ultimately come together in the end. Whether the story hits you or the commentary is too cliche, Homos is a showcase of Seavey’s exemplary writing. The whiplash-inducing dialogue is a tumultuous marriage of colloquial and poetic. Seavey rarely gives his company a moment of air when they’re chin-deep in conversation. But when silence is awarded, it’s purposeful and prominent. Where Homos falls into stereotype is the exhausting discussions of gay relationships. Though Seavey perfectly captures the essence of the battle of monogamy and open relationships. If you’re searching for answers in your next debate, ask Jordan Seavey if you can borrow a few of his lines. This isn’t to say Seavey doesn’t eloquently carve out a discussion. They add subtle glimpses toward the characters but not enough to sustain. It’s one thing to know The Academic is so opposed to adding a new party to the mix but it’s stronger to learn the whys. Seavey has room to keep his commentary while integrating it into the character better. Five years is a long time to track an arc. Yet Seavey does a decent job taking care of his couple. We don’t need to see everything but there are certainly moments we wished we saw.
photo by Monique Carboni
The Mike Donahue helmed production was all about minimalism. With virtually no props or scenic elements, Donahue’s direction was smooth flowing. The simplicity in direction allowed the words to be the focus. That being said, site lines were absolutely ridiculous. Even in the “best seats in the house,” you’re bound to miss something or have a head in your way. Presented in the round, of sorts, the bizarre seating arrangement caused a plethora of issues. For example, from my vantage point, whenever the couple would engage in interaction on the floor, I saw nothing but three rows of heads. The only scenic element that introduced time was a window with a Kerry/Edwards campaign sticker on it. Luckily, I had a great view for the action there! Dane Laffrey’s untreated wood risers and carpeted floor allowed the lights from Scott Zielinski to flourish in a variety of looks. Jessica Pabst’s costume design was basic. The way she dressed the two central characters didn’t necessarily explain much about their personality but those socks spoke volumes! The pineapple socks for The Writer and the Mondrian inspired socks for The Academic were a wonderful addition. Pabst did add some pizzazz for Dan’s flashy gay protest outfit and it was nothing short of prideful.
As The Academic and The Writer, Robin De Jesus and Michael Urie, respectively, were a dynamic pair that flipped emotion on a dime. The range of emotion that Seavey put De Jesus through was mind-blowing. And not once did he stammer. De Jesus had a heightened playfulness as The Academic. The Writer was a bit more voice of stereotype and yet Michael Urie captured honesty in the man with an open heart. With the speed of Seavey’s text, De Jesus and Urie passed the ball without ever dropping. Though it was virtually a two character play, De Jesus and Urie were joined by Aaron Costa Ganis as Dan, the third wheel and cog in the romance, and Stacey Sargeant as Laila the Lush girl. They filled a role as a device but both made their presence worthwhile.
Homos, or Everyone in America is a unique examination of love and relationships told through a familiar lens. Jordan Seavey’s script ebbs and flows but keeps the audience on top of the wave. The production would greatly benefit from a little more space but no matter what, it’s all about the words that completed the puzzle.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Spotlight On...Andrew Mayer

Name: Andrew Mayer

Hometown: Staten Island, NY

Education: BFA in Acting from Boston University School of Theatre, Manhattan School of Music (Pre-college), LAMDA classical intensive.

Select Credits: Recent credits include: Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 (Broadway Originating Cast), The 12 (Denver Center - World Premiere Rock Musical), Dying for It (Atlantic Theatre Company), Fiddler on the Roof (Barrington Stage Co. and Westchester Broadway Theatre), Prince of Egypt (Developmental Workshop)

Why theater?: I have been involved in the arts and theatre since I was very little. I have always had a love of stories. It brings me joy to pull people into other worlds and expand perspective on the world. As I have gotten older and more experienced I think what has personally sustained my passion in this infinitely difficult business is my genuine interest and love of the process and not just the product or final validation. Aside from that mental stamina, I am also a very physical person and often (especially in the show I am in now) I have felt akin to an athlete training for an event when doing this work. I love physical work and play, and the ongoing challenge and need to be consistently present and ready for anything is the most fun and engaging job I could ever see myself doing. And to call it a job sometimes feels very strange … which is another good sign.

Who do you play in Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812?: I am a member of the ensemble. I also play violin on stage for parts of the show.

Tell us about Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812: It is based on a 70-page slice of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. It takes us back to 19th century Russia without any particular reverence to period style … which is part of what makes the piece so powerful in my opinion. It breaks so many barriers with music, story, set, costumes, casting, and hopefully expands what Broadway commercial theatre can be. The ensemble plays a HUGE role in the show and is charged with furthering the story and atmosphere for everyone in the space. Definitely a different experience depending on where you choose to sit!

What is it like being a part of Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812?: It has been the most challenging thing I have ever approached physically and mentally … but it has also been incredibly rewarding. I am grateful that this show specifically is my Broadway debut.  It has at one point or other called on all of my skill sets. I have had to integrate my work as an actor and mover with my abilities as a violinist and singer … all at once. I would say our cast is in some of the best shape of any cast on Broadway right now (our set is a Stairmaster). Every day has its own challenges but part of what gives me energy is the cast and camaraderie. I joined just for Broadway and many of these guys have been together for multiple prior versions of the show … yet from day 1 I felt completely a part of the group. From the cast, to crew, to creatives there is no real drama backstage, there is no bad energy, and everyone is genuinely there to support each other and the show. I think that is part of what makes us all able to do it full out 8x a week. It is a joy.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I find myself inspired by the kind of work that makes me think but also that has been clearly thought through by the creator. I enjoy polished pieces that still have a raw energy on stage. I don’t consider my work lazy and I don’t like watching things that have been simply thrown together and ask us to do the work to figure out what it means. Specific work as an actor and a creative is much more stimulating and effective to watch. I love that kind of work and those kinds of artists.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Specific roles … hmm … I love Marius in Les Mis, and chased that around for a while (still made it to the Imperial Theatre without him I suppose, so it worked out haha). The Phantom would be amazing. Bobby in Company would be fun. I do love me some good action though (stage or screen) … could never turn down a good fight if Zorro or something came swinging into town. Now THAT would be my JAM.

What’s your favorite showtune?: That one changes daily. At this moment … typical showtune doesn’t come to mind as much as “Scenes From and Italian Restaurant” does by Billy Joel … (Movin’ Out? Hey that should count!!)

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Brian Stokes Mitchell. Sir Ian McKellen. I would die.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would play the mysterious character who shows up with cryptic facetious knowledge about the future to myself in the past … but we don’t know it’s me … cause I would for some reason enjoy screwing with my former self. What would it be called? Maybe - “Let’s Go With That …”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I actually would love to see something groundbreaking akin to the first “moving picture” or Stravinsky’s first performance of The Rite of Spring. As for theatre … the original Streetcar would be pretty amazing to see or an original Shakespeare at the Globe.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Obviously see Great Comet! Ha. But otherwise recently I really loved The Humans and I loved Something Rotten (especially if you know some musical theatre!)

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Probably at this point I’d say its my motorcycle. That was no joy to my mother and I definitely felt guilty for a moment but the pleasure outweighed that pretty readily and still does. I love that thing.

What’s up next?: More Great Comet hopefully for a while. The run is off to a solid start so fingers crossed the momentum continues to build. Aside from that, check out some fun over at “The Hunted: Encore!” - recently released the first part of a web series. I also have some skits in the works and a cool fight short on the way to be released very soon.

For more on Andrew, visit www.andrewCmayer.com

Thursday, December 1, 2016

On the Scene: NYC Students Rise Up at Hamilton

by Michael Block

I had an exciting opportunity to witness 1300 of New York City's finest, students that is, attend a special performance of Hamilton. It was my second time at the show. But this was NOT the same show I saw before. This was experience like no other. 

They are not throwing away their shot to rise up in the room where it happened. 1300 New York City public school students attended an exclusive matinee performance of the show with hottest ticket in America. Thanks to partnership between Hamilton, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the NYC Department of Education, another lot of students from New York's Five Boroughs were granted an invitation to Hamilton. That is after they successfully completed and passed their curriculum pertaining to the subject. A true stage to page experience.
The smash hit phenomenon has reached global success to the point that it has not only opened up eyes to a new audience but it is truly a profound teaching tool. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know the musical, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, was at the center of some recent controversy when Vice President elect Mike Pence made a recent visit to the show. With a speech aimed to education, Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, spoke on behalf of the ensemble in hopes of starting an important discussion. In some arenas, namely social media, it backfired, but the message Dixon relayed is the rich message found with Miranda’s piece. This is a story of old America told by today's America.
Prior to the performance, a select few students got to make their "Broadway debut" by performing original work on the Richard Rodgers stage. At the core of their pieces was a narrative inspired by Hamilton and other pertinent information integrated from their studies. From poetry to song to dance to spoken word, these select students found their moments to shine in front of the biggest audience they could dream of. Associate choreographer Stephanie Klemons served as MC and hype girl, getting the students geared up to watch their classmates and peers. Some of the many highlights included a scene inspired by Abigail Adams written and performed by Kiara Leon and Anda Rosca from East Side Community School, some profound words in a scene from Jaelen Smith and Adante Power of Repertory Compay High School for Theatre Arts, a lyrical dance from Keturah Stephen, Liliana Delossantos, and Destiny Trevino, of Brooklyn High School of the Arts, and the pure vocals of Juan Mateo Garcia of Brooklyn Theatre Arts High School. All of this was set up by the incredible poem entitled “Let’s Make America Great Again” delivered with fervor and passion from Amell Garrison of Achievement First University Prep High School.
photo by Michael Block
If being able to see the show wasn't enough, the students got to listen to a very special question and answer session featuring some of the stars of Hamilton. Sharing their time and knowledge were Sasha Hollinger, Rory O’Malley, Eliza Ohman, Sydnee Winters and star of the future, and overall fan favorite Jordan Fisher. From silky, frothy questions to deep, personal statements, the wealth of insight the cast shared resonated. If you looked around closely, there was not a phone in sight. These kids were listening and engaged.
If you're one of the lucky few that has scored a ticket to Hamilton, you know what it's like to be in that audience. Even if you've seen a Broadway show, you know the etiquette. Those rules don't apply here. In fact, Stephanie Klemons ASKED this crowd to vocalize and react. Throw them out because these kids have no fear and will respond. The room was electric. The energy they gave the company was immediately given right back. And wouldn't you believe the moment the lights came up for curtain call everyone was on their feet. The Richard Rodgers was electric. Even glancing over at the great ushers, they were energized by the aura from the students.
It's an experience you can only have in this room with these students. They reacted to everything, good, bad, or indifferent, proving just how in-tune they were to the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda. What this great partnership has afforded the youth of New York is integral to our future. Art truly does have the power to change the world. What these students took from their day at the theater is yet to be scene but what is certain, this is a field trip these kids will never forget.

Spotlight On...Sawyer Spielberg

Name: Sawyer Avery Spielberg

Home: Los Angeles, California

Education: Atlantic Theater Co.

Select Credits: Off Broadway - Micha in The Belgrade Trilogy at the East 4th Street Theatre. Phillip in Safe at the 14th Street Y.  Regional Theatre - Bay Street Theater’s Of Mice and Men playing Whit. Bay Street’s The Diary of Anne Frank playing Peter. Guild Hall of East Hampton playing Guildenstern in a production of Hamlet.

Why theater?: I love being a part of the theatre community, and acting on stage is sometimes the best way I know how to communicate.

Who do you play in Clover?: Van.

Tell us about Clover: Clover has been a good challenge for me to understand the pressures of being the oldest brother out of three in a dysfunctional family.

What is it like being a part of Clover?: Working on Clover has been a great way for me to meet more actors in the Indie Theater community and to continue working on my craft.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I moved to NYC to study acting because I saw Red on Broadway at the age of 16, and that triggered me to start acting.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I'd like to play Ken in that play, Red.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Music inspires me, friends and family inspire me. I am really into blues at the moment because one of the actors I'm working with in Clover is teaching me the harmonica.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?:  I wish I saw Mark Rylance in Jerusalem and Phillip Hoffman in Death of a Salesman. My two regrets.

What’s up next?:  I'm producing and acting in a production of Extinction by Gabe McKinley this winter at Guild Hall of East Hampton.

For more on Clover, visit http://lamama.org/clover/

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Spotlight On...Beatriz Naranjo

Name: Beatriz Naranjo

Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela

Education: BA Point Park University

Select Credits: The Buddy Holly Story at TBTS (Maria Elena Santiago), 21 The Musical at Pittsburgh Playhouse (Vera Clemente), Chicago, Footloose, Chess, etc.

Why theater?: Why not?!

Who do you play in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story?: Buddy’s wife, Maria Elena Santiago.

Tell us about Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story: It tells the story of Rock n’ Roll legend Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Set in the late 50’s, the musical play features all of Buddy’s hits songs, his early career, rise to fame, and the very last concert before his tragic death.

What is it like being a part of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story?: Truly an amazing experience. I’ve done the production twice already and the talent is unbelievable. I also enjoy playing a bilingual character (since Spanish is my native tongue).

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Original works and plays that feature Latino and other minorities. That being said, Lin Manuel Miranda is definitely someone who inspires me not only as an artist, but also as a human being.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Eva Perón in Evita.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Sinatra’s "That’s Life."

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Theatre – Lin Manuel Miranda; Film – Dir. Alejandro Iñárritu

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Movie would be titled “The Voyager”. Casting myself is hard since I would have to find someone bilingual.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Original Cast of A Chorus Line.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Fun Home.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Eating excessive amounts of edamame per week, pronouncing my name the correct way when I introduce myself to people (great conversation topic at auditions).

What’s up next?: Currently working on a Pilot for a new TV show.

For more on Beatriz, visit www.meetbeatriz.com

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Blog Hijack: The Wedding Warrior Returns to NYC

In today's Blog Hijack, the Wedding Warrior herself, Casey Dressler takes over Theater in the Now to talk about the return engagement of the critically acclaimed The Wedding Warrior



Fresh off its critically acclaimed runs at FringeNYC and The Chicago Fringe, The Wedding Warrior is back in The Big Apple at The Legendary Duplex for two special LOVE-FILLED performances, Dec. 4th & 7th!

"Better off wed? That is just one of the questions playwright/Performer Casey Dressler poses in her One Woman Comedy about love, second chances and the wonderful weirdos with whom we cross paths, forever changing our journey. Featuring 15 hilarious and heartwarming characters, The Wedding Warrior will make you say "I do" too!"

The Wedding Warrior was written in 2014 and has already been produced nationally and internationally to critical acclaim. Performances include The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, United Solo Fest (NYC), 59e59 Theaters East To Edinburgh Festival (NYC), The Alliance Theatre (Miami), Universal Acting (Fort Lauderdale), The Vanguard (Fort Lauderdale), Florida Keys History and Discovery Center (Islamorada), The Fort Lauderdale Fringe Festival, FringeNYC and The Chicago Fringe.

Check out The Wedding Warrior's awesome reviews from FringeNYC on show-score!
https://www.show-score.com/shows/the-wedding-warrior-fringenyc

When: 
Sunday Dec. 4th @ 9:30pm & Weds Dec 7th @ 9:30pm
Where: 
The Duplex Cabaret Theatre
61 Christopher Street (at the Corner of 7th Avenue)
New York, NY 10014

$10 Ticket in Advance & a 2 Drink Minimum in the Cabaret Theatre*
$15 Ticket at the Door (plus service fee) & a 2 Drink Minimum in the Cabaret Theatre*
*Drinks Must be purchased In the Cabaret Theatre to count towards the Minimum.

FOR TICKETS:
Sunday, Dec 4th show: www.purplepass.com/warrior4th
Weds, Dec 7th show: www.purplepass.com/warrior7th
For more info visit: www.TheWeddingWarriorPlay.com

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: Nothing Endearing Here

By Michael Block

The story of Terms of Endearment should flood the audience with tears. The Directors Company production could not even come close. Adapted for the stage by Dan Gordon, which is based on the novel by Larry McMurtry and the screenplay by James L. Brooks, and presented by The Directors Company at 59e59, Terms of Endearment proves that not every story belongs on the stage.
Terms of Endearment is the classic story of mother and daughter who battle a litany of personal struggles that bring them closer together as time goes on. Spanning two decades, widowed Aurora tries to keep her only daughter Emma close by. But when Emma is forced to move from her Texas home to a new life in Iowa, Aurora is left alone and must combat it while Emma is in a dull marriage with a man her mother disapproves of. The story comes to a close with the iconic plot twist of Emma's cancer, causing her mother to feel as if she lost it all. Even if you know the story or not, Terms of Endearment is a guilty pleasure for the desperate housewives. Even if you can get past the frothiness, this script is stuck in a cinematic mind-frame. Dan Gordon’s Terms of Endearment is flat-out frustrating, if not infuriating. The script is superfluous. The direction lacks rules and guidelines. And it’s all due to how it is structured. With the book and movie clearly on the mind, Gordon jumps from location to location, spanning a long string of time. With such short bits, director Michael Parva must figure out a way to make the overall arc resonate while honoring the text. Only Parva is forced into limitations that cause him a world of woes. The segmented set designed by David L. Arsenault causes headaches beyond belief. And that goes beyond the disconnect of the underutilized and distracting scrim which doesn’t quite live with the rest of the set. With so many locations and so little stage space, Arsenault’s scenic elements are introduced in nearly every scene. But reality wise, it lacks sense. There’s only so much disbelief one can take. With raised areas housing various scenic pieces, Parva asks his company to break walls, and space, in order to create a necessary visual and staging that doesn’t lag. With such a strong focus on the use of the phone, there’s no such thing as a split screen in theater so having both Aurora and Emma sit on the same bed in separate locations just to have the visual calls into the overall aesthetic into question. Parva absolutely needed to go full theatrical to make this text work. He did not. Going back to Dan Gordon’s script, this production is very much a “period piece.” The themes present live in a specific time and yet they are still universal. The original source material was never a period piece so why not update this play to today? Sure, there are some major advances in technology but wouldn’t that hammer in the power of a long-distance relationship? Gordon tried to play it safe and it just did not work.
photo by Carol Rosegg
Lead by the legendary Molly Ringwald and rising star Hannah Dunne as mother-daughter duo Aurora and Emma respectively, this ensemble did all they could with tough material and rough direction to navigate. As the oft-hysterical widow Aurora, Ringwald tapped into the super-critical character. With the movie so prevalent in this production, in comparing to Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine, Ringwald made Aurora her own, lacking the bite and tenacity MacLaine brought. Ringwald had an endearing sweetness that fell into undying sadness when things didn’t go her way. Hannah Dunne is a natural as Emma. Dunne is full of life and hope. Of all of the cast, Dunne was the strongest at making Gordon’s cringe-worthy text believable. It’s hard to understand why Aurora wouldn’t want the boy-next-door version of Flap to be married to her daughter. Denver Milord was not the Jeff Daniels version of Flap. To no fault of his own, Mildord was the perfect all-America charmer. There was something discomforting about Jeb Brown’s Garrett. There was something false in his Garrett, causing Brown to appear quite cartoonish.
I could go on and on about the flaws of Michael Parva’s direction but deep down, with a cinematic text, there was no way this production of Terms of Endearment was going to be able to properly find hope. The story should be full of humor and heart and yet The Directors Company production lacked all semblance of both.