Friday, July 1, 2016

Spotlight On...Yudelka Heyer

Name: Yudelka Heyer

Hometown: Dominican Republic, San Pedro de Macoris

Education: American Academy of Dramatic Arts

Favorite Credits: Directing credits: Short films - "Unfinished Business", "Flip", "Cereal Killer", "Yellow", "With Ketchup"; Theatre - Red Valley, Good Morning and Good Night.

Why theater?: I love the collaborative process. The ability it gives in the rehearsal process to really dig deep into the character and Actor’s discovery process. The energy transferred between groups of people during this is magnetic. The image that comes to mind when I think how of far the development came from the first read to the final product is really rewarding. Theatre makes you laugh, cry, love, hate and whether you come to terms with it or not…it’s good to feel a part of that, it’s human.

Tell us about A Man Like You: It’s an original by Silvia Cassini that had its debut in Kenya.  A Man Like You is a conversation between a British hostage, Patrick North, and his Somali captor Abdi, set in a windowless concrete room in Somalia. Elizabeth, North’s wife, provides a counter-point to the story, from the North’s house in Nairobi. The play was inspired by the events of 21st September 2013, when Somali men from a terrorist group opened fire on shoppers at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67.

What inspired you to direct A Man Like You?: It is a unique well written story in which Cassini exposes powerful themes such as religious believes and terrorism.  As an artist, this is the type of story I am drawn to as it expresses a brutally specific message to its audience.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Any play that allows you to forget you are actually sitting in a theatre watching it. I really enjoy August Wilson for the strength of the relationships he creates between characters. I am also a keen Chekhov fan, but who isn’t? Passion, belief, resilience, power and killer drive are the characteristics that inspire me in an artist. As an artist, I am inspired by chocolate and Meryl Streep movies. ;-)

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Denzel Washington and Wagna Moura

What show have you recommended to your friends?: “House of Cards”

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: It will be Meryl Streep and the name will be “Hard is in your mind.”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The Father by Christopher Hampton with Frank Langella. I really wanted to see that

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Social Media

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Definitely a psychologist or therapist

What’s up next?: I need to go to the beach, then I’ll be coming back to plan our upcoming play and short film series.

For more on A Man Like You, visit http://www.red-soil-productions.com/

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: A Text That Never Quite Takes Flight

By Michael Block

Sexual violence and abuse is a serious subject. Finding a way to bring awareness through art is not easy. Especially if it hits close to home. That being said, not every production with relevant themes does exactly what it sets out to do. Enter Phoenix Rising: Girls and the Secrets We Keep. Presented by Living Lotus Project, the play written and directed by Laura Gosheff, finds a group of young girls brought together by circumstance as they surrealistically tackle their past.
Phoenix Rising is one of those plays that has good intent yet manages to hammer in too many concepts and ideas that hurts the overall production. Laura Gosheff’s play follows five young girls, each with a dark history of violence in their past, as they encounter ways to find hope in their futures. Through meetings with their counselor Grace, the girls are lead on fantastical journeys that open their eyes to their situation. When we learn that one of their own has found herself in the fatal situation, you'd think that would be the inciting incident that informs the production but it's not. It's just a backdrop. To Gosheff’s credit, she tries to do something different than present a weighty drama that examines difficult issues. She explores a unique style of storytelling. It just sadly didn’t work the way you would have hoped. Phoenix Rising may have greatly benefitted from a separate directorial source as well as the desire for a dramaturgical eye, as there were many textual woes. For example, with continuity being key, the girls are shocked that their sessions are about to end as the school year concludes yet have a gift ready to give to Grace. It's the little things like this that call attention to the bigger mishaps of the text. To explore the surrealistic elements, Gosheff introduces a device where Grace opens a magical book where she monologues about a woman from history that coincides with each girls’ backstory. Gosheff also introduces a plot point where Grace offers each girl a card of an influential woman to keep on their person to help their spirits. The device and plot point do not line up as the woman on the card is not the woman of the story and it desperately wanted to be as it completely minimizes the importance of the cards. Had the cards reflected the person of the surreal dream world, Grace’s influence and control would have been even more powerful. When it comes to the text itself, Gosheff has a sing songy nature to her words that had shades of after school special. And that may be due to where in time the play is set. Being set in the 80s, Phoenix Rising finds itself vainly outdated, spotlighting the sad truth that even 20 years later, little has changed. And that's not the intent Gosheff strived for.
photo by Jana Marcus
From a character perspective, there's very little active growth as the action is retelling the past and coming to an understanding. To no fault of their own, the girls were sadly cartoons. Between the era costumes and the caricature dialogue, it was hard to ground the reality within the overblown bubble. The one person who did strike a nerve by capturing the intent of her character was the incomparable Kristen Vaughan as Grace. Vaughan was like an ethereal sorceress. Despite the silliness of the surreal, you forgave it because Vaughan was just that good. She spoke and you listened to every single word she said.
As a director, Laura Gosheff was strong in honoring the intent of her text. Gosheff was high on finding the nuances of storytelling. That came through the exploration of movement. With movement by Javier Baca, Gosheff and Baca’s collaboration was stimulating to say the least. When we entered the dream worlds, the lighting from Seth Reiser was glorious. The use of the footlights and wash of color truly defined the whimsical ideas Gosheff hoped for. It was a stark contrast to the harsh fluorescents in the sessions. Sheryl Liu had some factors to work around with her set. It was very basic and accomplished what it needed to do but the second tier on the playing space caused Gosheff to lose prime staging real estate. Sound designer Julian Evans was crucial to the specificity of Gosheff’s vision. And he succeeded. Evans and Reiser were in tune, marrying lights and sound well. Angela Harner did exactly what the script called for when dressing the ensemble. Gosheff prescribed influences and they were seen on stage. But that doesn’t minimize the ridiculousness of the period. Between the hair and colors, it was hard to take the situation seriously at times.
Phoenix Rising tried to be so much more than it could be. And that was its Achilles’ heel. You can’t fault Laura Gosheff for being ambitious but ambition can only get you so far if the product doesn't translate to the stage.

Review: Don't Look Back

By Michael Block

The big question is do we need another theatrical retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice? The answer is only if it's good. Hadestown falls right in the middle of that spectrum. It's stunning to listen to. It's pleasing to the eye. But do we learn anything new? Not so much. Written by Anais Mitchell and developed and directed by Rachel Chavkin, New York Theater Workshop presents a feat of pure artistry known as Hadestown.
Taking a page from the infamous tragic romance, Hadestown defies the expectations of musical theater. Instead, we are gifted a concept album brought to life. With a folk score infused with creole soul, Mitchell's music is the centerpiece of excitement. The music is so incredible, you'll likely be intrigued enough to listen to it after you leave NYTW. But did it serve the story best? Not necessarily. Thinly tied together from song to song, the love stories of Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone duel in a two act musical where a semblance of knowledge of the myth is useful, if not essential. Littering classic quotes and themes into her lyrics, Mitchell shines in idea. Her lyrics don’t necessarily further the plot but rather explore the inner thoughts of the thinly developed characters. To move the plot, Hadestown introduces Hermes the narrator. The messenger of the gods serves as the messenger of plot for the audience and relays just a single bit of useful information to the actual character. While Hadestown may not instill new information, it explores modern themes. Even through your optimism, the world isn't such a great place. It’s fascinating at times, especially when there’s a song about a wall and freedom. But it’s simply not enough. The score is filled with some power and excitement. Mitchell knows what hooks to keep running through out. But Hadestown doesn’t find life until Hades arrives. That’s when things take off. Mitchell’s great success is her ability to create ear worm worthy music. It’s likely a melody or two will get stuck in your head.
photo by Joan Marcus
Regardless of your feelings on the material, you can’t deny the extraordinary overall talent on the stage. Orpheus and Eurydice may be the love magnet that pulls you into Hadestown but it’s the marvel that is Persephone and Hades that you should stay for. Amber Gray is a smoky seductress as Persephone. The raspy wisdom of her tone was simply sensational. Amber Gray is a name to keep on your radar. As the villain of myth and circumstance,  the grate carpet was laid out for Patrick Page, who dominates in yet another sinister role. It’s rare to hear a genuine bass in musical theater but Page delivers. Playing Hermes the narrator, Chris Sullivan’s dark whimsy moves the piece along. He’s got more soul than you could ever imagine. Nabiyah Be found purity in her Eurydice. Even though she saw the worst in the world, Be had confidence. The musicality from the Fate trio breathes vivacity into the piece. Tonality and harmony, Lulu Fall, Jessie Shelton, and Shaina Taub are the pulse of the score. Perhaps he's a victim of fate, or comparatively blah material, sadly, Damon Daunno as Orpheus lacked the charismatic appeal to play the artist in love. And you could only take so much of his pingy falsetto. But that’s the nature of the indie style.
Artistry was in full bloom for director Rachel Chavkin and her masterful design team. But when it came to theatrics, you can’t help but harken back to similar tricks used in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, also directed by Chavkin formally staged in a similar circular fashion. Regardless, the magic that Chavkin provided was enough to make Hadestown a visual spectacle. But when it came to seating, artistry got in the way of practicality. If you kept your eye on the stunning tree from scenic designer Rachel Hauck, those woes went away. And when it came to the spectacle of light, Bradley King succeeded. Had you not known about the post-apocalyptic setting, you may not have understood the concept behind the costumes from Michael Krass. Whether you’re coming to Hadestown blindly or as a fan of Mitchell’s album, you can’t deny the breathtaking orchestrations from Michael Chorney and co-arranger Todd Sickafoose. Chorney and Sickafoose honored Mitchell’s integrity while incorporating hints of musical theatre within.
Hadestown looks amazing. It sounds amazing. But when it comes to adapting it for the stage, it didn’t succeeded as much as you’d wish. Hadestown the concert may have been just as suitable. Either way, purchase the album and don’t look back.

Spotlight On...Andrew Clarke

Name: Andrew Clarke

Hometown: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Education: Edna Manley College (School of Drama) Jamaica & Brooklyn Colllege, NY

Select Credits: Fences, Flambeaux, The Black That I Am, A Girl Without Wings
                     
Why theater?: I have no choice in the matter really. I was born for this. I belong on the stage. I honestly couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Well maybe singing if you consider that a separate vocation from theatre but it is still the stage. This is when I most at home, alive and in my element. So if I am asked why theatre, I’d say why not? Why the torture? Because that’s what life would be being anywhere else.

Who do you play in A Man Like You?: I play Hassan. Somali pirate. He appears to just be a hot head, but he’s quite observant as well.

Tell us about A Man Like You: A Man Like You is a conversation between a British hostage, Patrick North, and his Somali captor Abdi, set in a windowless concrete room in Somalia. Elizabeth, North’s wife provides a counter-point to the story, from the Norths’ house in Nairobi.  The play was inspired by the events of 21st September 2013, when Somali men from the terrorist group Al Shabaab opened fire on shoppers at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67. Following the tragic attack the perpetrators were often referred to as 'animals' and 'inhuman', and indeed it was hard to feel they were anything different when the CCTV footage of them blowing civilians away in cold blood was released.  The same footage also showed them however washing their feet and praying in the aisles of Nakumatt supermarket where most of the victims died, a powerful reminder that however repulsive it is, those terrorists and hundreds others like them all over the world have a rationale for their actions, and that it is one that the world basically refuses to engage with. We do not really want to look inside the mind of a terrorist and properly understand what motivates him; it may be uncomfortable, painful and worse, we may discover that in some ways we even identify with his truth.

What is it like being a part of A Man Like You?: Being a Jamaican and also an immigrant to the U.S., this is quite the interesting experience. I am hearing about the event that inspired the writing of the play for the first time thanks to this production and find myself being so drawn into the story of these men who lead such different lives, come from such different realities, who share such differing views, but I hear merit in both their arguments. It is such an almost uncomfortable place to be in when you hear through the words the playwright has put into each characters mouth ideals and concepts which make you rethink your perspective on certain things or even more importantly how we have been conditioned to respond and perceive certain people and situations.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theatre that is riveting, thought provoking, makes you uncomfortable even. Theatre that causes you to question life, your choices, who you are, and the decisions you make or have made. Theatre is that mirror held up to our face that we’ve paid X amount to be shown a reflection of ourselves, sometimes one we are not aware existed or may not be willing or prepared to accept exists.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Oh the best villain one could imagine…that person that people just HATE with a passion. I wanna make folks uncomfortable, repulsed and even my friends watch in disbelief as I have transformed into this other person, this other thing. Any role that allows me to one day do that is the role I would love to play!

What’s your favorite showtune?: “Serenade” from The Student Prince

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: On this list, Cicely Tyson, Phylicia Rashad and James Earl Jones

Who would play you in a movie about yourself, and what would it be called?: Taye Diggs.  “The life and times of Andrew Clarke.”  haha

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original Dreamgirls.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Almost every musical currently on Broadway. Head of Pass - now closed.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Food! In general. I am such a fatty. Food will be the death of me though I want to be fit and sexy! haha

What’s up next?: The release of my debut EP. New territory, scary as hell!

For more on A Man Like You, visit http://www.red-soil-productions.com/

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Spotlight On...Stephen Powell

Name: Stephen Powell

Why theater?: Theater came to me later than usual. I don't mean experiencing theater (that came early when my New Yorker aunt took me and my sisters to Broadway shows), but participating in it (when I took the leap to audition for a community theater play). That first role ignited a passion that felt important and rewarding. I've been pursuing it ever since.

Tell us about A Stopping Place: This is a piece about how our individual struggles are both the glue and the repelling force in our relationships with each other. The bridge and the wall. It tells the universal story of a person who seeks reconciliation with the past in order to face the future, and the labyrinthine path to find resolution.

What inspired you to create A Stopping Place?: The spark of A Stopping Place ignited from the nature of what an actor faces when alone on stage but surrounded by people. There is an intrinsic element of 'space', both between actor and audience and between character and object. That concept began to tell its own story about connection: the inability to reach the audience physically but to appeal to them through performance; the paradox that being alone on stage infuses inanimate objects with character of their own; the sense that the performer feeds off the performance of the audience. I find these qualities analogous to the contours of all our relationships to each other as individuals. How we act toward others is not too far away from standing on a stage and reaching out into the darkness by any means possible. I became excited by the universality this form of the "one-man" show offers, and what else the aspects of the 'theatrical' tell us about the stakes of human connection.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I say this constantly when talking about A Stopping Place: I love ambitious theater. Ambitious in form, in theme, in scope, in vision. Watching a show that makes you gasp, or cheer, or go pale is a clarion call to any actor to go back to your rehearsal space and build to those same moments.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I'm reluctant to say, because it may just come true and then where would I be?

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Great God Pan, by Amy Herzog. It played a couple of years ago at Playwrights Horizons and left me breathless. I walked out of theater resolved to seek in every future performance the nuance and depth that those six actors showcased on that stage.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: When someone finds my life worth dramatizing, I'll have to ask them!

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I will always regret missing the musical Passing Strange when I visited he city in 2008. That show was a gem that, when I saw the Spike Lee film, did for me what the best kind if theater does: it gave me a new and startling understanding of the world and myself.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Really?? Let's say... drinking coffee after sundown.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: In an office, wondering what it would be like to be in a play.

What’s up next?: Aside from a workshop with the 600 Highwaymen (the experimental theater duo) there will be an announcement soon about the next step for A Stopping Place. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: Hoping for the Eleventh Second

By Michael Block

Parked behind a table, sitting anxiously in a chair, Padraic Lillis talks about suicide. He says the things we may not have the courage to say out loud. Through his own experience, Hope You Get to Eleven or What are we going to do about Sally? is a monologue about finding the light through the darkness.
photo by Kevin Cristaldi
Presented by The Farm Theater at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, Hope You Get to Eleven is an emotionally driven solo piece that discusses things that can be hard to admit. Inspired by his own story, Lillis is not seeking sympathy but rather offer awareness. Lillis smartly doesn't tip toe around the subject. He brings dry humor to balance the gravitas. And there is a hell of a lot of gravitas in this play. The play came to form after his experience directing A Christmas Carol at a college where a girl from the play committed suicide. With the aftermath and his own pains finding unity, Hope You Get to Eleven began. The unique thing about Lillis’ piece is there is no moral to this story. And it’s unfair to try to offer when. Lillis tries to bring awareness to the thought of if you know you’re hurting, ask for help. He drops in the occasional fact and numbers about suicide that hammers in the idea of how dodgy the thought can be. He reminds us that someone else in the room has likely had these thoughts. Or may be having them, word for word, as he says them. And it's true. Believe me, it’s true. With the safe space of a theater, Lillis bravely shares how he found himself having suicidal thoughts despite the positives in his life. A loving relationship. A flourishing career. Opportunities to do what he loves. But when you can’t see the progress, the negative thoughts outweigh the positives. The one statistic that weighs heavy on the production is the one that inspired the title. And it’s something I wish was introduced sooner into the monologue.
From a production point of view, Lillis plays it safe in his script. Rather than reaching for analogies and metaphors, he lays it out there in a colloquial manner. He and director Scott Illingworth approach the text in a way that it seems he is talking to you. Illingworth places the table and chair on a diagonal in order to reach the two seating sections equally. It was a very strong and powerful position for Lillis to be in. For the most part, lighting designer Joe Cabrera left the lights consistent. A nice glow on Lillis. But when he goes into his bit about the bath and going under, Cabrera adds a hint of theatricality. The subtle shift was evocative and taut.
Lillis drops a quote the seemed to resonate the most with me. “Loneliness is exhausting.” Lillis’ story could be your story. It could be my story. The important thing about Hope You Get to Eleven is knowing you’re not alone. There is someone out there with open arms ready to give you a hug. You just have to find them.

Spotlight On...Ilinca Tuvene

Name: Ilinca Tuvene

Hometown: Focșani, Romania (although I moved away as a kid and most grew up in Bucharest)

Education: Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute (Two Year Conservatory)

Select Credits: Natasha in Brooklyn Repertory’s Three Sisters (Fourth Street Theater), Anna Square & Princess Soutzo in Robert Blumenfeld’s Interludes of the Heart (The Players Club), Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Carol in Woody Allen’s Central Park West, Lida in Alexandru Mâzgăreanu’s Dear Yelena Sergheyevna (The Bucharest Comedy Theater).

Why theater?: I think it’s the only place where I have the courage to fully be myself and explore who I am underneath my social layer. On a less selfish note, it is a wonderful way to give comfort, entertain, immerse someone in a different life for a couple of hours. Sometimes I think our industry is selfish and self-centered, but then I’m reminded that art does have the power to change lives, I know it did it for me many many times.

Who do you play in The Winter’s Tale: I play the love-struck shepherdess turned princess Perdita.

Tell us about The Winter’s Tale: The Winter’s Tale is a very odd play - critics call it one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” - you don’t quite know what genre to place it in. The first three acts are incredibly gloomy, weighed down by jealousy and tragic deaths (hence the infamous stage direction - exits, pursued by a bear), while the fourth act is a perpetual party and even the serious moments where my lover’s father threatens to carve my face out with a knife have a certain lightness to them, we know deep down that it’s all going to be okay - after all, it’s Bohemia (which Shakespeare insinuates is the land of drunks and party people). In the end, it’s a beautiful story and I’m truly enjoying playing a sincere character who is full of hope and brightness.

What is it like being a part of The Winter’s Tale?: The past month of rehearsals has been a delight - the Dysfunctional Theater Collective together with director Ivanna Cullinan are wonderful, and very welcoming - it’s always intimidating to join a group that have known each other for ages and you’re the outsider, but they made me feel like home. The best thing about it is that we rehearse on Governors Island, where they have an artist residency, so every weekend feels like a mini holiday. Other than that, I am supremely terrified since it’s my first official Shakespeare, but I have faith!
 
What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: When taking the Meyers Briggs personality test, I will always choose the option that says "I prefer trying new, risky solutions to old problems" - I'm part of the millennial generation (yes, I know the stigma) and one thing I love is innovation. I like pieces that express very strong opinions in unconventional presentations. Eastern Europe is quite daring when it comes to live theater - to this day one of my favorites is Silviu Purcărete’s Dr. Faustus, set in a warehouse. I find inspiration in the oddest places, but I would say that firstly I take it from my environment - the wind, an old school New York block, or (if that ever happens again) a long day on the beach. I’m also incredibly inspired by the fearless geniuses behind independent film and theater - they remind me that yes, you can. I have just seen Josh Fox’s documentary “How to let go of the world and love the things climate can’t change”, screened by HBO Documentary, and it was truly brilliant and a wake up call - our world is ending before our eyes, it’s time to stand up and do something.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I've had a long unhealthy obsession with Vanda Jordan in David Ives’ Venus in Fur. I’m not giving up until I play that role!

What’s your favorite showtune?: “Big Spender” (oh, my subconscious)

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I have followed Xavier Dolan’s career since he started out in 2009 and I would die to get to work with him. Luckily, he’s casting non-Canadians for the first time so maybe I have a chance.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Kate Winslet for when I'm being myself, Eva Green in dream sequences when I pretend I’m French and mysterious. “An ode to life”? I’m terrible with names…

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: A year from now I will be saying Hamilton. For now I’ll go with Lev Dodin’s Cherry Orchard at BAM.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Most recently, Ironbound at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Russian Literature. (HA!) No, bad TV, once I start I can never stop. I try to pass it off for work but we all know it’s not really work. And do cigarettes count? Now I think of them more as a necessity and less like a pleasure…

What’s up next?: Well, The Winter’s Tale opens July 10th part of the Shakespeare in the Theater festival at The Brick, with additional performances July 15th and August 7th. I’m also working on a script for a staged reading which we will turn into a short film with my colleagues and friends Natalie Faye and Jessica Damouni - called “Oranges in the Lemon Grove”, it speaks about the grueling experience of feeling foreign wherever you go (whether it’s your home country) and what is the idea of home. I’m also working on a new podcast on acting with the same Natalie Faye and Ran Levy. It’s called Act Three and will soon be available on iTunes!

For more on Ilinca, visit www.ilincatuvene.com. For more on Brooklyn Rep, visit www.brooklynrepertory.com

Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: Dangerous Journalism

By Michael Block

Unless you are disconnected from news media, you’ve likely heard of the Rolling Stone article saga known as “A Rape on Campus.” An article was published in the magazine about a group sexual assault at the University of Virginia that the author and publisher later discredited and retracted. The article began a firestorm that opened up a brazen discussion on campus rape culture and the power of journalism in the age of social media. Written by Kim Davies, Abingdon Theatre Company in association with The Muse Project presents Stet, an exploration of a journalist’s journey of writing the perfect cover story.
Taking artistic liberties that are slightly skewed from the real events, Stet is a relevant saga about focusing on the media perspective as a journalist writes a risky cover story about an allegation that has the ability to shatter more lives. After her editor suggests she write a story about rape culture following the tale of a young woman named Ashley, Erika goes down the rabbit hole of truths and lies in order to gain the cover story. Developed by Kim Davies, Jocelyn Kuritsky, and Tony Speciale and written by Davies, Stet is a engaging ninety minute drama where the end game is clear but the pieces to complete the puzzle are the intrigue. Stet exemplifies the frustratingly broken systems. Whether it be at the university level, the power of journalism, or the wonder that is the 24-hour news cycle and social media, Stet takes the audience on a journey through the power of words. Perhaps simply due to the nature of the story, Davies’ storytelling was done through interviews and one-on-one interactions. It's a shame that the documentary style storytelling lacked character development for Erika, or any of the characters for that matter. There are glimpses of journey as certain characters disclose their past but when it comes to Erika, she seems to have a one-track mind that gets in her own way. Despite the structure, Davies’ colloquial language fits this play perfectly. Each character has a distinct and genuine voice. Davies’ does an impeccable job keeping the stakes heightened, even if you know the outcome. With little twists and turns, what keeps you on the edge of your seat is how the individuals react to the situations. Trying to decipher the truths allows you to feel as if you are Erika herself.
photo by Ben Strothmann
Erika is a tough as nails manipulative generalizing journalist. She is cold as ice. Erika has a job to do and will stop at nothing to succeed and get the cover. If her morals get in the way, she finds a way to suppress them. As our antagonist, Erika needs to have a semblance of likeability. You need to be able to know that whether she likes it or not, she has a mission. Unfortunately, Jocelyn Kuritsky’s characterization was so icy that by the time her past began to unravel, it was likely you painted her as conniving. And it didn’t go far enough to be a villain you love to hate. There was turmoil for Kuritsky’s Erika but we didn’t get to see enough of it on stage simply due to the nature of the piece. As the boss man with an agenda, Bruce McKenzie’s Phil was granted some character twists that he capitalized on. McKenzie played hardball with Erika yet was a viable confident. When Phil’s true beliefs were revealed, that’s when excitement came out. McKenzie brought a well-rounded performance. To reign in the piece, Davies didn’t go overboard with the amount of interviewees. We were given a trio of young voices that offered varying perspectives. From the vantage point of the accuser, Ashley, Lexi Lapp was smartly used sparingly. When she was present she gave Ashley a feeling of uneasiness. And that uneasiness allowed the audience to question the validity of her statements. As a frat boy trying to make a change, Jack Fellows embodied fraternity life without becoming a caricature. Playing the youthful university guidance aid, Dea Julien brought out something interesting in Christina. When talking about validity, Christina never seemed credible. But When Julien was gifted a stunning monologue, her vulnerability was onstage magic.
The moment with Christina on the floor with the recorder was on of director Tony Speciale’s defining moments. Speciale brought a fascinating use of fluidity and power levels with staging. He strategically had each character in a specific chair, placement in the room, or height to define their power in the scene. The play moved swiftly with Speciale’s strong vision and his gifted creative team. It all starts with Jo Winiarski’s scenic design. The super sleek monochromatic conference room with touches of wood and brick for color were reimagined to portray various locations. At first glance, it appeared that we were going to be stuck in a conference room for ninety minutes but Speciale, Winiarski, and the tag team of lighting designer Daisy Long and projection designer Katherine Freer made this multi-locational play come to life. Long’s looks fit the moods while Freer’s design was clean and intentional. In a world with ever-developing theatrical technology, Freer’s design elevated this production.
Stet is one of those plays that benefits from the “ripped from the headlines” formula but sometimes sticking too closely can be costly. Stet is a must see story that will fire you up in some capacity.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Breaking Through Sadness

By Michael Block

Samuel D. Hunter continues his domination of New York theater with the exceptional The Healing. The groundbreaking play from Hunter and Theater Breaking Through Barriers is a living room drama that is really real. A group of friends are reunited in devastating circumstances to pack up the home of a former friend who recently passed. Their brief reunion brings discussion of the past when the linchpin of trauma reappears.
Zoe has recently died in the snow feet from her Idaho home. Her friends, many of whom have left the area, come back to her place to pack it up before the landlord fixes it up for a new tenant. Filled with accouterments and memories, this room is home to heart-racing tension as we learn the circumstances that broke faith. The Healing is an emotionally raw play about morality and losing faith. Hunter subtly layers in exposition revealing that these individuals met and unified at a summer camp where their leader in faith instilled the beliefs of Christian Science. Joan, the woman in charge, told them as children that they could pray away their disabilities. After the hard-willed Sharon exposed Joan for her practices, the camp was shut down. For those unaware with Christian Science, this religion does not believe in the practice of medicine and may be one of the many reasons for Zoe’s downfall into depression. Commissioned by Theater Breaking Through Barriers, Hunter has written a play for and about people with disabilities. While it plays a key factor in plot, what Hunter has done has written a genuine and authentic drama about real people with real emotions. And that makes The Healing infinitely more heartbreaking. This is a delicate play where the floor is filled with eggshells and evading them is near impossible. At the core, the theme of faith plays an essential role in the lives of each individual. Having someone or something to believe in drives their actions. Because of the trauma from the past, their relationships are radically altered as they denying the truths that they need one another in this moment. Each character puts up a front or façade to deny reality. From a structural standpoint, Hunter infused flashbacks into the narrative. We were able to see glimpses of Zoe. It didn’t hurt but it also didn’t necessarily propel the action further. It allowed more of an opinion to be formed while clarifying the exposition.
photo by Carol Rosegg
From top to bottom, this cast was triumphant. The ensemble lived within the overwhelming situation. As the woman who made the funeral possible, Shannon DeVido brought an edge to Sharon. Sharon tried to fight off her emotions, hoping to avoid sympathy or aid. Ironically, Sharon is like Zoe as she too had trouble seeking the help she needed. The parallels between the two were beautiful, as was DeVido’s performance. David Harrell offered a much-needed dose of humor and lightheartedness as Donald. While his character doesn’t have a giant character arch, he is the glue of the play. From the beginning, Joan is painted as this monster. Yet Lynne Lipton defies this. Her actions prior or in the moment may not have been warranted but you still manage to sympathize with her in the slightest bit. Lipton’s Joan comes off as a sweet, scared being that makes you melt. Even without her ability to apologize, you get a sense of completeness within her mere minutes on stage. It’s a mark of great storytelling that Hunter, Lipton, and director Stella Powell-Jones could achieve this so powerfully.
Powell-Jones impeccable guidance brought The Healing to great heights. With fluid direction, this piece moved yet felt lived in. Honesty was the key to Powell-Jones’ success. She granted her design team the gift of reality and a toolbox in which to work with. The scenic design from Jason Simms was intricate and deliberate. Every detail had thought. It was a very midwestern living room. From the chachkies and trinkets that filled the surfaces and walls, Simms gave Zoe a presence. The drab feeling extended into the lighting designed by Alejandro Fajardo.
The most important theme of this play is seeking help when you’re in need of help. For many people, asking for help feels like giving up but relying on others to pick up on the clues isn’t always plausible. The characters grapple with what they could have done but the sad reality is there was nothing that could be done. Hunter and Theater Breaking Through Barriers have crafted an important play in The Healing that needs attention.