Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: An Odets Reawakening

The struggle to make ends meet and survive in any economic crisis is sadly a universal theme of the past, present, and future. What gets us through the hardship is the real story. In Clifford Odets classic Awake and Sing, the Berger family attempts to live together in harmony while barely making ends meet. The play is a staple in the classic American play canon, so reviving it takes great care. In NuAnce Theatre's immersive production, the Berger household is literally recreated allowing you to be a fly on the wall as Berger and friends attempt to maintain life.
What makes this production of Awake and Sing special is the atmosphere. Though not a site-specific production, this version transports the Berger apartment and drops it right into the black box studio. With a concept by John DeSotelle and scenic designer Brian McManimon, the tenement-style apartment that the Bergers may have actually lived in is recreated, skeleton walls and all, with the audience sitting all around it. The spirit of the time and class was present in grand fashion. Attention to detail was paid which is appreciated. On stage, the set truly captured the definitive no-escape feeling of Odets’ play. With so many bodies with very few places to be alone, the scenic concept worked wonders. The voyeuristic idea also allowed the audience to find new discoveries within the script, something a generic production may not allow you to do. With an extremely ambitious scenic design, let's be real, you may not be able to see everything from your vantage point. Having to poke your head around corners is not necessarily ideal for an audience, especially in a three-act play. The nuances in the various rooms may have been lost in certain seating sections. Perhaps if the set was pushed to the far wall and the audience was set up more in a proscenium or two sided setting, all would not be lost.
With the set being a newfound character, the ensemble had a new set of challenges to physically overcome. As a whole, each actor seemed to tap into a singular emotion of their respective character and play that the whole way through. Margo Singaliese as Bessie brought an always overwhelmed and overworked victim to the matriarch. Michael Citriniti as Myron played up the lackadaisical elements of the father. Spencer Carter as Ralph offered a very youthful performance, seemingly heightened and whiney at all times. Charles Dinstuhl as Jacob filled the room with wisdom. Bobby Kruger as tenant Moe Axelrod seemed to evoke an element of defeat within Moe at the start with the subtext of “I told you so” that translated into great strength by Act III.
Director John DeSotelle took great care and time into developing his concept for the play. While this was significantly important, it fell a bit short in his staging. As inevitable with a three-quarter set up, some audience members may lose action dependent on their placement in the theater. Despite knowing the script, there were some key moments that were completely lost due to actor blocking. While DeSotelle did do his best in minimizing this, it inevitably happened. Costume designer Jude Hinojosa blended the classic period into the costumes quite well. With the nice light versus shadow design by lighting designer Brian McManimon, the atmosphere of the time was present. Sound designer Annie R. Such created a wonderful musical and ambiance soundscape but it was quite difficult to establish the difference between door buzzer and phone ring.
For a small revival, NuAnce Theatre’s Awake and Sing was quite grand. There were flaws but overall it was a strong revival. John DeSotelle’s vision was clear and perhaps with a little more work on the acting side, this production could be something special.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: I See You But I Don't Hear You

There’s always something to talk about. Whether it be the latest food allergy or the latest electronic device or whatever seems to be trending, forming a dialogue may lead two complete strangers together for a single moment. In Kate Robin’s babble-fest I See You, two strangers are brought together by chance as they search for the missing part of their incomplete life.
In I See You, two individuals, Nina and Jesse, are individually married with children, and after a chance meeting, end up finding a bound within one another. After two separate incidences bring them closer, they soon discover that there temporary bond is just that. Robin’s two hander did the inevitable. She made two strangers into eventual romantic interests. Though the outcome may not have been inevitable, it was possible you may have already zoned out on the unappealing duo. Robin’s script felt like a soapbox ventfest of hot button topics more than its intended intellectual piece about human interaction. This unfortunately caused a disconnect between Danielle Slavick and Stephen Barker Turner as they seemed to be talking at each other.
photo courtesy of Hunter Canning
Danielle Slavick and Stephen Barker Turner as Nina and Jesse took Robin’s characters and put a unique spin on them. Slavick and Turner had two approaches to their characters. Slavick's fast talking Nina felt quite sitcomy, almost as if she entered a Hollywood romcom while Turner's Jesse took a more dramatic approach. While both were equally interesting choices, they just were not cohesive. Though the point of the piece may have been that these two individuals were not on the same page, theatrically, something was severely lacking.
Director Jim Simpson took the colloquial script and brought a surrealistic and theatrical approach to the world. While it was much more engaging than it would have been with a realistic set, the space was too vast for an intimate conversation. The negative space that was created forced an imbalance losing all intimacy. The set designed by Kyle Chepulis felt unfinished. By keeping the theater's walls in the playing space, it created a feeling as if something was missing. The turntable idea was clever but the transitions Simpson staged were unbearably long winded. Costume designer Claudia Brown took made some interesting choices when clothing the two characters. While Jesse’s costumes were simple and believable, Nina’s wardrobe had everything. Nina's costumes ranged from an initial homely look to boho hipster. As crazy as it sounds, the lack of cohesion of the character’s wardrobe was almost fitting to the overall lack of cohesion within the production. The one shining aspect of I See You was the lighting design by Brian Aldous. Aldous used the blankness of the world and gave it a beautiful color pop, especially along the back curtain. Imagine what the space would have looked like had the walls been white. Regardless of the odd location, the laser room scene was one of the most stunning visual moments of the night.
With so much dialogue and very little action, I See You was a bit of a miss. When you have a play with two characters, neither of which you want to root for, a ninety minute two hander can feel like an epic three-hour saga.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: F. Scott Fitzgerald Does College

Legends are brought into the spotlight for their achievements. We know them in that specific moment of history. But do you ever wonder what they were like before that specific moment of history? Were they always that person we know and love? In Prospect Theater Company’s new musical The Underclassman, the collegiate life of literary legend F. Scott Fitzgerald is explored, dropping clues into what made him the person we know today.
With music and lyrics by Peter Mills and a book by Mills and Cara Reichel, The Underclassman is inspired by Fitzgerald’s “The Side of Paradise”, which was partially inspired by Fitzgerald’s own life. Rather than using the characters Fitzgerald used, Mills and Reichel change the characters back to the Fitzgerald's world and officially turn The Underclassman into a not entirely biographical musical. The story follows a young F. Scott Fitzgerald in his Princeton days as he struggles with school, writing the perfect work, and his first true love, Ginevra King. The Underclassman is a cavity inducing sweet romance but is merely just an underwhelming throwback to the classics. Mills and Reichel’s book is thin. While the subject of the play is enticing, his story is not. Unfortunately this part of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life may not be entirely worthy of a musical. This story should probably only be a scene or two in the big picture musical of his life. And clocking in at a whooping golden age inspired two and a half hours, there is too much fluff within the book that easily could be trimmed to bring the musical to the intermissionless world. Discovering the intricacies of Fitzgerald’s early life that defined his later life is engaging, but the journey we see on stage is quite monotonous. Fitzgerald was confidently stubborn from start to finish in The Underclassman and we don’t see him change until he goes to war, which is just a blip in the grand scheme of the musical. And even so, his wartime life was spent, again, chasing after a girl. As a whole, Act II was a bit messy, especially since the finale of Act I where he gets the girl could have been the end of the show. Mills’ score is a stunning throwback to the turn of the century jazz feel. The music is smart and beautiful, with many toe tapping numbers, but many of the numbers were far too similar to be memorable. The greatest problem as the piece stands now was the finale. Theatrically, it was a fun and powerful moment showcasing the Triangle Club and transforming the world to wartime, but it was a jarring change as the only person who ever mentioned going to war was Fitzgerald’s best friend JP Bishop. Though factual, the book made it feel random. The finale needed to somehow remain in the same world that this piece’s Fitzgerald was living in.
photo courtesy of Richard Termine 
The large cast of The Underclassman did a phenomenal job bringing nonstop fun to the stage. As F. Scott Fitzgerald, Matt Dengler gave an exquisite performance with natural charm. Jessica Grové was beautiful as spunky ingénue Ginevra King. The standout performance in the cast came from Marrick Smith as JP Bishop. Smith offered a raw and true performance. “A Place Apart” was one of the most beautiful songs and moments in the entire piece. It’s a shame Bishop and Fitzgerald’s relationship wasn’t given more time to be explored. Piper Goodeve as Fitzgerald pinner and Ginevra’s roommate Marie “Bug” Hersey seemed oddly cast. Goodeve appeared much older than the rest of the ensemble. Goodeve’s seemed best suited and at ease when she impersonated Ginevra’s mother. Jordan Bondurant, Jason Edward Cook, and Christopher Herr contributed some of the minor roles’ best moments.
Cara Reichel, who served as director as well, brought great theatricality to The Underclassman. She kept the momentum moving and brought the period to life in a striking manner. Reichel’s ingenuity was much stronger in the director’s chair. Scenic designer Ann Bartek’s glory piece, the grand archway, was a brilliant feature bringing great depth into the space. Keeping all of the furniture pieces on wheels was a great aid to Reichel’s staging. With all the pieces in place, it was unfortunate that the abundance of black masking throughout the theater hindered the world. While the options may have been limited, it took away from all the beauty and color of Sidney Shannon’s costumes. Shannon paid attention to detail with every single costume on stage. She added the right amount of color splash while maintaining the well-to-do black and white world. The choreography by Christine O’Grady was quite wonderful and used Baretek’s scenery to her advantage.
After Prospect Theater Company had a monster hit like Jasper in Deadland, The Underclassman had enormous shoes to fill. The Underclassman is a crowd-pleaser for those who yearn for the musicals of yore. But with the trends of modern musicals, The Underclassman doesn’t quite fit in and will soon be forgotten.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: A Classic Kid's Book on Stage

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the debut of the book, KOTA Productions presents the stage adaptation of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. Written for the stage by Dr. Douglas W. Larche, Number the Stars follows ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and she and her family as they aid in the reaching of safety of Danish Jews to Sweden during World War II.
Directed by Laura Luc, KOTA’s production brings the Lowry historical fiction to life simply. With a rotating cast of youngsters to play Annemarie, her sister Kirstie, and their Jewish friend Ellen, this production exudes youthfulness. For my production, Violet Young as Annemarie portrayed a beautiful, honest performance. Alexa Valentino as Ellen was a bit soft-spoken but played well against Young’s Annemarie. Kyla Carter as Kirstie served as the comic relief but unfortunately hammed up too many moments with her cute delivery. Erika S. Lee as Mrs. Johansen gave a wonderful performance as the strong mother. Hamish Briggs as Mr. Johansen balanced well with Lee as the fun dad. James Tyler Kirk as Peter brought much courage to the character and had an equally strong report with the young kids.
Director Luc used simplicity to tell the story. She used images projected on the back wall along with basic furniture pieces to help show location in the oft place-changing play. The only issue Luc came across was messy and mostly soundless transitions. With no sound to aid in the long furniture moving, they seemed to be covered up by unnecessary and distracting audience applause. The costumes by Lucy Luc evoked the time quite well.
Despite some hard material for children to completely comprehend, Number the Stars still stands strong twenty-five years later. It’s a beautiful story that is wonderful piece for children’s theater.

Spotlight On...Tom Kelsey

Name: Tom Kelsey

Hometown: Reigate (England)

Education: Hurtwood House (high school), University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Favorite Credits: The Brink of Us (Elliot), An original play by NYC playwright Delaney Britt Brewer, Top Floor (Gary), written and directed by David Epstein, The Liar (Dorante), Suitors (Edward Prince of Scotland/Aglaya).

Why theater?: Oh man, the reasons are infinite! There really is just nothing else for me, it is escapism at its finest. I love storytelling, especially when emotion gets involved. Performing both terrifies and fulfils me to the fullest, it’s bizarre, it’s a thrill, and it’s something I simply can’t live without.

Tell us about Veracity: Veracity is a play I have been writing now for about six months, it is currently going through its fourth re-write (facepalm!) But I’m really happy with where it’s at and excited for what’s in store. I’m hoping to finish writing before the year is up and intend on putting it up for a couple of performances in early 2015.

What inspired you to write Veracity?: For years I have been itching to write a play but had never managed to put pen to paper. It was actually after reading John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt that inspiration struck. There was something fascinating about the depiction of truth and suspicion in Shanley’s writing. I was totally enthralled by how the introduction of new facts (perceived facts) could completely change the audience’s perspective on the characters in the show, I felt like I was constantly playing a game of catch whilst reading. Veracity mirrors these same themes with what (I hope) will evoke nail biting tension and mistrust from the audience, as each character’s authenticity, or veracity, is brought into question through the exposition of new information.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: The type of theater that speaks to me the most is theater that evokes my emotion. If words on a page can make me cry, laugh, feel fear, empathy, anger and ultimately trigger an emotional response in me, these are the words that I am most interested in reading, hearing and performing. I find my work as an artist gains its influence from a vast array of different sources, be it places, people or even experiences I’ve had in my life. However, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the support I have from my family really is the backbone of my inspiration. I’m sure many parents wouldn’t be too thrilled by the idea of their children pursuing a career in the arts for reasons of uncertainty and worries of failure in such an unforgiving industry. I also must mention my acting coach David Epstein. I have been taking classes with him in NYC ( for about three years now and can soundly say that without his direction, advice and vitally important criticism I would not be the patient, hard working, earnest actor that I feel I can call myself today.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: The person I have not yet worked with but would most love to perform alongside would have to be my best friend, Alex Large. He lives back in England and we’ve known each other forever. These day’s he is totally kicking ass too, having performed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the West End shortly after graduating college, he now has another show Donkey Heart (Nina Raine) going up on the West End for a run in 2015 and I wish him all the best. I’m hoping one day soon we will get the chance to act alongside one another once again (haven’t since high school!)

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Hamlet. This is on my bucket list.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Book of Mormon. I know it’s not some hidden theatrical gem I’m sharing, but my God, this show is hilarious. If you haven’t had a chance to go yet, you should. I saw it for the first time this year on Broadway and was totally blown away.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Ha! Hmm, well, I suppose through type casting I would most likely play the role of myself. Some things would have to be embellished, however. For a start, let’s include a love interest, played by Natalie Portman perhaps? Haha, which I think would merit a name somewhere along the lines of "A Boy Can Dream"

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Peanut butter, by the spoonful, on the couch, wearing my panda onesie.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: Harry Belafonte – "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)"… I have no idea why…

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Working on a panda refuge. No joke. Actually once considered doing this.

What’s up next?: Up next… Well, hopefully I will produce a final draft of Veracity and begin planning/fundraising to put together a few small performances here in NYC. Also in the process of securing my O1 Artist Visa so that I can stay in America and continue to pursue a career in acting in NYC, fingers crossed!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review: The Greatest Musical You'll Only See Once!

Ever have a dream of writing a hit Broadway musical? Well, what if I told you for one night only you get to have a little part of creating the next big musical and all you have to do is scream out a suggestion? In the hip and never-the-same Blank! The Musical, the audience gets to be a little part of creating a brand new musical as six outstanding improvisers take your suggestion and perform a musical on the spot.
Blank! The Musical, debuting at New World Stages, is musical improv that busts out a brand new show each night. Like most improv, audience participation is the backbone to the start of a night of hilarity. But Blank! takes audience interaction to the max! Upon arrival, audience members are encouraged to take out their smartphones and hit up the app that will allow them to vote on the elements of the show they’re about to see. When host T.J. Mannix comes out, he compiles audience suggestions through shoutouts and then it’s your turn to vote like a tween voting for their favorite contestant on a reality show. Your suggestions will fill in the blank of the title of the musical, the songs in the show, even the key the score will be! What makes Blank! special is it’s technological participation. It’s a clever device that allows everyone to feel they’re a part of something unique. And unique this show will be!
Depending on who you’re fortunate to be sitting with in the audience will determine just what you’re about to see. I was fortunate to have a bunch of sickos who suggested we see “Drag Queen Restraining Order” featuring songs like “Not in My Back Yard”, “Tuck It In” and the bound to be classic “Patrick Swayze’s Liver.” But with six incredible talents on stage, they took these radical suggestions and created one of the most entertaining nights on stage in New York. The cohesiveness and trust within the ensemble made the piece tick. With chips falling where they may, each night you’ll get something extraordinarily different allowing for certain improvisers to shine. “Drag Queen Restraining Order” had standout performances from Douglas Widick as a tired old drag queen who gives out wild and long pet names, Katie Dufresne as Debbie Downer with Crohn’s (out of the mouth) Disease and owner of the restraining order, and Matthew Van Colton as the protégé drag queen. Rounding out the ensemble were Nicole C. Hastings and Andrew Knox as Walgreen’s employees-slash-lovers and Tessa Hersh as Debbie’s trust fund losing roommate. What makes this ensemble so brilliant and skilled is how with no preparation, they established a halfway decent musical that rivals some of the junk that actually gets produced. While the six actors shined in the spotlight, the band trio and technical trio deserve special recognition for their improv skills as well keeping up with the brilliant minds on stage.
Blank! the Musical is nothing short of entertaining. Musical improv may not be something brand new, but rightfully it’s shining on a broader stage. Expect Blank! the Musical to live on for a long while somewhere in New York.

Review: The Killers' Point of View

Everyone loves a hero. Stories about protagonists are a staple in our society. Whether they are real or fictional, every hero needs a villain. And every protagonist needs an antagonist. Rarely do we see stories where the antagonist is the main character in the literary sense. But often when the antagonist does become the focal point, their origin story will shed a light into what made them the villain they are. In the extremely tough to swallow The Erlkings, two of America’s greatest monsters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, are given a massive spotlight into the lead up before the infamous massacre at Columbine High School.
Using papers, essays, journals, and the like of the two notorious murderers, The Erlkings is a series of vignettes that lead up to the tragic April day in 1999. Written by Nathaniel Sam Shapiro, The Erlkings thrust Harris and Klebold front and center and attempt to reveal the truths to their actions. While The Erklings may seem like an original, it is not the first big budget Columbine inspired play. Shapiro used the same exact source material that also inspired the stronger columbinus, written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli. With an already established piece, comparisons must be made, and unfortunately for Shapiro and The Erlkings team, Karem and Paparelli did a masterful job and did it better. Both scripts rely on similar source material and short scenes in a theatrical manner. Both scripts call upon props dropping from the sky that are integral to the world of the play. But both pieces though call upon a different set of emotions. columbinus tugs at your heart. The Erlkings may do nothing but make you angry. This is not the first time murderers have been given the theater treatment. In fact Stephen Sondheim wrote an entire musical about President killers. While Assassins was also a killer showcase, the approach was ridiculously different. Sondheim and book writer John Weidman theatricalize the individuals, with the great aid of music and character. Shapiro brings us the real deal. And layered in some uncomfortable laughs. Using any ounce of humor in an incredibly dark and harrowing time of our history was a poor decision. The moments felt forced and tasteless. Sure, heavy material should have moments of light but with this subject, it doesn't exist. Comparisons aside, the way Shapiro established his script, rather than allowing the characters to act and speak naturally, he forced them to establish the source where the following monologue was derived from almost as if to allow the audience to know these horrifying passages were not his words.
photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg
Em Grosland and James Scully had an incredibly difficult task in giving life to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold respectively. The emotional journeys both actors gave to their stage counterparts were present. Grosland and Scully tapped into their stage counterparts so well it was scary. Had they not been forced to establish every single monologue, you may have not been able to tell actor from character. The five person supporting company had very little to do but support and move furniture, but Matthew Bretschneider strayed from the pack and gave an incredible performance in his varied roles.
Director Saheem Ali employed extraordinary stagecraft into this production. The Brechtian nature of his staging, with props and costumes and actors all present throughout, was an incredible device. The lighting design by Katy Atwell was stunning. The costumes by Lux Haac were fitting. The set by Doss Freel was simple, despite the seemingly borrowed dropping device. Despite all this, where Ali failed was separating reality from theatricality. Because Grosland and Scully portrayed their roles so well, you knew the endgame and hated them, garnering no potential empathy as characters. Going in, the audience knows the material is going to be dramatic, but Ali’s pre-show of lunch room bullying was too heavy. To the point where the audience was terrified to go about their own pre-show business.
Shapiro in his author’s note makes it very clear that his intention is to inform and open our minds to understand Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Even in the piece, one of Eric’s notes says not to blame anyone but them, yet the question of the piece begs can we truly forgive them and every single person who did in fact miss the signs. Shapiro makes the case that their actions are in fact human. That may be true, regardless, our hearts may still feel otherwise. Fifteen years may still be too soon to humanize the duo. The Erlkings is nothing short of ambitious. Unfortunately, the approach is far too polarizing. Controversy may not always be the worst thing in the arts. It gets people talking. And every single audience member was talking when the house lights rose.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Spotlight On...Katrina Cunningham

Name: Katrina Cunningham

Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Education: SUNY Purchase Dance Conservatory BFA

Select Credits: Singer, dancer, and actress with Company XIV.

Why theater?: It is an incredibly grounding experience to perform a show night after night. I am playing a candy in Nutcracker Rouge, (a glass of champagne to be exact,) and yet I am never satisfied with what I have found in my character or my experience portraying her.  It takes me a long run to decide I’m done justifying the story, however seemingly thin the plot. Theater is the medium that provides me with that slow and lustrous coming undone.  

Tell us about Nutcracker Rouge: It’s the perversion of the Nutcracker you know and love, with an emphasis on the perversion of Marie Claire. Most nutcrackers save the sweets for the second act. Nutcracker Rouge uses the sweets to represent a slew of sexual proclivities and fetishes. From the traditional blushing burlesque-y Cherries (which is a flirty duet between Lea Helle and I) to the violent S&M Licorice Boys, we hope that no audience member goes the whole show without a red-faced moment. Not to mention the fact that we shamelessly use your libidos to get you in the door, leaving you with the surprise of an artful experience in the highest form of many different skills. And if you feel that it’s not Nutcracker without ballet, worry not. We find that sexuality and traditional ballet fit very nicely together.

What is it like being a part of Nutcracker Rouge?: A little girl’s dreams… and a grown woman’s fantasies… come true.  

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: It is important to me to see individuals on stage. I am not interested in theater where people sing and look and speak in a certain manufactured homogeny. I am excited by the messiness of the human on stage.  I am also excited by the utilization of a performers many abilities. There is no reason a contemporary dancer can’t also be your singer and deliver a straight monologue to close the show. I would like to see more roles created with the clever and purposeful combination of these things in mind.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I like to explore the fragile dynamo of women. It is often strong women who are driven to madness because the world is not made for them. I relate to those characters. Ophelia is one. Helen McCormick. Hedda Gabler.  

What’s your favorite showtune?: The 1940’s hit “Wait ‘Till You See Her.” It’s really killing.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Leonardo DiCaprio. He is my spirit animal.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Riley Keough stars in “Goldilocks.”  It was my first starring role at age 6 after all… Hoping I haven’t peaked.  

What show have you recommended to your friends?: "Masters of Sex"!!!! "Orange is the New Black"!!!

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: “The Way I Feel” by Asa

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Truffle macaroni and cheese. I am hoping to have a 3 tier mac-cake when I get married.

What’s up next?: Le Petit Chaperonné Rouge, further recordings and a single/cover of “Yayo” on sale during the run!  

For more on Katrina, visit

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: A Jumbled Living Room Extravaganza

The living room has been a location staple for plays forever. With a familiar locale to set up a play, drawing upon a new idea may be difficult. In William Goulet’s Filler, all the action occurs in the living room of a disconnected husband and wife as they reattempt to get intimate just as a stranger arrives offering to fix the columns or pillars that are crumbling on their stoop.
Filler follows married couple Marian and Adler as Marian plays mind games on the sheepish Adler in order for the pair to feel intimate again. While engaging in a little roleplay, a stranger, who happens to be a contractor, arrives at the house and finds himself hired to fix the mess on their stoop. The next day Kyle the contractor and his simple buddy Benny begin their work as more mind games ensue. Filler is a confused comedy. It begins as a series of comedic vignettes with two outrageously different characters in almost a farcical manner. As more characters arrive and more realistic situations are addressed, the farce begins to dwindle into a different style of comedy until Act II becomes an entirely different play losing nearly all of the comedy and takes a turn for the dark side. Goulet’s script, though seemingly simple, has so much going on that many ideas that are established in the beginning and either never get addressed again or find a very loose resolution. Act I is filled with secret upon secret with lack of exposition that makes the choices on stage bizarre and unclear. When we’re instantly bombarded with some answers in Act II, it becomes clear that we’ve entered an entirely new style of theater. It’s almost as if Goulet couldn’t decided whether he wanted to write a living room comedy or a living room drama. Goulet, who also served as director, seemed to know the journey of this play and the characters themselves better than his company, and unfortunately wasn't able to convey them. This was largely due to some script decisions that contradicted the characters themselves. The overlying theme of the play is truth. From start to finish, discovering who was telling the truth was a central and strong idea. Unfortunately for Goulet, his bold source that ties the truth theme together, the chicken article, does not read as well as he thinks it does mostly because it is not addressed in a strong enough manner. If this article was as important as it’s supposed to be, it needed to be punched up even further.
With an unclear idea of what style this play was, there were an abundance of acting styles on stage. Gabriele Schafer and Ross Pivec as Marian and Adler respectively seemed to live in a heightened comedic world that served them well in Act I but then drastically needed to change to suit Goulet’s different Act II. Kyle Minshew as Kyle was successful in both Act I and Act II perhaps because his character was always the “straight man” in this world. Adam Hyland as Benny had perhaps the most difficult backstory and arc to tackle. His final moments on stage as a strong-willed and coherent individual were radically different than the entire rest of the play where he was meek and clueless. It was a bit jarring and seemed to confuse his entire arc.
With Goulet as playwright and director, his guidance of the characters was lacking again due to their unclear journeys. However his staging was quite good. With an intentionally small box to play in, it played well into the lack of escape for these characters. The set designed by Christopher and Justin Swader was quite stunning in a simplistic way. The boxed in feel of the living room with the partial walls was a strong artistic choice. The asymmetrical symmetry gave the world a nice touch but the reality of some of the furniture pieces on the outskirts of the box were a bit forced. The lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins added a nice touch to the world, especially during the scenes in the evening.
Filler is a jumbled mess of a play with too much happening in too short of a time. Perhaps more work or an outside artistic eye was needed before bringing Filler back to life.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Spotlight On...Josh Luxenberg

Name: Josh Luxenberg

Hometown: Baltimore

Education: Baltimore School for the Arts (high school), Oberlin College

Favorite Credits: There Will Come Soft Rains, Sinking Ship’s first show, which consisted of three adaptations of science fiction short stories by Ray Bradbury and others. Caroline, or Change at Centerstage in Baltimore. Working as script coordinator in the writers office of "The Wire".

Why theater?: There’s something incredibly exciting about telling a story live in front of an audience, using things the audience can see. When it works, it’s thrilling. And it’s really hard. I like the challenge.

Tell us about Powerhouse?: Powerhouse tells the story of Raymond Scott, the composer and bandleader whose Quintette was wildly popular in the 1930s and 40s, and who later went on to pioneer electronic music in the 60s—but who is perhaps best known now for writing music that was used in hundreds of Looney Tunes cartoons (though he never saw a cartoon in his life). We take an impressionistic, physical approach, using movement sequences, puppetry, and music to get inside Raymond’s head.

What inspired you to create and write Powerhouse?: There was something that seemed very theatrical about this man who wanted nothing more than to create music that connected with people—a new kind of swing music—and who was undermined by cartoons, of all things. And once we started looking into the details of Raymond’s life, we became more and more fascinated by every little thing—his unique way of speaking, his obsessions, his recorded phone calls…

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Surprising, smart, fun… I like theater that engages the audience. And anything that can’t be done another way, that actually benefits from the inescapable fact that theater is ultimately just a bunch of people on stage pretending.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Tom Waits.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Recently, Here Lies Love, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: It would be written by Charlie Kaufman. My character would be portrayed alternatively by Peter Sellers and a muppet.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Taking time off.

What’s the most played song on your iPod?: Recently, any track from Here Lies Love, which has been on repeat as my writing music for Powerhouse. I generally end up listening to one album on repeat when I work (and I’m usually surprised by which one it is).

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A photographer (which has been my freelance work for many years).

What’s up next?: I recently took over as General Manager of the Connelly Theater in the East Village. It’s been a rental house for many years, and we’re looking at transitioning to a more curated model. I’m going to be diving into that full tilt now that Powerhouse is up and running.

For more on Powerhouse, visit For more on Sinking Ship Productions, visit

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: How to Do Shakespeare, Drunk

Shakespeare should be fun. The Bard penned so many classics that to truly appreciate his genius you need to find a way to enjoy it. And what better way to have fun with Shakespeare than to add a little booze to the mix! In Drunk Shakespeare, you're thrust into the Drunk Shakespeare society as you watch five fellow members of the acting persuasion tackle one of Willy's greatest hits.
Drunk Shakespeare is a super condensed night of theatrical debauchery as five actors attempt to give you a retelling of a Shakespeare hit. And one of those five will be extremely drunk after a quartet of shots. Now playing at the Lounge at Roy Arias, the hit concept of drunk retellings finds a drastically brazen new take on the Shakespeare classic Macbeth. Using the actual text blended with some updated references and a lot of improv, the thespians of Drunk Shakespeare make it their main mission to entertain. The rotating cast take on nearly every character of the script and aid the audience with occasional plot summaries and new choices. And for that lucky actor who gets to be the drunken focal point of the evening, they get a power to make the other four do just about anything they want like changing the titular character’s name to Voldemort. Additionally, one lucky audience member and their guest will get the honor of being the king of the evening sipping expensive bubbly and forcing the night’s shot-filled actor to take part in a duo of challenges.
The space has been completely transformed into a lounge of secret society fashion. Attention to detail freaks will note the books on the shelves containing the room are color coordinated. The aura of the room gives off that prominent smoky feel which works well for the atmosphere. By using a space that is custom built there isn't a bad seat in the house or the pen. Despite the ambiance inside it is still an extremely steep ticket price for the venue which does not lend itself well for audience arrival.
Drunk Shakespeare is an all inclusive night of fun and games. Be prepared to be pulled right into the action. And be prepared to shell out even more cash for overpriced drinks because one shot won’t do it. But hey, the drunker you are the more fun you're bound to have! Just ask my evening's drunk actor.

The 7th Inning Stretch with...Matthew Dudley

Name: Matthew Dudley

Hometown: New York City is my home.

Education: I’ve trained all over with many different people.

Tell us about Stripped: Stripped is about a man who’s wife has just died and he is struggling to hold on to people he loves as they struggle with the challenges of finding their way in the world.

Describe Stripped in 3 words: Charming, funny, earnest

Who do you play in Stripped?: Joseph Munson

Describe your character in 3 words: Fragile, paternal, hopeful

Are you a baseball fan or a baseball player?: I’m a baseball fan and I throw with my high school son, who is a pitcher.

What’s your favorite MLB team?: I root for The Yankees

Which company member is most athletic?: Without question, I’m the most athletic but its pretty evident that most of our cast is fairly committed to working out at the gym.

Most competitive?: Its got to be either playwright Tyler Grimes or actor Ben Diserens, as they both often show up at rehearsal wearing  jersey’s from some California baseball team. I forget which one. Dodgers? I know its one that started in New York.

Most likely to work at a strip club?: Well, many of the cast members could meet the aesthetic requirements for a job in a strip club but I’d be shocked if any of them would be willing to give up the sort of money they’re making in the theater.

Most likely to be a pro baseball player?: Out of deference to my son who works very hard at his baseball skills as high school player, I don’t think we’ve got anybody in this cast who will be drafted. But then again, look what the Giants did with that lot.

Most likely to wake up next to you in a jail cell?: I’ve only just met all of them but I’m going to be surprised if the entire cast doesn’t say Ben Diserens. Just looking at the guy, you know a walk to the train could lead to trouble.

What’s your favorite ballgame snack?: sunflower seeds.

What is the best part about being a part of Stripped?: Watching the boys bounce off of each other both physically and through their humor is pretty funny.

What’s your favorite moment in Stripped?: It’s not a single moment, but watching Sarah soften to Hobbes relentless petitions for affection is a process I’m enjoying.

Why should we come see Stripped?: I think the cast of characters is very charming. Tyler Grimes has written a funny compelling script and these actors are filling it out well with their humor and sensitivity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Spotlight On...Jon Levin

Name: Jon Levin

Hometown: Port Washington, NY

Education: Oberlin College, L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq

Favorite Credits: There Will Come Soft Rains (2008, Adaptor and Director), Go to Sleep Goddamnit! (2013), The Krumple (co-creator and performer).

Why theater?: There’s something magical about a group of people sitting in a dark room playing pretend together – a kind of communal hallucination.  I like that.

Tell us about Powerhouse?: Powerhouse is about Raymond Scott who was a composer in the 1930s.  He wrote what he called “descriptive music”, “a new kind of jazz”, which became an overnight sensation in 1936. He wound up selling his music to Warner Brothers who quoted heavily from it in Looney Tunes cartoons, which is how his music has stayed alive in the public consciousness.  However, Raymond Scott never saw a cartoon in his life.  In search of the “idealized conception of his music” he wound up discarding working with human musicians entirely and began inventing his own electronic music machines.  Powerhouse explores the chasm between what an artist imagines and what his audience perceives.

What inspired you to create and direct Powerhouse?: I was fascinated by the idea of someone trying to communicate something directly to an audience while being subverted by a litany of cartoons.  That was before we did any research.  Once we started learning more about these people, Raymond Scott, his wives, the Warner Brothers animators - the real life events of the story became even more fascinating to us – though I believe that initial impulse is still lurking in the background.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I like theater that moves. I’m a big fan of Pig Iron, Wakka Wakka, Mabou Mines, this guy “Dr. Brown” and a company called Dancing Brick.  Also Pina Bausch and James Thiérrée.

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

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Pina Bausch company’s Kontakthof, Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson, and Here Lies Love.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would be played by a series of trained dogs in “Aladdin III: Help, I'm a Bunch of Dogs”

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Peanut butter on a spoon.

What’s the most played song on your iPod?: “Once in a lifetime.”

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

What’s up next?: I’m heading off to Norway for a couple of months to begin development on a new piece with The Krumple Theatre company.  It will be a work of Mask Theater.  Then we’ll be doing a short tour of a show called Go to Sleep, Goddmanit! which we’ll be bringing to New York in April as part of Flint & Tinder at The Tank.

For more on Powerhouse, visit

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Take Me Out to the Real World

Whoever said life is easy was a complete liar. There’s no easy button for the characters of Tyler Grimes’ Stripped. In Distilled Theatre Company’s production, a former baseball star turned PTSD military defunct comes home and attempts to reconnect to the life he once knew while battling the demons inside.
Stripped follows twenty-something Chester on his reconciliation tour alongside his buddies Calvin and Hobbes as a night at the strip club turns into a life-altering domino affect of drama. Their night of debauchery results in the reunion of Chester and his former pal Diana, who happens to work as a stripper. The chance meeting offers a whirlwind of old wounds and bad habits for Chester that ultimately leads to suffering for those around him. Tyler Grimes offers a poetically conversational script with characters that have a wide array of pain and ability to handle emotion. The characters each contain something that can be relatable to an audience yet they still have their own identity. The plot is all too familiar yet breathes new life into the surrounding situation. While the play is set up as Chester’s story, Grimes and the ensemble developed characters that happened to be much more interesting than Chester. In fact, the most interesting dynamic of the play happened to be between Hobbes and Sarah, Diana’s friend. Their dialogue felt the most honest as their characters seemed to be the most fleshed out on page and stage. But unfortunately, this wasn’t their tale entirely. The focal character, the link of the world was Chester. His journey and arc is the catalyst and serves as the primary focus of Act I. In Act II, he is predominantly missing from the party scene as attention is given to the buddies and their new lady friends. While this allowed the other characters to develop their own personal stories, this play isn't about them. This shift allowed the audience to care about these people and potentially hate Chester more. Whether intentional or not, Chester is a self-destructive monster with no redeemable qualities despite the demon that follows. Yet you hope he succeeds not for his own himself but because of his brother Stevie. The relationship between Chester and Stevie is one that wanted to be explored further. The love and bond of the siblings was something stunning to watch, especially in the video game scene.
While the supporting characters of Stripped may have been stronger overall, Chester could have been a more pivotal character had there been a deeper performance from Alexander McCarty. McCarty’s lackluster performance brought little to the pained character except little true emotional connection and much monotony. Chloe Malaise was a bit flat as Diana who brought a different type of pain to the stage. There were some extraordinarily strong performances that brought great life to the stage. Claire Rothrock delivers an exquisite performance as Sarah. Rothrock brought a natural ease and humor that balanced the heavy material nicely. Rothrock and Jordan McGill as Hobbes had wonderful chemistry, allowing McGill to offer a complete performance. Christian Daly as baseball prospect Calvin brought heartthrob to the trio though when he breaks away with Diana he seemed to struggle.
Director Victoria Flores had difficulty keeping the momentum going. The overall pacing was extremely slow. The flow was not aided by the muddy as hell transitions with a clunky set by John Lavigne and a lag of music fading in by sound designer Lisha Brown. Flores’ navigation of her primary ensemble was fine but some of the most unfortunate staging snafus came quite often throughout the party scene. The script calls for multi-locations to be present on stage and show the various parts of the shindig. However, despite freezing moments for the couples, the living room was always active even when the other moments were occurring. There were so many moments of action or crossing in front of the couples that their important dialogue was missed due to distracting extras. The use of extras may have secured the fact that Stripped may be better served on film if time and care in pacing was the ultimate goal.
Stripped is a play with great potential. In baseball terms, some of the players just weren’t making contact with the ball. With a stronger team, Stripped could be a contender for something great.

The 7th Inning Stretch with...Claire Rothrock

Name: Claire Rothrock

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Education: BFA from NYU, MA from the Central School of Speech and Drama

Tell us about Stripped: Stripped is about how people cope with and battle their deamons. We follow Diana, a stripper and Chester, an ex Marine, as they are both trying to move forward in their lives after living through terrible tragedies but their past keeps getting in the way and interfering.

Who do you play in Stripped?: I play Sarah, your friendly, neighborhood stripper.

Describe your character in 3 words: Sassy, brash, protective

Are you a baseball fan or a baseball player?: I suppose a fan, although being a Mariners fan has it's own set of unique challenges.

What’s your favorite MLB team?: The Mariners, I have to say the Mariners.

Which company member is most athletic?: I have a feeling Chole could take us all.

Most competitive?: oh me, I win. I win right?

Most likely to work at a strip club?: Obviously Tyler Grimes, he doesn't even have to change his name!

Most likely to be a pro baseball player?: I'm pretty sure Lisha could manage a ball team, that count? the rest of us would all be terrible.

Most likely to wake up next to you in a jail cell?: I'd be surprised if it wasn't Jordan.

What’s your favorite ballgame snack?: It use to be dippin' dots, remember dippin' dots? but I like a good old fashioned hot dog usually. Or at Yankee Stadium I gotta get those garlic fries.

What is the best part about being a part of Stripped?: The snacks at rehearsal! and also the funny weirdo doing the show with me, they're pretty great.

What’s your favorite moment in Stripped?: There's a wiffle ball scene that's very funny and all the guys are shirtless and I don't mind that.

Why should we come see Stripped?: This is an exciting new play with great actors in it, why wouldn't you come?

Spotlight On...Peter Michael Marino

Name: Peter Michael Marino

Hometown: Queens, NY

Education: Buffalo State College

Select Credits: STOMP, writer of the Blondie musical Desperately Seeking Susan (West End, Tokyo), writer/performer of the solo comedy Desperately Seeking the Exit, host & creator of COJONES and SWAP.

Why theater?: Theater is one of the only mediums I truly embrace that expresses my own and others' stories in a multitude of creative ways. There seems to be an unlimited amount of methods to share stories through words, movement, and audio/visuals. The audience is alive in the room with the performer. There's nothing like it. What more can an artist/storyteller/performer ask for?

Tell us about SOLOCOM: SOLOCOM is a solo comedy festival at The PIT that debuted last November and presented 60 world-premiere solo comedies. This year, SOLOCOM will present 90 brand-new solo comedies in two spaces at The PIT over three days. It's exciting, diverse and non-stop. And, every show is only $5. We like to keep the shows affordable so we can reach all kinds of audiences from traditional comedy and theater-goers, to students on a budget, to other artists who want to be entertained and inspired without breaking the bank.

What inspired you to create SOLOCOM?: I created SOLOCOM to provide a platform for solo artists to generate new material. As I tend to create mostly comedy, variety and solo shows, I wanted to create a festival that had only three simple rules: The show must be new. The show must be solo. The show must be a comedy. Of course, the last "rule" is the toughest one to determine from a submission. But when you have 175 submissions from all over the world and across the country, the truly funny ideas and performers float to the top.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Truthfully, all kinds of theater speaks to me. And when I say theater, I don't only mean traditional Broadway shows, but stuff that's off the beaten path. I enjoy improv, sketch, multimedia, standup, experimental, immersive,  storytelling, musical acts. I guess I just think of theater as any kind of performance where there's a live audience. I like shows that make me think, but I also like shows that make me not think. As long as it's entertaining and not boring, I'm usually pretty happy! I get inspired by everything I see. We are all so unique in the way we see the world - and when that vision is translated into a performance, it inspires me to think differently as well as embrace my own unique way of thinking and creating.

What’s your favorite showtune?: That's like picking a favorite child, which I fortunately don't have. Children that is. I really don't have any favorites ... but I can listen to the original Broadway recording of "Nine" every day if I had to.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: So many of the people I would want to work with are no longer with us...Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, John Ritter, Michael Bennett. To be in a room with any of them would be a dream come true. They all influenced me so much as I was finding myself as an artist. I even wish I could have worked with David Merrick. I know he had a "reputation" but I really admired the way he sold his shows. I'm not helping you out too much here, am I?

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Jim Parsons in "All Over the Freakin' Place - In 3D"

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Fuerza Bruta. That show is CRAZY good fun and not at all traditional; yet so exciting and unique.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: Of course my iTunes library JUST crashed after a tech rehearsal today, but off the top of my head, I have to go back to the overture of "Nine". It's truly the only musical I can listen to all the time.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Margaritas and chili nachos at Cowgirl's Happy Hour. And any "Housewives" show. (And there goes all credibility out the window)

What’s up next?: I'm debuting a new show at SOLOCOM called Late with Lance which is a talk show spoof that's hosted by a failed cruise ship entertainer and Broadway musical fanatic. It's got music, dance, improv...everything. I hope to bring it to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. So the next project is really raising money to get to Scotland. Know anyone who might be interested? I make great nachos!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: A Powerhouse of a Production

The stories we don't know about the people we may tend to be some of the most engaging sources of art. Discovering what exactly made that person tick and become the person of familiarity. In Sinking Ship's production of Powerhouse, the melodic and intricate life of Raymond Scott is given the theatrical treatment in such glorious manner.
Tackling the life of music super genius Raymond Scott, Powerhouse follows the life of a man who went from composer to infamous bandleader all while creating a super songstress, inventing a new form of music, and selling away his canon of work that became cartoon infamy. Written by Josh Luxenberg and the Sinking Ship Ensemble, Powerhouse, inspired by one of Scott’s biggest hits, is a celebration of passion and art through the lens of an unsung hero. Raymond Scott was an American composer and conductor of the hit radio and television program “Your Hit Parade”. Luxenberg depicts the man rightly as a legend ahead of his time. The intricacies of Scott's music theory is breathtaking to watch come to life on stage. Luxenberg and director Jon Levin take a musical world and ensure that the theatricality and musicality are married uniformly. Powerhouse also delves into the personal life of Scott who began a dangerous affair of professional and romantic interest with a young girl who he molded into Dorothy Collins. By cleverly interspersing his personal life alongside his professional life allowed the struggles and balance of a passionate man shine through. The script thrives on the ability to pick up on context clues. Allowing the audience to string the notes together is a nice touch but with an abundance of visual wonder, integral plot points may be lost. The most important of which is Scott's cosmetic surgery as he transformed from radio to television star. The moment was so fast that it was barely recognizable so later when Scott’s first wife Pearl angrily bashes him about it, it does not hold enough weight. The other side of the Scott story that is not only fascinating but expertly executed in Powerhouse is the plot line of Warner Brothers acquiring his canon of music for their cartoons "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies". With rights seemingly being an issue, the cartoon characters that we know and love are given an insanely innovative makeover, becoming an otter and a blue-footed boobie, with the insanely impeccable voice work by Eric Wright. Luxenberg cleverly sets up this by foreshadowing three animators creating two cartoon characters through puppet and fast-paced comedy. As the play continues on we see a little more and a little more until we are given full blown mini movies all done through skillful puppetry by the ensemble. The animation sequence, with stunning puppets designed by The Puppet Kitchen, gave this piece so much brilliance. It can make any adult feel like a child again.
photo courtesy of Justin Khalifa
The entire ensemble of seven were as cohesive as cohesive can be. Erik Lochtefeld transformed into Raymond Scott with ease, adopting a specific vocal pattern and wonderful mannerisms. It truly was a powerhouse performance. Portraying his true love, through art and heart, Hanley Smith was simply ravishing as Dorothy Collins. Smith has the voice of an angel and gave Collins such an exquisite journey. The trio of Tyler Bunch, Spencer Lott, and Eric Wright were out of this world as the Animators, with Wright truly stealing the show. Their comedic timing was on par and their physical work, through puppetry and themselves, was a joy to watch.
Director Levin took a near perfect script and left the audience wanting more. In a piece that relied so heavily on theatricality, Levin was able to showcase simplicity through his staging. He kept the action fast paced and the allowed the story to carry a great momentum. If anything could have been streamlined it would be the clunky and not so attractive rolling desks designed by Carolyn Mraz. They were occasionally a hindrance to Levin’s transitions as the pieces were not fitting properly and the wheels would get caught on the curtains. While they did offer some unique staging devices, they were just not as beautiful as everything else in the show. The lighting design by Nicholas Houfek was mesmerizing from start to finish. With a colorful light show during walk in to transforming the grey curtains into a rainbow color splash, it was nothing short of a symphony of vibrancy through light. The costume design by Erin Schultz served the period quite well. The monochromatic approach allowed for the lights to give a nice touch but in the final dream sequence, you almost wished color would appear in the costumes.
Powerhouse is an extraordinary venture of whimsy and passion. Sinking Ship has created a piece that needs to go behind The New Ohio. Powerhouse is a play for artists. It’s a play for nostalgia. It’s a play for the future.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The 7th Inning Stretch with...Christian Daly

Name: Christian Daly

Hometown: San Diego

Education: UNCSA

Tell us about Stripped: A wonderful play about the trials and tribulations of growing up in a small town. Loving the people you went to high school with and learning about the world through the eyes of your friends.

Describe Stripped in 3 words: All American problems

Who do you play in Stripped?: Calvin

Describe your character in 3 words: Strong, rambunctious, romantic

Are you a baseball fan or a baseball player?: Nah

What’s your favorite MLB team?: The Giants

Which company member is most athletic?: Alexander

Most competitive?: Jordan

Most likely to work at a strip club?: Myself

Most likely to be a pro baseball player?: Jordan

Most likely to wake up next to you in a jail cell?: Jordan

What’s your favorite ballgame snack?: Beer

What is the best part about being a part of Stripped?: Being in a company of young and upend coming actors who are brave enough to take on the challenge of crafting a completely new play.

What’s your favorite moment in Stripped?: Steve’s entrance when Chester is playing xbox

Why should we come see Stripped?: Because Tyler Grimes is one of the great new American playwrights and through a balls out bats up story line is able in encompass how normal Americans handle war, fame, success, poverty, and sex in that awkward gap between childhood and adult hood.

Spotlight On...Em Grosland

Name: Em Grosland                  

Hometown: Elgin, Illinois

Education: BFA from Washington University in St. Louis

Select Credits: Off-Broadway: Eve Ensler’s Emotional Creature, and The Anthem (Hermes). Regional Theatre: Berkeley Rep, Stages St. Louis, Florida Studio Theatre, Totem Pole Playhouse, Candlelight Pavilion, Fullerton Civic Light Opera, Cape Fear Regional Theatre, and The Los Angeles Opera. TV and Film: "Law & Order SVU"

Why theater?: When I first decided to pursue theatre as my career, it was honestly just because I loved it. However, I have seen over and over just how powerful theatre can be to instigate change. I truly believe in the power of theatre to challenge people’s ideas, start important conversations, and create a space for people and ideas that were previously invisible or avoided.  

Who do you play in The Erlkings?: Eric Harris

Tell us about The Erlkings: The Erlkings is a new play by Nathaniel Shipiro that explores the days, and months leading up to the attack on Columbine in 1999. The text is primarily pieced together from actual writings from the two boys (Eric Harris and Dylan Klybold) who committed the murders.  

What is it like being a part of The Erlkings?: I’m not gonna lie, it’s rough. I have been delving into a lot of research about the attack, the victims, and the boys. I have read all of Eric’s journals and they are not easy to stomach. I am not naturally a very angry person, so stepping into the Eric’s shoes is exhausting. He carries so much hatred and anger. There are times that it makes me physically ill to say some of the things that he wrote. But working with this incredible cast is a joy. James Scully, Blair Baker, Matthew Bretschneider, Jonathan Iglesias, Reynaldo Piniella, and Kayla Wickes are all so inspiring. They each bring so much life to their many characters, and are so insightful during our table discussions.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love theatre that aims to effect change. Activist theatre gets me excited to be a part of this business. New work that tackles difficult subjects and causes us to rethink our assumptions about gender, politics, sexuality, or race. But I have to admit; I also love the occasional happy little musical that provides a respite from reality. 

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Yentl (the play version), Romeo, and Jack in Into the Woods.

What’s your favorite show tune?: "Wig in a Box" from Hedwig

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  Diane Paulus and Lisa Kron.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  Child version of me: Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, Teen me: Tom Phelan (currently on The Fosters), Adult me: Myself.  Future me: Ellen. I would title it: "Gray Area"

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

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: MIKA’s "Grace Kelly"

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Watching "Project Runway" and eating fast food.

What’s up next?: I have a scene in the upcoming film “Ricki and the Flash”, starring Meryl Streep.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: Seeing Is Believing

The concept is simple. Greek tragedy noir style. The infamous saga of a king and the prophecies of incest are brought to a smokey club where a black and white world of mystery brings truths to light. In Gia Forakis and Co's high concept O. Rex, Oedipus is a mafia inspired head honcho of a club where he learns of the prophecy that he will one day kill his father and sleep with his mother.
O. Rex takes the Sophocles classic and smashes it in the noir world. While the story needs no set up, the concept and choices made on stage do. Staged in an intimate cabaret style three quarter thrust in the wonderfully transformative Alchemical Theatre Laboratory, O. Rex brings the audience into the action from the get go. The vibe allows for the noir atmosphere to settle in. Everything in this world is back and white. Literally. The tables are black. The chairs are white. The costumes are black and white. And the white makeup is in full force to really hammer the film element. While it didn't read, especially as the sweat melted it off of some actor's faces, the feeling evoked everything director Forakis was going for. The ingenuity of the concept allowed for some great ideas to be executed well. One of the best was turning the Greek chorus into the talent of the club.
photo courtesy of Alex Ward
With such a strong concept to lean on, the acting needed to match the world to a T. With the exception of one, the ensemble seemed to nail the heightened noir style. Sure there was a cornucopia of accents preventing anyone from figuring out where we truly were, for the most part it can be forgiven. And then the titular character appeared and threw hope at the window. Tony Naumovski as O. Rex should be commended for his brave commitment to the character he created. With that being said, Naumovski performed in a world of his own. The voice Naumovski picked was bold. His vocal inflections were extremely specific. At first it was if he was channeling Clint Eastwood circa Dirty Harry or one of his many Westerns and then he seemed to reveal that he just graduated from the Gary Busey School of Acting. Forakis needed to aid Naumovski in toning the intensity down a whole bunch of notches. His Oedipus was so extreme, clarity disappeared and hilarity appeared in all the wrong places. Yes, by the end of the piece Oedipus has gone mad. But Naumovski made him certifiable in his final speech. On the opposite spectrum is Adam Boncz as the Master of Ceremonies. Boncz was the perfect host of the evening bringing a wonderful balance of humor and drama. Boncz was by far the most stable of the speaking actors on stage. One of the highlights in concept and performance as the use of the chorus, and of the chorus, Katrina Foy was a knockout. With a stunning look and a killer voice, Foy was a true headliner. Danielle Delgado gave a divine performance as Jocasta, revealing the truths in such a beautifully subtle manner.
Director Gia Forakis, who also served as co-translator alongside with Mark Buchan, did wonders devising a high concept world and bringing it to life. It was clear Forakis knew the world she was creating. Forakis allowed her company of actor to play an assortment of acting choices that did not always blend properly. With the cabaret style, Buchan and composer Balint Varga wrote a wonderful musical score for the chorus to sing, keeping within the themes of the play. Jeremy Mage composed the underscoring, which was beautifully noir. However with the intensity Naumovski spoke in, any underscoring that may have been playing immediately disappeared as it became inaudible. The lighting by Federico Restrepo evoked the perfect feeling by limiting the amount of color to red at the end.
O. Rex is truly a brilliant concept of a brilliant classic text. But when the titular character is difficult to watch and understand, saving the production is quite hard. This is an Oedipus you have to see to believe.