Friday, May 25, 2018

Review: Amios Delivers A Fresh Batch Of Brand New Musicals

By Ed Malin

Amios, the dynamic young theater company in residence at the Kraine, has a regularly monthly program of new work called Shotz.  Their two shows on the first Monday of the month are usually packed with fun-loving audiences.   I saw and enjoyed the June offering: Musical Shotz: One Night Only. Each new short musical was written to take place in New York City between 12 am and 6 am on Sunday, May 6, 2018, must have someone taking a picture, and must feature the line “We only have tonight”.   The freshly-written pieces cover a lot of ground in under ten minutes.  They are presented on a fairly bare stage which is the ground for an eruption of theatrical excitement.  By the way, Amios stands for Art and Music In Our Souls.
The program started with Kiz is Dead (Long Live Kiz) written by Liz Thaler with music composed by Ben Quinn, directed by Mario Gonzales featuring Annie Harper Branson, Kelly Chick, Cassandra Paras and Kia Sayyadi.  Here we have the coming together of a legendary punk band, known as Kiz, which is hitting the road again after 15 years.  All of the members have the first name Kiz.  As the band is about to begin what might be their reunion tour, they grant a backstage interview to a roving Rolling Stone Reporter.   Each Kiz is trying to overcome their demons (some question if there will be more than one show on this tour; they haven’t bothered to rehearse).  Cathartically, they play that one new song that isn’t really ready (most bands have one): “All is Forgiven”.
The next piece is Sonder by W Tré Davis, composed and directed by Richard Aven, featuring Meghan Grover, Emily Kitchens and Erin Roché.  Three women who have shuffled off this mortal coil find themselves together, ready to sing about the joyous things in life.  Sonder is defined as "the profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one's own, which they are constantly living despite one's personal lack of awareness of it." Jo never lived when she was alive, although her great love was mathematics.  Rachel died young, and hears that her “guardian angel” friends have raised her daughter, who is now a grandmother.  Flower was named by a hippy mom and was a fortune teller.  Everything you like so much is right there. A chilled bottle of chardonnay magically appears.  And then the phone rings and it’s for you.
photo by Kara Overlein
The first half concludes with The Room written by Lisa Kitchens, composed by Therese Anderberg and Emily Casey, directed by Lindsey Wormser, featuring Khalia Davis, Lauren Hart, Katie Rose Krueger and Richard Sears.   This is the last night a young man is spending in the apartment he called home for nine years.  Home is a place where on a bad day you can have a glass of wine, and on a good day you can have a glass of wine. The Room itself—including fragments of memories —is played by three women.   As the night progresses, the human protagonist is pulled into a passionate dance with his Room.  As they do, random and beautiful occurrences float to the surface and elicit bemused reactions.  When you’re by yourself, you feel free.  You also feel empowered by what you have done and sad to leave it behind.  This was the most boldly experimental piece of the evening, and it succeeded admirably.
After the intermission, things take a turn for the dramatic with Deli Guys 3: Bodega Nights, written, composed and directed by Richard Thieriot, featuring Zach Evenson and Ashley Grombol as a bodega owner and his outrageous cat.  Richard Thieriot and Natalie Hegg provide narration, in Spanish and English, respectively.
The cat is loud and proud, baring her belly and then scratching her keeper when he tries to rub it   This is a tortured love.  And, like many tragic situations, there is a humorous communication gap. (Never has “carajo de mierdo” sounded more bewildering than in a straight-faced translation.)  This is a great play to ponder whether humans are superior to animals.  Also, Thieriot’s guitar is great background music for a sparring match.
Next is the engrossing Hoops written by Justin Yorio, composed by David Paarlberg, directed by Erik Saxvik, featuring Caitlin Diana Doyle, Philip Estrera, Michael Propster and Sarah Alice Shull.  We find ourselves in the middle of the basketball game that never ends.  At the stroke of midnight, the two two-player teams are evenly matched, tied at way over a hundred points each.  These are teenaged boys and girls who love the game.  The young men are in a bromance which started with their mutual love of feminist theorist bell hooks and continued when they realized they were wearing the same basketball jersey.  The young women are sisters who will never surrender.  It’s true the theme of the evening requires them to sing “we only have tonight”, but will they remain friends and chill out and see each other at the Bar Mitzvah on Saturday?
The show ends with a new beginning.   Metropolitan, written by Thomas J. Picasso, composed by Mikey Rosenbaum, directed by Emily Brown, featuring Fulvio, Dillon Heape and Leigh Williams shows us New York through the wide eyes of a visitor.  The setting appears to be the Metropolitan Bar, a gay-friendly hangout in Williamsburg.  As the new day technically begins, a young photographer from Iowa is checking out the great possibilities of the big city and hoping his hookup will call him back.  At last call, he says what used to be obvious before the neighborhood gentrified: $8 is a lot to pay for a Narragansett.  While he waits, he is privy to what goes on after hours in the bar, namely an artist salon.  The man and woman who run the place want him to share his photographs, and, just because, to share his body.  They do only have tonight since he is flying home in the morning.  Could they be lovers?  Don’t you like bars where you can hear your date?
While I heard that Shotz is on hiatus for the rest of 2018, Amios continues to produce full-length plays, many of which originate in Shotz.  Check out their upcoming shows.  This is a dedicated, large network of talented artists who always deliver an amazing show, with or without a glitzy set.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Block Talk: Episode 63- RuPaul's Drag Race Season 10 RuCap Episode 9

Things got weird on Drag Race as we the ladies made their acting debuts on Breastworld. And Haireola Grande and I are here to break it all down for you!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Block Talk: Episode 62- RuPaul's Drag Race Season 10 RuCap Episode 8

It's time to Cher our thoughts on the latest episode of RuPaul's Drag Race season 10. I'm joined by the lovely Diana Carfire!

To listen to the episode, visit iTunes or SoundCloud! And leave us a 5 star review while you're there!

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Block Talk- Episode 61: Chad Sapp

He's perfect, he's beautiful, and he's here on Block Talk! It's the amazing Chad Sapp! In this episode, we talk about the incredible adventures he's been on as well as his appearances in upcoming international boylesque festivals and Broadway Bares Stripathon!

To listen to the podcast, visit iTunes or SoundCloud! And leave a five star review while you're there!

To help donate to Chad's Broadway Bares Stripathon, click here!

And visit to learn about our campaign!

Review: A Delicious Dish

By Michael Block

Something fresh is on the menu at the Laurie Beechman. The Hell’s Kitchenettes are fresh off the griddle as they bring a new drag musical to the stage in pleasantly surprising fashion. Written by Michael LaMasa, The Hell’s Kitchenettes is a feel-good musical with a drag twist.
photo by Michael Block
Following the antics of three waitresses named Mabel Syrup, Pam Cakes, and Bette Griddler, the girls have an open rehearsal as they prepare for a competition. Should they win the cash prize, their hopes for revising “diner theater” can be realized. As a rare book musical that graced the Laurie Beechman stage, The Hell’s Kitchenettes has the potential to take off as a giant hit, it just needs a little polish and logic. The main conceit is that this is an open rehearsal for us, the audienc, to observe. It’s quite quickly that the trio forgets that there are others in the room aside from them. There are certain conversations that you’d think the girls would not want us to hear, but alas, we’re still there. By perhaps removing this gimmick and allowing us to observe solely as audience members in the classic sense will allow the piece to move along. That being said, the comedy is fabulously cheap, dripping in camp. The drag component pays homage to stories written by the likes of Charles Busch and Charles Ludlam. As this is a musical, LaMasa brings in the songbook of the Andrew Sisters as well as some modern reimagined classics like the Postmodern Jukebox version of “Oops I Did It Again.” Having these reimagined numbers that fit the characters works, yet there’s something charming about maintaining the integrity of the perceived period through the classic numbers. It’s easy to say that the trio are a sensationalized stock characters. There are moments that one for one, you could compare Mabel, Bette, and Pam to The Golden Girls, sans Sophia. Simply based on their dynamics, Mabel has the aura of Blanche, Bette is the robust Dorothy, and Pam is the dim Rose. As the show grows over time, LaMasa and co. can develop the characters so they can live in their own personality.
As the writer of the piece, Michael LaMasa did a phenomenal job allowing this trio show to be a welcome ensemble piece. LaMasa’s Bette Griddler is the glue that keeps the group together. As the show expands to become a grander piece, LaMasa could beef up Bette as she has the thinnest arc. Jackie Cox as Mabel is a fun floozy. On stage, Jackie Cox tends to be the dumb sidekick. In this piece, it’s a joy to watch her kick up the sex appeal. Mabel’s sexual innuendos and one-liners are hilarious. When it comes to comic timing perfection, James Mills as Pam Cakes steals the show. Mills makes Cakes dumb but charming. While she may be the butt of the jokes, she takes it in strides.
The Hell’s Kitchenettes may be gone for now, but they will be back and hopefully bigger than before. This is a show that can tour. It is a show that can have a regional run. It is a show that you wish you created because it’s a delicious dish.

Review: Looking Back and Forward and Up and Down

By Ed Malin

Flux Theatre Ensemble is presenting The Sea Concerto, a new play written by August Schulenberg and directed by Heather Cohn and Kelly O’Donnell.  This award-winning ensemble has brought together many of its co-founders and creative partners for what promises to be another noteworthy reshaping of reality onstage.  Is the sea a concerto?  Listen, if Paul Verlaine’s “Claire de Lune” begets Debussy’s sweet piano suite, then you should get yourself to the ART/NY Theatres and see this one.  This show contains jazz and other flights of improvisation, which the ensemble has developed into a solidly impressive offering.
 You could say this is a memory play.  The beautiful, earnest Lynnie (Morgan McGuire) is now a post-college writer thinking back on her childhood beach summers with her family.  She watches, wide-eyed, as the events of her 8 year-old self unfold onstage.  We are somewhere in gorgeous New England, at a beach house where two sisters and their husband and their aging patriarch mix family business with pleasure.  Lynnie’s father is Eric (Corey Allen), a jazz trumpeter, who is married to Penny (Emily Hartford), a forward-thinking woman who is writing a book about voodoo rituals.  Penny’s loyal sister, Janet (Alisha Spielmann), is married to Jimbo (Greg Bodine), who is ready to make a fortune in real estate development.  Jimbo has been pressuring Eric to take a more important job with the firm, which would mean less music but more security for his family.  The company run by Penny and Janet’s father, Chappy (John Lenartz), who got this name from his fun-loving Charlie Chaplin impersonations, will someday go to either Jimbo or Eric.  The family appears to be loving but, under these circumstances, starts to tear itself apart through ruthless competition.
 We see all sorts of flashbacks, surrounded by the first shellfish of the season (can’t you taste them?) and the sounds of the sea (indeed, by the rest of the ensemble washing up and down in their chairs).  Through Kia Rogers’s lighting, it really feels like we’re watching the sun blaze and set over the shore.  Speaking of, Jimbo announces himself by looking at the sun and musing what it would be like to f@&# a sunset.  Jimbo, with sweater tied about his waist in high-80s fashion, perfectly acts the part of the douchebag investor.  We see him explain that regulations are for poor people, as he sinks the family in ill-advised loan fraud with Eric’s forged signatures on hundreds of documents.  Eric, already split from his true, musical self, finds it hard to stay in this toxic environment.  Young Lynnie can sense his unhappiness, though it is mixed with amazing adventures such as Chappy telling his war stories and giving the family “flying lessons” from the comfort of their beach chairs.
photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum
Eric wants to take his wife and child away from this incriminating situation, but Penny wants to stay and care for Chappy, who is now in a wheelchair.  (For Penny, perhaps read Penelope, the mythological character who stands by her husband even when the sea keeps them apart.)  You should go see this show and watch Lynnie process what happens/happened to her family.  You may want to try drama therapy to sort out your own family.  As the cast become surgeons trying to cut away their past, you may need a tissue.
This is a play that is conscious of its artifice.  At one point, Lynnie is so overcome by her memories that she calls an intermission.  On Will Lowry’s lovely beach house set, some characters are perched on top of the world while others play in the sand below and spiral down into the depths of misery and uncertainty, nearly drowning in the process. Megan “Deets” Culley’s sound design has raging jazz trumpet solos rip through some of the scenes.  Eric, often the silent and contemplative type, finally tells Jimbo an anecdote about a trumpeter who used to exit a riff and blow air, just like Jimbo is blowing bullshit.  Bad businessmen pull the good air out a room like a sponge, but a good player makes music flow like water.  The poetry of this show helps it take on the ethical grey areas, the questions facing a multi-racial family and their daughter who grows up to hear she “doesn’t belong anywhere”.  Johanna Pan costumes the ensemble to represent the best parts that you would see in a nostalgic flashback. Directors Heather Cohn and Kelly O’Donnell give us the family scenes that children aren’t supposed to see, such as that terrible fight between the sisters and the revolt of the weasley son-in-law against the old man.

Spotlight On...Ain Gordon

Name: Ain Gordon

Hometown: Born and bred in NYC

Education: Checkered

Favorite Credits: How about “rarest” credit? Collaborating with my parents (just the 3 of us) on the The Family Business presented at Dance Theater Workshop, New York Theatre Workshop and the Mark Taper Forum, etc

Why theater?: Oh hell, I was born in the proverbial trunk, performance is in my blood, and I love words.

Tell us about 217 BOXES?: 1972: Dr. John Fryer donned an oversize tuxedo, rubber joke shop mask, called himself Dr. Henry Anonymous and lent into a distorting microphone to challenge the American Psychiatric Association with these words: “I am a homosexual, I am a psychiatrist.” Dr Anonymous propelled medicine to declassify homosexuality as a mental disease but who, really, was the man behind that mask… the play asks three key figures in Fryer’s life to conjure the man they shared.

What inspired you to create 217 BOXES?: All my work is about the ways in which mainstream history has been a ruthless editing machine – I look for the those figures who have been swept (or forced) to the margins of public memory. AND I’m a gay man but have rarely sourced LGBTQ history – it was time.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: 1) I am more drawn to a complicated character amid his/her/their evolving thought then I am to seeing that person submit to the engine of a “well-made” plot. 2) I don’t need to understand where the event is going if I am sure that that the author/director/actor does – I like being in sure hands and relinquishing my authority.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: A few names from a long list of women: Kate Valk, Judi Dench, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Joan Macintosh, Roslyn Ruff, Linda Emond, Brenda Wehle

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The last Caryl Churchill play at BAM (Escaped Alone) and the upcoming one at NYTW (Light Shining In Buckinghamshire).

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Cate Blanchett in male drag or Jeremy Irons in American drag or Joaquin Phoenix less bearded. Call it Oh, yeah, HIM.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Consignment shops

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: I’m on a 60’s/70’s bender: Superman by The Kinks

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Unemployed (I frequently am) or, with luck, an archeologist.

What’s up next?: My show Radicals In Miniature (premiered May 2017) tours to the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven this June.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Block Talk- Episode 60: RuPaul's Drag Race Season 10 RuCap Episode 7

An epic episode for sure! The mermaid herself Bella Noche and I breakdown the episode that basically featured EVERYTHING!

To listen to the episode, visit iTunes or Soundcloud! And leave us a 5 star review!

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Review: Women on the Verge of Breaking Down the Usual Narrative

By Ed Malin

Renowned playwright Mario Fratti returns to Theater for the New City with The Politics of Gender, a program of two new one-act plays.mBoth plays investigate how privileged men set out to dominate women.  Well, I suppose they are welcome to try.
The first play is Jennifer and Cassie, directed by Joan Kane.  This is an old-fashioned murder story, complete with smoky trumpet music (composed, performed and recorded  by Andy Evan Cohen) and a fedora-wearing, constantly smoking detective (Bryan James Hamilton).  Although a landlord (Linus Gelber) has been killed and we see a red silhouette on the ground, Fratti puts us off the trail of the murderess by offering us three femmes fatales.  Jennifer (Taylor Graves) and Cassie (Ivette Dumeng) are roommates and women in love. Their deceased landlord, denied access to certain romantic portals by his wife, sometimes asked his tenants to allow him to bring his lover to their apartment, where they would leave him to his own devices.  All understandable in some way, yes no?  Unfortunately, a kitchen device was used to stab the landlord several times.  Why would the unhappy wife tolerate this lover, and perhaps others before?  Who snapped?  Jennifer and Cassie are portrayed with great purity but also with jealousy and foibles that they sometimes can’t conceal.  They have many feminine graces, including theater training (not to be confused with histrionics) and portrait sketching (not to be confused with sketch comedy).   The investigation, which goes back and forward in time, omits nothing.  Perhaps you, as the detective could not, can reframe this cleverly nuanced play in terms of male privilege, the only thing that would make a man dare to ask for such things.  Joan Kane directs her eager cast with great sensitivity to all of the feelings that are always so close to bubbling up from the surface.
photo by Bruce Kraemer
The second play is the equally compelling Brooklyn, (Cain's Adventure), directed by Janet Bentley.  Who is the Biblical Cain if not the first refugee?  However, although that first Cain walked the Earth with a mark on his head which made people reject him, some men forget their tenuous position and come to harm.  We begin with a monologue by Cain (Jovani Zambrano)—in a residual immigrant intonation—about his many, many experiences with women.  The child of a promiscuous woman, Cain travels widely and sees more of the same frustrating hedonistic behavior among women his own age.  He has been married and divorced, and is raising his children on his own in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  (Yes, Cain is Jewish and states he lives in a safe community surrounded by his “brothers”, but otherwise is vague about his religious affiliation; he has been and still is a strikingly lustful single man.) All the time, he longs for an ideal, pure woman who will make everything all right.  He meets Elena (Ivette Dumeng), a graceful, shy and wealthy Manhattan lawyer.  Ivette is great in this play, too.  They court slowly, and when after the sixth date they become romantically involved, Cain concludes he can use his sexual prowess to manipulate Elena.  He gradually convinces her to sell her apartment and move to a new place in Brooklyn with him.  Although she loves and to a large extent obeys him, she is overwhelmed by her new surroundings.  Cain then threatens to step out on her unless she accompanies him to some shady places and degrades herself for his benefit.  He appears to praise her as he throws around some old Yiddish patriarchal chestnuts such as “A fault! The bride is too beautiful!” (a khisorn, az die kallah is tzu sheyn)  Nevertheless, Cain, who is determined to see female weakness, decides that his wife is at heart a stupid person.  Her love, and her willingness to give him so much, add toxicity to his masculinity.  Do you think he is going to get away with abusing such an amazing person?  If you do, you don’t know Mario Fratti.  (The author spent years lecturing on Dante, so I think it’s reasonable to expect punishment for sins.)  A play with such long monologues depends on fine direction, which is abundantly on offer from Janet Bentley.  Forget the symbolism; I was surprised by the ending and am grateful for the sincere performances.
We don’t see a lot about Elena’s friends and her grown daughter and other parts of her life apart from Cain.  This looks like patriarchal reduction, but, what I think we are really focusing on is how men conspire to belittle women.  We do know that Cain’s realtor and lawyer and other comrades in the neighborhood all have the same expectations of Jewish women, and are ready to make the odds against them nearly insurmountable.   Whether or not this was their reality in past centuries, even under the threat of abuse from powerful white people, this is a great opportunity to wake up and smell the fresh Brooklyn air. The title points us to the politics of it all.  Good thing there are two female directors ready to take on this production.
The sets by Marc Marcante and Lytza Colon literally give us fabulous views of the New York skyline.  There is also a stark whiteness to the interiors which invites the complexities of human emotion to come out from hiding.  Catherine Fisher costumes the ensemble for this subtle battle of the sexes, from demure ladies to the playboy landlord to underground swingers.  Sound design is by the Roly Polys (Andy Evan Cohen and Janet Bentley). Elena at one point gives a piano performance for Cain, which is Bentley's composition Neko Kumogata recorded  by Cohen.   Alex Bartenieff’s lighting design is like a microscope for a murder investigation.