Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: The Only Way to Find Love is to Build It

Even mad scientists need love. In A Collection of Shiny Objects The Mad Scientist’s Guide to Romance, Robots, and Soul-Crushing Loneliness, comes a musical comedy that is sci-fi cute and romcom fun. With a book by Megan Sass, story by Sass and Jesse Geiger, and music and lyrics by Nathan Leigh and Sass, the musical comedy follows super genius scientist Emily as we learn a little bit about her super experiment where she will implant a chip in her and her boyfriend’s brain so they can literally share the same brain. When her boyfriend Chad catches wind of her plan, he decides to leave. Cue the loneliness and depression. So what is a mad scientist to do? Build a better boyfriend! The Mad Scientist’s Guide to Romance, Robots, and Soul-Crushing Loneliness is a smartly written and fun musical. With a electronic midi scored, Sass, who plays the titular role, and company look like they’re having nothing but fun. The overall concept is cute and the writing strong. Sass layers in some wonderful pop culture references that influenced the show. Obviously some were overt and some went over the heads of the audience. Like the Rocky Horror and “Sword of Damocles” melody riff. With the writing witty, the structure was a bit off. The musical began with Sass addressing the audience but once the plot was established, the direct address style was a bit forgotten. The action that occurred may not have happened with said audience in view. The direct address presentation is a smart idea and would benefit from being explored further. Make fun of the hilarity of the situation.
Sass took on the titular character. Sass is surely sassy. Yet she has this Billy Nye the Science Guy energy. Her conviction to science is captivating. Like children watching Bill Nye, you may not have understood everything she was say, but you bought it. Every mad scientist needs a lab assistant and Piper Goodeve as Maddy, the mutilated zombie, was quite incredible. Goodeve created a crazy character that was filled with heart. Her undying love for Emily was beautiful. Darren Bluestone as Chad and robot boyfriend Chad 2.0 brought the charm. Bluestone is the epitome of perfect boyfriend. When he transformed into Chad 2.0, it was a bit odd to not go on full robotic movement. Bethany Fay as dumb blonde and uber naïve Stephanie played the dumb card well. It added to the comedy.
Director Jesse Geiger kept everything simple and smooth. Presented at a concert hall may have put a wrench into his creation, but Geiger allowed it to work to the productions advantage. The video design by Lianne Arnold was cute and colorful, evoking a very cheap budget feel. And yet it somehow managed to work. It was a bit of a disappointment to keep the music to a recording but the ensemble and music director Andy Evan Cohen clearly made sure there was no dead air moments.
The Mad Scientist’s Guide to Romance, Robots, and Soul-Crushing Loneliness is cute and colorful and fun. But there was a little spark that was missing. Some connectivity cable. Perhaps with a bit more polishing, it may go somewhere.

Review: The Singing Vengeful Nun

Succeeding in creating “quality” shock value is hard. When you shock, you need purpose. There needs to be a reason behind it not just do it to get people to talk. In Kill Sister Kill, there is shock and awe with dark undertones that doesn’t quite match the style. With concept and book by Drac and Jamieson Child, lyrics by David Backshell, and music by Michael Zahorak, Kill Sister Kill doesn’t know quite exactly what it is. The super dark musical follows the seedy undergrounds of New York where scum and drugs roam the street. When Dagger, a man with severe rage and emotional issues gets a taste of his own medicine, he turns into a cold blooded killer, brutally raping and killing the sister of a sister, a nun that is. Sister Lily goes on a rampage of vengeance to avenge her sister’s untimely murder. The musical is dark. That being said, director Jamieson Child and his team take an occasional comedic approach to it. Kill Sister Kill desperately wants to be like The Toxic Avenger. The theme is dark but the style is comedic and fits the rock score. While they may need to find another reason for Lily to seek revenge, everything else within this story has comedic elements to it. If this was not their goal, then Jamieson Child directed his company in the completely wrong direction as the entire ensemble played with elements of camp. The other drastic problem with the musical is the creators don’t know who the story is about. With the title alone, the story is about the nun. But in its current shape, its more about Dagger and his brother Ronnie and then maybe Lily and her sister Kitty. By keying in solely on Lily, the Kill Sister Kill team may have a stronger arc to follow. But this means there needs to be a severe restructure of the book. The event that sets Lily on her path must occur in the first scene following the opening number. From there, snippets of what is currently in the book can remain to show who Dagger as the hero and villain battle is between Lily and Kitty. The focus on Kitty and Ronnie would diminish but they could allow Ronnie to be a sympathetic character who was just in the wrong place in the wrong time who helps Lily on her journey. All while keeping the dark comedy style that is present. Kill Sister Kill in its current form is just not working.
The ensemble of Kill Sister Kill is mediocre at best. They were just as lost as the story. As Lily, Samantha Walkes had great conviction. With a bit of an operatic tone to her voice, her upper registers didn’t quite fit into the score but her lower range sure did. Thomas Finn as Ronnie brought a bit of a Buble vibrato to the stage. Finn has a jazzy tonality to his voice that also felt oddly placed in the score. He was a good foil for Dagger, but Ronnie didn’t quite have an arc to care about. Aaron Williams as Dagger has true grit in his singing voice. That’s where he shined. But playing the bad guy made him look like a reject Disney villain. It was odd.
With such closeness to the material, Jamieson Child’s direction held the production back. There was little purpose to his choices and you had to question his vision when you had super campy moments including an up close and personal dismemberment juxtaposed to a brutal up close and personal assault. Drac Child served as the production designer fulfilling the seediness of the world. But the neon style cross and bar name just looked sad. John Fleming served as the dialect coach and went for stereotypical New York rather than authentic. Though it may be due to Williams and Finn’s inability to grasp it, the dialects are another reason why the musical felt as if it wanted to be campy.
Kill Sister Kill would benefit from a script doctor, a separate director, and some time. The story about a crime fighting vengeful nun is captivating. But that’s not what story this production currently tells.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: A Celebration of Opal Whiteley

Weaving music, poetry, in a celebration of the earth, The Morningtime of Now is a family friendly theatrical event inspired by the whimsical world of Opal Whiteley. Whiteley, an American nature writer, serves as the centerpiece for a multi-discipline piece featuring the vocal talents of Anne Hills, music by Michael Smith, and the puppetry of Doug Roysdon. With a supporting ensemble consisting of Mallory Fran deForest, Catherine Restivo, Anna Russell, and Kayla Prestel as the voice of Opal, director Doug Roysdon adds heart and soul into Whiteley’s already fruitful poetry. What makes The Morningtime of Now special is the beautiful artistry each person brings to the table. The puppets by Roysdon are quite exquisite. From the large Opal to the little ones, even to her horse Shakespeare, each marionette had character and charm. Anne Hills has a rich folk voice that pairs well with Smith’s music. If ever there was someone who could sing you to sleep, it’s Anne Hills. The quartet of puppeteers lead by Prestel did a fine job telling the stories from Opal’s journals. And with each scene came a new set of puppets and backdrops.
The only issue that seemed to arise from The Morningtime of Now was the repetition. Prestel and Co seemed to follow the same structure. Opal talks, Anne sings and offers a personal anecdote, puppet scene, repeat. With the piece originally inspired by a solo show, perhaps a slight restructure may be in order. Rather than Anne’s relationship to the material, maybe a more biographical story on Opal and her life, aside from the journals, could be interesting. If this is a celebration of Opal Whiteley, make it all about Opal Whiteley.
The Morningtime of Now is a beautiful work of art. It’s something that appeals to audiences of all ages. The tone of the piece is very soothing, it just lacks a little fire whatever that fire may be.

Review: Tinder and Other Theatrical Woes

Imagine your worst dates ever. I can guarantee Swipe Right was worse. Written and directed by Allison Young, Swipe Right was a structural nightmare about twenty something's dating. The story begins with a narrator telling Joey's story. Is he a projection in her dream or an actor simply reading stage directions? It's hard to say as the clarity changed often, especially when the story departed from Joey and onto the other characters. Once we establish Joey, we meet John, her coworker, Brad, the resident guy who gets called every variation of "douche", and a series of dates for said "douche." The script was filled with pop culture references and an abundance of jokes that not only didn't land, they had to be explained. With a title that reflects the dating app Tinder, Young rarely talked about it and focused on the general dating woes. By the end of the hour-long show, we watched two pairs get together and the bad guy get ahead in life. The problem with Swipe Right was it didn’t know what it was nor did it have a fresh eye to guide it. With Young in the driver’s seat, there was no litmus test for the material. What may have been funny to Young did not resonate with the general audience. The other major woe was the use of the narrator. With an actor unsure of his purpose, the narrator began as a conscious type character that evolved into someone literally reading a script. Young began her intent with the narrator helping to shape and adjust Joey’s story. But in reality, the narrator did not do that with a script in hand. It was clearly already written out for Joey. The narrator was Young’s device that would allow the overdone topic seem fresh. Unfortunately the execution was off.
With the device being messy, actor Saer Karim didn’t quite know how to grasp the role either. As the narrator, he meandered on stage lost and unsure what to do. There were no clear choices made, offering a monotonous tone that could allow you to drift off to dreamland. As Joey, Aly Pentangelo had spunk. But once Young drifted away from her narrative, Pentangelo was relegated to waitress and busgirl. The story of John and Hannah was the only plot line that had life. Andre Pizarro and Sara Kohler had some chemistry that lead to some nice moments but Pizarro was quite weak until Kohler came and lifted him up.
Young as a director didn’t quite keep an eye on the little details. With pacing being quite slow and the focus shifting often, Young seemed to allow her company do what they wanted to. And when it came to the little details, they stuck out like a sore thumb. Like when Hannah asks if the bar has coconut water when it is clearly smack in her face. Or how rather than printing slips of paper to use a menus, the menus were postcards from the production. Or how, despite a late reference how Christine Penski’s trio of girls looked the same, they all wore the same identical outfit with a very iconic coat. Additionally, the music that Young used during preshow had little barring on the show at large. It felt like an iTunes playlist on shuffle.
Swipte Right seemed to be doomed when “High School Musical” played during the preshow mix. This show proves that directing your own show is not a very smart move. Even though the material wasn’t strong, a fresh eye could have salvaged something.

Review: More Laugh Tracks Than Live Laughs

Sitcoms have been a staple in American pop culture for decades. The physical comedy. The moral at the end of the episode. The laugh track. The landscape of the situation comedy has changed vastly in the past few years and the "live audience" format is slowly disappearing. But it plays a part in our hearts. And that's where Laugh Track comes in. Written by Keelin Ryan and Sarah Esocoff, Laugh Track is a farcical-lite look at a fictional sitcom and the on and off screen antics. While we see snippets of "He's a Dad", it's the off camera comedy that draws you in. The ensemble that makes up the TV show include a stand up comedian, an over dramatic veteran actress, an off-her-rocker TV vet, and two completely different young actresses who don't quite have all the smart points. The play is set up to be a Noises Off style farce. There is great promise in that but without a capable cast of comedians and a much faster tempo set by director Sarah Esocoff, it can not come close to that level. Esocoff had trouble guiding her ensemble to the place the show needed to be, and it may be due to her closeness to the material. The farcical elements are all present, they just need to find the humor within. The other trouble the play presented was the audience of the audience. The show is set up to use us as the live audience. Yet everything that happens should never ever occur with the general public in view. And this may be due to Ryan and Esocoff abandoning the idea since they do incorporate the laugh track into the play.
Laugh Track’s ensemble was comprised of a mix of actors who can do comedy and actors who just act. And you could tell the difference. The strongest in the bunch was Anna Drezen as Nebraska, the cougar-esque momma of the show. Drezen took the time to create an on camera and off camera persona. They both had variation despite stemming from the same mind. Drezen’s spoof of an actress was instantly recognizable and appreciated by the audience. Bettina Bresnan as Brianne, the blonde sister, played up her naïve on-camera character to allow the slutty off-camera girl to be drastically different. Marilyn Lucchi as Shirley the not-quite-there Betty White type character had her moments but they often were wasted by sloppy staging. Liliana Tandon as Krystal the series creator and director often played the irritation card to no fault of her own. Her character was rightly frustrated. But Tandon needed to find a way to find the humor in the frustration. It unfortunately did not come through.
With the struggles of fast paced comedy at the forefront of the production, the production design was ripe for the farce. The scenic design by Natalie Lape featured those doors necessary for any farce. Esocoff utilized them as much as she possibly could. Where this tv family’s home was? It was hard to say as the set was a hodgepodge of items. The lighting and sound were almost always in sync bouncing from filming to break in a clear and quick fashion. Though Esocoff could have utilized the quick shifts to add to some comedic moments.
The elements of farce are all present. It just now needs to be placed in capable hands. Until then, Laugh Track may not receive the laughs it wants.

Review: A Perfect Heist

Adapted from Frank Pierson’s “Dog Day Afternoon” which was inspired by an article from Life Magazine, Stockholm Savings by Michael DeMeo is a high-octane comedic thriller about a bank robbery. Touching upon themes including homosexuality, fears, social media and the media's spin on news stories, Stockholm Savings finds a smart way to explore the depths one will go to achieve a goal. The story follows Adam as he and his partner Andre enter a bank for a robbery. As someone who formally worked at a bank, Adam knows all the ins and outs preventing the employees from messing up his plan. When the cops end up on the scene, Adam's plan is thrown out the window causing a hostage situation and thus a captivating character study. By blending high-stakes terror with a tinge of laughter, DeMeo allows the audience to ride a rollercoaster of emotions. DeMeo succeeds effortlessly by subtly placing his themes into the play and allowing them to be a part of the plot and not be it. DeMeo does an expert job developing the story and characters, rarely providing fluff. Everything in the script has a purpose. The situation is raw, the characters are real, and together, they make a brilliant story.
The entire ensemble of Stockholm Savings brought you right into their world. As head robber Adam, Ryan Nicolls gave a full forced performance. He brought force but deep within was heart and humility. There was control in his performance despite the character quickly unraveling. For once, you sympathized with the bad guy. To bring the laughs and the realization that social media is truly the end of society, Megan Russell as teller Michelle was simply hilariously. With a beautiful smile and bright disposition, you almost had to wonder if she was a little too comfortable in the situation. As local cop Ochenson, Justin R.G. Holcomb found great ground in his strength. Or was it simply immense manipulation? Reginald L. Wilson had possibly the smallest character but the most intrigue. He was more than just the sidekick and with a little room to expand the script, DeMeo could benefit by offering more to the character.
The vision brought by director Ashlie Atkinson and her team was what allowed Stockholm Savings to thrive. Atkinson earned every moment of the play. The beats were hit hard. The pauses were natural. And the transitions were seamless. Atkinson had the actors slowly make their way onto the stage prior to the preshow speech. It's usually an unfortunate choice but Atkinson had Athony Wills Jr.’s Sam actively watch the announcement and had it propel the show. It was a very clever choice. Michael DeMeo wore a few hats for the production including scenic, costume, and graphic design. And they all were cohesitve. He made the best of a less than ideal situation by transforming the Flamboyan. DeMeo created the interior of the bank by simply using piping to create an outline of walls and doors. At first having the idea of a door blocking the audience was difficult, but you easily adapted and understood the voyeuristic approach of looking into the world. By keeping the furniture within the bank all white, it allowed continuity. The lighting by Miriam Crowe mixed natural white in the bank and the glow of police lights outside. It was simple yet effective.
Stockholm Savings is one of those sleeper shows at Fringe. It should have a future life and could be a very interesting journey to stage it in a thrust set up. Truly place the audience in the action.

Review: Keeping Up With the Gay Astronauts

Everyone dreams of being an astronaut as a kid. The images we've placed on astronauts are based on their feats of heroism. There's a celebrity attached to them. In Endless Air, Endless Water, playwright Robert Shaffron has placed two astronauts in the public spotlight by live broadcasting their adventure to the moon. Similar to the live feeds on the reality show "Big Brother", viewers can watch as Fred and Ditch engage in their daily activities. But when the duo is caught off guard and cause the kiss from space seen 'round the world, the media frenzy causes them to reevaluate their companionship and themselves. They must decide to stay the course or change history. Building in gay themes and how society views them is at the center of this space dramedy. Shockingly, Endless Air, Endless Water couldn't come at a better time but Shaffron's script comes across as severely dated. Many of the struggles that Shaffron presents are still true but do not carry as much weight. The idea of a "gay celebrity" is almost old hat. The reality of the play also seems to have little barring. In the ninety-minute play, we see a very truncated relationship form but the timeline reality of going to the moon did not match the dialogue. It just didn't feel natural.
What sets Endless Air, Endless Water apart from other Fringe shows is the artistic vision. Director Michael Damico and his creative team introduced high tech elements into the production. It was very welcome in the scope of the festival. But at the same time, much of the design was severely dated. It looked and sounded like it came straight out of the 80s. With changing times and iconography, graphics and fonts have greatly evolved. The logos created for the mission looked like sad clip art from middle school. A big budget NASA mission would look vastly different. While this element was very small in comparison to the rest of the show, it did have a great effect. Additionally, the underscoring and transition music by Will Shishmanian was a midi nightmare. For a modern play, a children's afternoon special sounding score truly hurt the vibe. Additionally, the transition music was forced to play through even if the actors were ready for the scene to start. The longer you listened to the computer generated sound, the less interested you became.
With two live actors and two actors projected via video, timing was key. And as a unit, the quartet did a phenomenal job. Dare I say, magical? The strongest actor by a landslide was Patrick Judd as Ditch. As the fame-hungry astronaut, Judd lead the mission and the show. He gave the character instant likability with his goofy persona and big smile. Judd was quick on his feet and brought variance into his performance. Opposite him, James David Adelman played a very reserved and internal Fred. It was almost emotionless and safe. With such a big personality next to him, Adelman looked lost in space, holding the play back. At mission control, Deon Frank as Les was stern yet lively. He worked the video to his advantage.
Endless Air, Endless Water could be s very strong and exciting piece. But there are some parts that must be left in space, updated, and changed in order to complete its mission.

Review: The Love Struggle

Love is hard at any age. And dating doesn't get any easier. In Love in the Middle Ages, musical comedy with book by Eric Kornfeld and Jeffrey Jackson, music by Michelangelo Sosnowitz, and lyrics by Kornfeld, a group of desperate forty something's head to the JCC for an over 40s single mingle. With a Broadway pop score, the material within the libretto and lyrics are geared toward a certain demographic. The story follows six singles all looking for love in all the wrong places, each with their own reason. From the super picky Sandy looking for a replica of her ex to plain Jane who is afraid to put herself out there to Richard, the joke master host of the mingle looking for love himself. The concept is cute but truly paints these people in a light of desperation, intentionally or not. To assist in avoiding this, Kornfeld and Jackson need to beef up the backstory a bit more. Give their stories something stronger. The score by Sosnowitz is quite lively and fit well with his company. The ensemble elevated the score.
Leading the ensemble were Mimi Bessette and Marci Reid as Sandy and Jane respectively. Mimi Bessette shines as the mingle addict Sandy. She brings such fire and passion that comes off as spunky and fearlessness. Reid's Jane is part hopeless romantic, part bad luck magnet. But Reid finds hope in the character. David Rappaport as the bad boy got stuck with some of the more unfortunate and vile lines. You disliked him no matter what he said.
DROM is not a venue for everything. And it's proof with Love in the Middle Ages. Allowing the mingle to roam free within the space and onto the stage was the only way to utilize the space concussively but it also caused many awkward moments. Because of the nature of the venue, any scenes that did not take place in the main room, for example the bathrooms, didn't read properly. Director Lisa Shriver did all she could do with nearly all the odds against her. There were moments and her choreography was great, but there was so much that pulled the production done.
Love in the Middle Ages may resonate for some people but with a specific demographic, it's a hard ticket to sell. It could find love in regional community theaters but the market for this type of musical is small.

Review: The Ultimate Papal Reality Show

When the Pope dies, the Cardinals of the world come together to vote for the next Pope. But what if the voting process was as ridiculous and scheme-worthy as an episode of “Survivor”? Filled with recurring gags, gender bending humor, and the wildest conglomeration of Cardinals you could possibly compile comes Adam Overett's knockout comedy Popesical. Six Cardinals storm the Sistine Chapel (no, this isn’t a set up for a joke) in order to vote for Pope after the sinister Cardinalissmo Francisco Franco strategically selects a bizarre group of candidates. Each Cardinal has a secret that Francisco plans to expose to ensure his papal rise. But bright eyed Cardinal McCafferty is here to save the day. Popesical employs a humor reminiscent of Mel Brooks. From cross-dressing to Jew jokes to over-the-top personalities and references, Overett keeps the jokes constantly flowing. But with shades of Mel Brooks, Overett strays away from borrowing that toe taping "Inquisition" number from "The History of the World, Part 1" after the reference. What Overett has done well is brought the cute and fun factor while crafting a stirring story with bright characters. Overett knows exactly the style this musical will strive in and never strays from it. This allows for consistency. His music, like his characters, are vibrant. He's filled the score with some major showstoppers, shinning in his comedic songs. His ballads though are a bit bland in comparison. They are melodic and easily forgettable in the scope of the complete score. The only ballad that breaks free is Bishop McCafferty's eleven o'clock number. The themes that Overett makes inherent in the script are what it means to be different and accepted. They are present yet don't feel trite. This allows you to laugh and hopefully feel by the end of the show. Overett and director Drew Geraci ran into one dramaturgical problem that stood out. Part of the joke of Cardinal Fouette is he cannot speak and dances to communicate. Yet in the group numbers, he sings. This diminishes the power for when he does open his mouth. It's no longer a novelty. See Norma in season one of "Orange is the New Black".
The cast of Popesical allowed the musical to rise up. Straight outta Mormon comes the aptly cast Stephen Christopher Anthony as Cardinal McCafferty. His sunny disposition was infectious. With a voice of gold, how could you not vote him Pope? When it came to stealing the show, two ladies managed to do it constantly. Firstly was Danette Holden as self-medicating, boozy belle Cardinal St. Louis. It's very likely you watched her after her show-stopping number early in the show. Holden has a knack for physical humor, bringing the perfect blend of sex appeal and crazy. As the inarticulate and lisp heavy Cardinalissimo Francisco Franco, Rachel Coloff proved her worth as one of the most underrated performers in musical theater. Coloff transcends musical comedy. She created a character and never once faltered or broke. It's a joy to watch someone transform and allow you to not notice the person within. As Cardinal Bergenstein, the odd Jew out, David Perlman was wonderful. He was sweet and goofy. Lucas Thompson as the dancing mute Cardinal Fouette showcased his dance skills, committing no matter the scenario, even if it meant accidently consuming part of the candy wrapper.
Director Drew Geraci kept the atmosphere light and upbeat, keeping the audience laughing in their seats. He kept the musical moving and on pace. And his choreography matched the style wonderfully, keeping it fun and exciting even on the tight stage. Costume designer DW had a very interesting task when clothing the Bishops: give them personality without being sacrilegious. DW succeeded.
Popesical has all the makings of a wonderful musical comedy. The only thing standing in its way is that other equally great Pope musical in town. Who will you vote for?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: Behold the Chupacabra!

There tends to be monotony when it comes to musical theater. All new musicals seem to follow the same themes and style causing them to blend into one another. But when something different arrives, you take note. Beware the Chupacabra is just that. Different. With book and lyrics by R. Patrick Alberty and music by Christian De Gre, the story follows seamstress Teddy, yes he's a boy, who gets himself caught in a pretty ill-timed situation where the father of his girl forces him to hunt down the mythical Chupacabra. Despite an insane amount of excess material all over the place that desperately needs to be trimmed, Beware the Chupacabra is a unique and exciting new musical. What makes it enticing is the tonality and visual style of the show. The best way to describe it is a mash up between the heart of Disney, the whimsy of Tim Burton, and dry tone of Wes Anderson. If that doesn't get you intrigued, I don't know what will. Beware the Chupacabra follows the recipe of musical theater, which is where R. Patrick Alberty runs into the problem of too much material. It's all there. There's a love story. And dance numbers. And subplots. By the end of the show, Alberty and De Gre have provided three or four potential eleven o'clock numbers. The key to this story is Teddy. Any material that does not directly or indirectly involves him could be prime for the trimming. And even so, the latter bits with Jasper have little barring on Teddy’s arc as we have long forgotten the store owner. Beware the Chupacabra has all the material of an incredible musical present, but it's surrounded by the unnecessary. Does it mean losing some fun material, especially for bad guy Arris Warner? Yes. But once the fluff is gone, the vast potential will shine bright. The score by De Gre blends 20s jazz with Broadway standards and a touch of regional Mexican flare. When they unite, the musical through line is quite exciting to hear. As is an orchestration with a present and proud bass clarinet.
The ensemble that comprised Beware the Chupacabra was certainly committed to going all out. Alberty and De Gre played upon sight gags and stereotypes, meaning everyone needed to play along. And they did. The glue of the musical is Teddy. Teddy is a beautifully endearing and optimistic character. That's what makes him so incredible to follow. And Vinnie Urdea plays him near flawlessly. Urdea as Teddy has a Michael Cera charm to him, dorky yet endearing, with a pure vocal. As bad dad, Arris Warner, Everett O’Neill seemed to have more fun than anyone getting to be sinister and vile. O’Neill is the stuff that Disney villains are made on. The unsung hero of the show is Robert Moreira as Tipo. Moreira played the stereotypes and earned the uproarious laughs. Moreira has an ease to his comedic presence. He’s subtle yet overt. He simply walks on stage and it’s hilarious. Charly Dannis as La Chupacabra had a very difficult task. With Alberty borrowing a device from a certain 2009 Pixar film, Dannis was able to communicate in “human” by wearing a collar. Dannis sold it. And sold the bond she had with Urdea’s Vinnie. You can make so many Disney references about this show because Teddy and Chupacabra’s bond. It is almost as touching as the pair in “The Fox and the Hound.” And this musical is steps away from garnering tears.
Beware the Chupacabra strives on the visual appeal. Costume designer Ashley Soliman and scenic designer Kyle O’Connor are the true soul of this musical. Their designs are cohesive and stunning. Soliman’s use of color is rewarding. She keeps the city world quite dreary with subtle bursts of color. This allows the color within the sepia-toned Mexico to radiate. O’Connor’s set was practical, despite some transition issues with the occasional too many moving pieces. With Alberty and De Gre serving as co-directors, it’s inevitable that it was difficult to eliminate any material. But to their credit, they presented a very clear and cohesive vision. The style was consistent and interesting.
The situation within the story may be farfetched, but by blending comedy with mythology and a touching tale of friendship between man and beast, there is something that is certain to pull you in. Two plus hours with no intermission is difficult to sit through but when the script gets stripped, Beware the Chupacabra will be magical.

Spotlight On...Shane Salk

Name: Shane Salk

Hometown: Seattle WA

Education: BFA From Chapman University

Select Credits: Oh, I have been all over the place. I was the Original Genie in Aladdin for Disney’s International Cruse Line, I was a creator and star of “We’re Alive” the most successful Modern Radio Drama Podcast in the world with over 25 million downloads, and most recently I worked with Obie award winning director Carl Hancock Rux on “String Theory” at Rites and Reasons Theater.

Why theater?: Theater is where it all started for me. I have done Film, Radio and Web shows, but live theater has a place all its own. It’s an art from that really is a collaboration with the audience. You can’t hide from them, and you would not want to. Everyone has a responsibility for at least part of there own experience. It’s almost a symbiotic relationship and its honest.

Who do you play in Plath?: I play Dr. Lindemann, who is Sylvia’s Psychiatrist. He pushes her to face her issues head on, and follows her on a trip inside her mind and her writing.

Tell us about Plath: Plath is an amazing show that goes inside the books and journals of one of the most talented poets of the past century. It’s a story that uses her own words and writing to explain how a brilliant and deep mind like Sylvia Plath can struggle so much with issues like depression, acceptance, and the world around her. Her writing is so unbelievably accessible and clear that when I read it, or you hear it spoken in the show, it’s scary how relatable it is when dealing with such a dark topic. With the combined talents of the book writer and composer we, as performers, have a unique opportunity to be able to take the audience through a very difficult and emotional story held together by a basic foundation - Sylvia's own words.

What is it like being a part of Plath?: Honestly? It can be a little difficult, in the most fantastic way. I, and the rest of this amazing cast and creative team, hear her words everyday. The more I listen, the more I understand and find more parts of my self in them. (Knowing how things ended for Sylvia, that idea is scary.) To be able to work on something that is so touching, and I truly believe very important for people to know, it's an honor for me. Depression is rampant in our society and people like Sylvia describe what it feels like so well, the personal symptoms and thoughts. It is not something we talk about as a culture as much as we should so shows like this bring it in to the light. It's amazing how many people come out and say that they struggle with depression once they hear that some one else is or has struggled as well. It's shows like this that let people know that they are not alone and they can and should ask for help.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theater with a point, risky theater, people that strive to tell a story in a new way, reach a new audience and for unselfish reasons. That is the theater that blows me away. I don’t care if it fails miserably. The people that inspire me are the ones who try again and again and again. The people who don’t do something new just to do something new, it’s the ones who do something new because that’s they way they think, and it just makes sense to them.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Curious Incident of the Dog and Midnight. It was incredible. It was everything that I talked about wanting theater to be. New, inventive, and everything was for a story telling reason. Everyone needs to see it.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I have many roles that I would love to play, but one that I have always wanted to play, and very different then mine in Plath is Garry from Noises Off. I have a vast history with comedy having grown up listening to Old Radio shows of Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and watching Jonny Carson. The comedy of that time is epic to me and Noises Off was one of the first things that I saw in which I remember laughing so hard that I could not breath and I missed about half of the jokes because of it.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Oh, what a question! Well I would have to say that my favorite things are usually things that have impacted me, so I will say that my favorite showtune is “The Good Old Days,” from Damn Yankees. When I was about 10 years old maybe, I saw Jerry Lewis play the Devil in that show. He was incredible. I remember just watching him effortlessly hold the audience in the palm of his hand. That song always reminds me of why I love theater, why I love comedy, why I love musicals, and to strive to be the best, hardest working, and effortless actor I can, and that it's always about the audience.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: One person? Just one?? Ugh!!! OK, well, I will say Nathan Lane then. I have always admired his comedy as a way to get to the feeling behind the laughs. Movies like the "Bird Cage", or 'Laughter on the 23rd Floor", have me laughing and crying in the same breath. Seeing the people he plays seeming so open and happy on the surface and so sad behind the doors is what comedy, great comedy, is all about. It's what Charlie Chaplin was known for. (See I snuck in another person… but he would be harder to work with at this point I think)

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Who would play me in a movie today? I mean I would hope that I would be up for that role, and I better be getting something above scale for it too. But someone else? I have no idea. I say give it to Meryl Streep, she can play anything. I think it would be called “It’s A Pun-derful Life: Oh No, Not You Again.”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Wait a minute, I have a time machine? Then I want to go back and change my last answer, because Tom Hanks from the days of “BIG” is most definitely who would play me in a movie. But, to answer the question you asked, I think I would want to go back and watch Laurence Olivier play Richard the III for the first time at the Old Vic. I love Shakespeare and Richard III is one of my favorite shows. It was one of Mr. Olivier’s crowning achievements as a performer and to be in the audience the first time he walked out on stage and hear “Now is the winter of discontent…” I can only imagine what it would be like.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:With out any hesitation I say dollar pizza, and I have no shame about it at all.

What’s up next?: I'm guessing very next thing is going to be dollar pizza. BUT I am shooting a Pilot in LA hopefully in the next few months about people in the voice over world, and I am shooting a series/pilot in September called "So, Then Tell Me," and that should make the festival rounds next year. I’m looking for my next theater gig, but nothing has caught my eye and jumped out at me quite yet.

For more on Shane, visit For more on Plath, visit

Review: Putting the Funny in Faith

From the whacky world of Dina Laura comes Elephants and Other Worldly Dilemmas, a comedy where slapstick, gross out humor, and puns unite. At the core, the play is about faith and finding faith, love and finding love, and humanity and finding humanity. Laura puts a comedic spin on it to avoid the sappiness. Broken up into two acts, the first act follows secretary Martha as she is forced to face her fears by assisting lab rat Seth and the oddly timed temp Fred dissect an elephant. In the second act, the true identity of the temp is revealed as he endures his own celestial temptations. Laura's script so desperately wants to play like Monty Python but only a third of the cast can handle that style of comedy. As a unit, it is revealed that the focal journey of the play is on Fred, the angelic temp. Yet Laura doesn't give him that focus. To show that he is the one we should be ultimately keying into and allowing the first act to live as it does, some sort of prologue needs to occur to start the show. Otherwise a different message shines through.
Laura's writing is quite interesting. And in the right hands, it's comedy gold. John Olson as Seth and Sal proved this very true. Olson is a stage version of the Frat Pack boys of film. He is lovably goofy and hilarious. His physical comedy is top notch. Olson was such a joy to watch. Matt Stapleton as Fred has a Jason Bateman quality in his performance. It's a subtle comedy. It may not induce belly laughs, but he's funny nonetheless. Laura shined in the writers seat and could seriously benefit by taking herself out of the acting track. Laura didn't quite match her costars, occasionally holding jokes and punch lines back. Serving solely as the playwright will help Laura hear the play and decide if the jokes are truly landing or if she should swap in some new ones.
Director Peter Zachari went for the comedy, avoiding any textual issues along the way. As long as the audience laughed, it didn't seem to matter what else was happening. One of the biggest struggles of the play came in the mutilation of the titular elephant. The illustration by Audrey Attardo on the tarp was visually nice but it hurt reality. One way Laura, and Zachari could have capitalized on this bizarre moment was to explore the physical comedy of shadows behind fabric and not let us see the actual items they're pulling out. It's a device that's been done but also can be infinitely rewarding. The costumes were well thought out, and was strongest with Olson. He made every single garment hilarious.
Elephants and Other Worldly Dilemmas is well on its way to something special. But it can't get there without making some big changes. And keeping John Olson forever and for always.

Review: When In Doubt, Put On a Musical!

A bar is about to be foreclosed so the only logical choice to save it is put on a show. That's the premise of Creative License. With book and lyrics by Kevin Cirone and music by Cirone, Spencer Elliott, and Dan Rodriguez, Creative License is a modern musical with heart. But where there is heart, logic there is not. Cirone’s book follows a very convoluted story. Brothers Jason and Casey need to raise money to save their family bar. Casey gets the idea to put on a play. The catch is his script is on his ex's computer. Bethany hates him and claims she lost all the files so Casey rushes to Bethany’s boss's office and instantly convinces him to allow them to perform his magnum opus. The catch is Dr. Hardy is losing his mind so his opus happens to be the script of a Macbeth adaptation that is coming to town. And things just continue to get wildly and inexplicably complicated. It's always tough when a conflict could be resolved mere moments after it arises, but then where is the fun of a musical? Aside from the plot, Cirone introduces a device at the top and end of the show that never gets used again and could easily be eliminated. Jason serves as a narrator yet he doesn't address the audience again sans the beginning and end. And it's not necessary. Adjusting this could also fix the opening number that wants desperately to be a coherent song where the dialogue breaks are restructured and the music is consistent. The primary plot focuses on Casey and subsequently Bethany. Employees Candace and Perp serve as the cute subplot love story that could be fleshed out stronger. But the character that seems greatly lost is Jason, the role played by author Kevin Cirone. What's absolutely fascinating about the story is both brothers want to save the bar but Cirone is completely inactive in the effort. The characters could be combined and the story would essentially be the same. Discovering the purpose of Jason and a way to make him a more active participant in the story will be of great aid. The score of Creative License has a strong pop rock blend. There are some wonderful numbers, one of which being the bar song "Irish Eyes". This moment showed the bond of the brothers, something that wants to explored further. The team gave a sliver of Macduff, the fake show the characters created. Was the show going to fall into the "Smash" trap and offer something bad they thought was good or The Producers trap where the show is intentionally awful. Creative License went for the latter and left the audience wanting more from this Springtime for Hitler inspired monster.
The Boston based musical featured a capable and passionate group of performers. As the guy who can do no right, Michael Leveque had a slacker mentality but fire inside. Levesque's voice has rocker grit that offered flavor to the character. Shonna Cirone as Bethany has a very special theatrical voice and at times it didn't quite match the style of the score. As coworker lovebirds, Maritza Bostic and Jake Alexander were simply adorable. Robert D. Murphy played upon the whacky nature of Dr. Hardy but when he sang “More and More”, it's possible he broke your heart.
The smaller venue seemed to work to the production's advantage. Director Rachel Bertone did a fine job with the problematic libretto and keeping it engaging. Without ample wing space, the scenic elements needed to remain on stage throughout but Bertone ensured they remained out of the audiences line of vision.
Creative License is a musical about heart and passion and it's certainly filled with it. But at the end of the day, it needs work. Cirone could benefit from taking a step out and seeing the journey from a solely writer's perspective.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: The Chronicles of an Angry Young Man

The title will draw you in. The pre show will captivate you. And the script will shock you. Welcome to Mitchel Buckley's God is a Woman. In a world where nothing is quite what it seems, God is a Woman is a dark, twisted fantasy about morality and mortality. The story follows Avery, an angry young man with issues upon issues, as he is haunted by the Angel of the Holocaust. She taunts him about redemption and sets him on a journey of discovery where, along the way, he meets a zoo of eye-less talking animals, God, Zeus, and flashbacks of his tortured past. Buckley's script touches upon faith, trust, loss, loneliness, abandonment and a whole lot of shock value. It's likely that something within Buckley's script will bother you and rattle your spirit. But the thing that may be the most bothersome is the structure and style of the actual script. You can see Buckley wanting to allow the audience to laugh at discomfort but it just doesn't have it in it to do so. Additionally, the message is buried too deep to be found.
As Avery, Jordan Skinner taps into a very dark place. He reaches a Patrick Bateman style in his character.  Skinner he has a strong sense of conviction in his performance even if he and his costars didn't always know what was going on. Playing the role of God, Jenny Statler looked fabulous and took great command. Her authority and vivacity allowed the only moments of comedic reprieve.
Directed by Nicky Maggio, God is a Woman was generally a nicely paced productions, allowing the beats to be hit and allowing variety in approach. The scenic design by Rebecca Carr and Joey Guthman utilized the cages that were filled during the disturbing audience preshow in various formations. The costumes by Carr fit each character flawlessly, allowing the persona to shine through.
When it comes down to it, God is a Woman has a multitude of ideas that need to be honed into something more streamlined. It’s good to bring shock and awe once in awhile. But there needs to be clarity and depth behind it.

Review: We All Live in a Clown Submarine

Want to go on an adventure like you've never experienced before? Then jump in Jaron and Slater's submarine, buckle your seat belts and get ready for a bumpy ride. Created and performed by Jaron Hollander and Slater Penney, the super talented duo take the audience on a wild journey in their submarine where anything can happen. From malfunctioning levers to getting high on oxygen to turning into wild jungle birds, their journey was nothing short of exciting. The Submarine Show is fun from start to finish. To keep things fresh, Jaron and Slater smash the fourth wall and bring the audience straight into the action. If you don't like audience participation, stay away. They will find you. The comedy is seamless. The transitions from moment to moment are clean. But keeping the show as a single sketch, Jaron and Slater could benefit from trimming down a bit. It gets a little repetitive, and there are only so many rows in the audience that they can pass through.
Jaron, Slater, and The Submarine Show allow your imagination to run wild by preaching to the less is more format. They could easily take their show on the road. And when the time is right, a big budget blockbuster could be their next venture or a Vegas take over.

Review: Poetry Is...?

When you have a talented group of friends, you're bound to want to collaborate with them. And that is the root of Summer Blue's creation. Conceived by director Akil “Apollo” Davis and featuring a multi-talented, multi-ethnic company, Summer Blue is essentially a talent show. With a mix of music, poetry, dance, and aerialists, Summer Blue has a thin line of continuity: social issues. With no overlying arc to truly speak of, much of the piece falls onto Davis and discovering the answer to "why". Davis has a nice idea of compiling these pieces but when it comes to direction and planning, Davis did a poor job. There was little reason to jump from piece to piece. And without a professional rigger, when using the aerial items, they had to remain down on stage. In Act I, we get a fascinating number with Dana Abrassart performing on a chain to an interview. The piece itself was problematic with random blackouts occurring to cover lack of diverse material and no story through the aerial work, but Davis placed it so early in the show that the chain and silk was hanging the entire time, creating terrible visibility for the audience. Davis staged most of the numbers so far downstage and toward the center section that if you were on the sides of the three-quarter thrust stage, you saw nothing but backs. One way to avoid this would have been by Davis taking himself out of the performance company and solely in the director's seat to observe. The majority of the individual bits were stunning but there was one that felt completely misplaced. And that was the gender-bending Taming of the Shrew scene. The thesis was interesting but it had little business being thrust into this dance and music celebration.
The ensemble featured so many talented performers but there were two that stood out from the rest. First was Delano Montgomery, the funk mater on guitar. As composer and music lead, Montgomery provided an essential soul to the piece. Even when he got a moment to take off the guitar strap and offer some acting, he did it with charm and style. The other stand out was Elana Jaroff. Jaroff performed two parts of a dance piece that was simply astonishing. Jaroff stripped away everything to offer a raw and beautiful performance.
Shows in Las Vegas tend to last no more than 90 minutes. And this variety show would benefit from following that model. Once Davis discovers ways to bring continuity and forecasting to the piece, it will certainly arouse more audiences.

Review: A Local Lens on Family and Homosexuality

Many times via the media we only see the broad scope on a topic. We see it from a global perspective. Rarely do we see the local perspective. With the landscape of LGBTQ equality drastically changing comes a story told from a smaller lens. In Joker, we see the effects of homosexuality on a family in Hawaii and a man of Filipino decent. Written by Yilong Liu, Joker follows Joe in his daily life working at his family's Chinese restaurant with his wife Lin and stepson Ray. When a visitor from Joe's past arrives, skeletons are dug up and perspectives on homosexuality are brought to light. The synopsis is exciting. The script brings so much promise. But when it comes to this production, Joker struggled severely, highlighting many issues. Whether it was Liu's intent or not, Joker presents stereotypes of gay men as sex hungry and hypocritical in regards of unity. Frank as a character may have served as a comic relief but his portrayal as boisterous and willing to out someone for his own benefit made him a villain. Toning down the caricature nature of Frank will present honesty to the story. As the piece goes on, we learn the nature of Joe and his relationship with the family. We learn that the phone calls are indeed voicemails, and not actual conversations, to someone of great importance. That reveal occurs late and way after the cringe worthy dance moment between stepdad and stepson. The connection is not one of romance but if longing for someone. Liu could benefit from discovering more moment between Joe and Ray.
Director Dan Dinero had such trouble assisting his company through this play. As Joe, Ariel Estrada didn’t quite connect on stage and stumbled through. Estrada didn’t play the stakes of the situation and allowed Ray Santos’ manipulative Frank to walk all over him. It was natural for Joe and Lin to not connect on a romantic level but Joe was brought into Lin’s world to protect her and Ray. Estrada and Shirley Huang played the estranged card very early into the play not allowing it to the naturally play out. Troy Iwata as Ray was the bright light of the production. Iwata made strong choices and gave an authentic performance.
If Joker were a roller coaster, the production would have looked like a big circle with no peaks, dips, or loops. The play was very slow moving. Dinero didn’t work with tempo and speeds so when earnest moments were warranted, it wasn’t deserved. Silences must be earned. And that was never truer then in the epilogue. Estrada and Huang lived in silences that were simply awkward. Where Dinero did succeed was utilizing the revolving door of the Kraine. Not only did he utilize it, he used what lived behind it. And it was a very brave and strong decision. The scenic and prop design by Andrew Diaz was quite good as well. It was clean and simple, allowing you to see beyond what was present.
There is so much potential in Joker. There could be a great future in it. But before that can happen, there is work to be done.

Review: A Show DOA

Love and death. Thematically they have a history together. They are once again paired together in Jonathan G. Galvez's A Life TBD. Broken up into three scenes, A Life TBD chronicles the love of Mark and Maggie as they each face a brush with death. Galvez decided to experiment with his production by having three different directors take on the three individual scenes. The reason being, though the same characters, Galvez has written the scenes in three drastically different styles. Unfortunately, it was a failed experiment. With three different visions and approaches, the love narrative told a story not intended. The love narrative was not strong enough to prove their adoration. By the time you reached the end you had to wonder do we really care? In the first scene, we see Mark in a stick up at a bank. Galvez breaks reality and has the voices in Mark's head recall his one true love in what could be his final moments. But the way director Paul Morris had Maggie, referred to as Her in this scene, was almost dead-like. She had no tone or personality. It didn't seem logical for Mark to project her in that state. Especially seeing as he does not know what is to come and, well, this cannot be the vision of the woman he truly loves. And it hurt Maggie’s narrative for the other two scenes. In the second scene, directed by Kristen Keim, we focus on Maggie and her struggle with reality. This piece barely recognizes Mark as a player in her life or mind. Her mental health is the secondary character in this story. By the third scene, Galvez gives us a scene that is realistic. The duo meet to potentially rekindle. The problem was Prerna Bhatia's direction did not match the style at all. If the scene was natural, the theatrical light shifts cannot occur. And if naturalism was not the intent, then the three scenes were in fact the same style and did not need three directors hurting the overall vision and arc.
photo by Stephanie Yvonne
With three approaches to the story, you could see the internal battle within the acting company, primarily Matt Sydney and Julia Yarwood as Mark and Maggie. Sydney's Mark was unfortunately very passive. The fight for Maggie and connection between the first and third scene was lost. Mark needed more ferocity to win the heart of the girl who helped him fight off death. With the struggle from the first scene, Yarwood had to battle elements that Galvez gave her character. The rest of the company was relegated to background, making the most of the situations of support.
Galvez, who also served as sound designer, made a very interesting and potentially fatal choice in design. Part of the second scene involved Maggie having a choice over. And it was very clearly not Maggie’s voice. So why have a voice over narrated by someone else? If the voices in her head are no physically present and they are not here, shouldn’t there be a clear cut reference to it?
A Life TBD is a very confused piece that needs some guidance. Maybe with a single director and a dramaturg, the production would be very different.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: Covering Up Holes

Once upon a time there was a single mom and her son. The mom had bad luck in the world of dating and the son didn't care for many of the suitors. One day, a mysterious crack forms in the ceiling. And a battle to patch the crack begins as mom meets repairmen turned lovers. And that's virtually all there is to James Harvey's The Crack in the Ceiling. The Crack in the Ceiling is essentially a silly, frothy musical with a libretto that's filled with metaphors and corny jokes. There's not much substance and certainly a lot of repetition, but Harvey entertains nonetheless. The arc of the story focuses on the bond between mother and son. And that is why there is a crack. Is there enough of a story to fill a full length musical? It's up for debate. It's the cute score and the Broadway caliber company that fills the holes.
With another pair as Ellen and the Man, it's possible that The Crack in the Ceiling would not be as well received. Josh Grisetti is comic gold. Transforming from fella to fella and giving each their own crazy personality, Grisetti has the audience eating of the palm of his hand. Kristy Cates as Ellen brings her sublime voice and beautiful aura to the role of lovelorn mom. Sure, her character may not be the most logical, but Cates had conviction and hope. Nicky Torchia filled the cute quota as David. He may not have always been in key but he always had the aww factor.
Director Stephen Tyler Davis played up the comedy quota well. Even though the laughs were occasionally milked, the audience expected it. The set by David Goldstein was simple. The venue change may have worked in the productions favor as the smaller stage fit the intimate show. On the same hand, the lighting may have taken a tiny blow as the crack gobo was problematic. Davis had his company avoid it as much as possible but it's pretty hard to avoid downstage center.
The Crack in the Ceiling certainly knows what it is. But is there an audience who will be demanding cute in today’s landscape of epic? It's hard to say.

Review: Playwrights Get Spoofed

Imagine a bunch of theater geeks trying to do a sketch comedy show. The sketches would be filled with theater reference after theater reference. That’s essentially what you get with Loose Canon. Written by Brian Reno and Gabriel Vega Weissman, Loose Canon is a series of six comedic scenes inspired by the work of renowned playwrights from Shakespeare to Mamet. The idea is funny, well thought out and simply entertaining. To allow a theatrical through line, Reno and Vega Weissman began their parody journey in Ancient Greece and ended with modern times. What we got was Greecian kindergarteners, Shakespearean Amazon employees, Moliere at IKEA, Chekhovian Taco Bell, Beckett on a plane, and Mamet at Petco. Each piece borrowed elements, themes, characters, and lines from each playwright’s canon of work. If you're a theatrical scholar, you appreciated every reference you picked up on. If you're just there for the enjoyment, the pieces still stand on their own sans references a minute. Loose Canon started off strong but never quite reached that height again. “The Elmae” pulled you in instantly. And it worked as life to a 5 year old is truly like a Greek drama. To them, everything is like the end of the world. From there, the pieces were certainly fun but not nearly as great. Except maybe for that groan-inducing and painfully obvious “Happy Days” reference.
An ensemble of six formed the company of Loose Canon. Each appearing in a few sketches, for the most part, they were individually pretty funny. The breakout performer was Cynthia Nesbit. Nesbit can transcend style. She easily fit into every genre she was placed. That can't be said for some of the others. Todd Rizley held his own bringing an ease to his comedy. Grant Chamberlin was relegated to the stereotypes and accent-based characters filling the Fred Armisen role.
Director Logan Reed showed his ability to bring variety. Reed did a spectacular job highlighting the references in a smart way. He did not rely on the cheap laugh, allowing the comedy to speak for itself. The scenic design by Ravi Rakkulchon was pretty simple. With boxes that transformed into various configurations and the excellent choice of utilizing the revolving doors of the Kraine, less was definitely more. The music and sound by Zack McKenna was a strong choice as it was energetic and lively but bursting the eardrums of the audience is not usually a smart idea.
Loose Canon is a great concept and allowed for some funny moments. It lives on its own. But there is room for improvement to take it to the next level. And perhaps a new scene to replace the duds.

Review: Glenn vs. Divine

In the 1970s and 80s, there was one female impersonator that stood out from them all. Her name was Divine. She was brash and crude. She made her fame by pairing with the king of shock value. But underneath the painted face was a troubled man who wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously. Written by E. Dale Smith, Divine/Intervention chronicles the final night of Glenn Milstead's life. To tell this story, a unique concept was used. Glenn spoke to Divine through a mirror. They are one in the same and the mirror was a strong metaphor. Director Braden Chapman was smart by utilizing the mirror idea, for the most part. Whatever Glenn would do, Divine would mirror. And of course sometimes Divine would break loose from Glenn’s actions. But then Smith adds a new element. The flashback. And it was awkward and inconsistent to the main story structure. It's always more beneficial to show not tell but the way Smith and director Chapman approached it was trite and not beneficial to the piece at large. The other interesting element the piece did was turning Divine into a villain, intentionally or not. Its no secret Divine was a diva. She was difficult to work with. But was she that much of a burden to Glenn? Did he truly hate her as much as it was portrayed? You certainly sympathized with Glenn and it's likely you had a new opinion on his alter ego. But perhaps that was the goal of the thesis. To show how trapped Glen was in that body. Just be glad Smith didn't borrow Jekyll and Hyde's "The Confrontation" during the epic stand off at the end.
Regardless of structure, you must commend Ryan Walter and Bobby Goodrich as Glenn and Divine respectively. The duo were completely in sync and they poured their heart and souls into their performances. They clearly did their research and trusted one another. The trio of boys as the surrounding men did a stellar job as the help, especially Nicholas Scheppard as the instantly recognizable John Waters.
Director Braden Chapman is also credited with the original concept. How much of the concept was integrated into the production is unclear but Chapman had difficulty with clarity when it came to the structure. Jumping in and out of flashbacks was greatly jumbled. With the textual transitions a bit forced, Chapman didn't aid in making them feel real. With all of the unforeseen issues regarding venue changes and theater temperature, the team did a remarkable job adjusting to a smaller stage. And in a way, it worked to their advantage. It allowed the piece to become more intimate. The set by Mark A. Dahl continued the mirror image idea by reflecting the wall images perfectly.
In the landscape of Fringe theater, Divine/Intervention rises above the rest. But to endure longevity, the script needs to be reworked and figured out.

Review: The Walkie Talkie Show

With a zombie apocalypse on their hands, a married couple battles the elements and each other. Written by Dave Lankford, Night of the Living is a psychological thriller of marital proportions. Told through a nonlinear lens jumping from past and present, Night of the Living uses a zombie takeover to cover the holes of the relationship. Mia and Marshall are a couple squabbling due to fear and the unknown. A fighting couple isn't a new story. It's the zombie part that sets it apart. So how strong is the story sans buzzword? Not very. The zombie aspect is the crutch Night of the Living stands on. But I suppose even in a zombie apocalypse couples will still have the same woes.
photo by Michael Bernstein
With an interesting concept, Night of the Living also incorporated something quite unique. Live conversations via walkie talkie. In the present, we see that Mia and Marshal are celebrating their anniversary from separate buildings. To communicate they use walkie talkies. To make it real, director Jenny Beth Snyder keeps Mia on stage and Marshall in the hallway. It was a very bold move. Real time aside, it was quite difficult watching an action packed story with a lag in communication. There are moments where Belle Caplis's Mia was supposed to wait and ask the same question again. But there were many a time when it wasn't natural and more of an actual lag, taking Caplis out of the moment. Caplis gave an extremely calculated performance. You can see her build her words as she speaks. And it looked like she was simply stumbling for the right lines and not reacting out of emotion. Despite her struggles with the elements and things that were not present on stage with her, Caplis and Eric Kuehnermann had little connection when they physically shared the stage. Many times Caplis was talking at Kuehnermann and not to him. Her reactions occasionally were not warranted based on what Kuehnermann gave her. Caplis has a rich Louisiana grit in her voice. It gives her an edge, but she was just a lost soul. Relegated to a voice most of the time, Kuehnermann did a fine job through variance in emotions.
Defining the rules of space is essential in storytelling. Director Jenny Beth Snyder utilized the cutout walls by Mary Hamrick’s scenic design to create a room. But to exit the room and subsequently the building, Snyder had Marshall walk up and behind the downstage wall which based on the rules on space is in the sky. While the restrains of Fringe are very likely to blame, there is nothing that takes you out of the moment like flimsy structures that flop when a body walks by. And we won't even discuss the makeshift bed.
Night of the Living is an emotional roller coaster. Thrillers like this hit home when there is honesty. Perhaps it was just this performance but the honesty was severely lacking.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: A Sensory Stimulation

Imagine yourself in a nightmare where you fall down a giant hole into a never ending pit of despair. Though it may be dark, it's still vivid. Now imagine that dream appearing before your eyes. That is dungeon. Inspired by the video games, kabuki, horror movies, and Pixar shorts and uniting shadow puppets, movement, and live music comes a show that will stimulate your senses.
The story is simple. Brother must rescue sister but endure an adventure beyond his wildest dreams. And a giant spider. The simplicity of the story allowed Artistic Abandon NYC to create a visually stunning piece that afforded your imagination to run wild. Using subtle voice-produced sounds and live guitar and bass gave the narrative a light to shine through movement. Created by Samantha Blaine, Kristopher Dean, Claron Haydem Casey Scott Leach, Kyle Nunn, and Mikayla Stanley, dungeon is nothing short of remarkable. The way the ensemble moved through this world was flawless. With the only sources of light coming from flashlights and tiny colorful LED, you never knew when or where a body would show up but their presence was felt. What makes dungeon so special is how complex it appears but how simple it is. Cardboard certainly goes a long way. When you walk into the theater, the giant fabric screen doesn’t look great, in fact you can see the ripples in the material. But you instantly forgive it when the lights go out and the ensemble creates a giant eye, capitalizing on the imperfections to represent the wrinkles. When you think of electric guitars, it’s usually safe to say that the bass is forgotten. But the bass guitar was the unsung hero of dungeon. The deep, rich sound of the bass was so essential to this world and truly set the dark and mysterious tones. Together, the manufactured resonance of both guitar and bass brought the atmosphere to a whole new level.
If you are afraid of the dark, stay away from dungeon. But if you’re eager to let you imagination roam and your senses aroused, this is the show for you. I look forward to what these artists do next.

Review: Plath's Path

Sylvia Plath is notorious for writing. She's also well known for her untimely suicide. But what some may not know is that was not get first attempt. That occurred during college. In Fernanda Douglas and Molly Rose Heller's Plath, Sylvia Plath and her Smith life are given the musical theater treatment. It's a heavy piece about depression that proves not everything wants to be a musical. The lens in which book writer Molly Rose Heller decides to tell Plath's story is through a therapy session. Dr. Lindemann directs Plath through her journals and writings that lead to memories coming alive. The device is interesting but also very docile. The way Sylvia moves through her moments with Dr. Lindemann are quite bland and missing care. And it's also possible that you can check out of there non-musical moments due to Jenny Vallancourt's very soft speaking voice against the mammoth sound-sucking Theater at the 14th St Y. With the book scenes severely lacking, the music needed to make up for it. With deep dark material, it's a difficult task to find lightness in the musical. And the score by Fernanda Douglas reflected that difficulty with one exception. "Dr. Dick" was the sole moment Plath came to life. Aided by an upbeat groove, the song was the only number that felt right. And that was all thanks to Douglas utilizing the 50s sound. The remainder of the score lived in the standard Broadway style where everything felt the same but the departure in "Dr. Dick" was welcomed.
To lead the production as the titular character, Vallancourt lacked that leading lady spark. She offered an incredibly passive performance. Vallancourt was very internal, something musical theater is anything not. Plath has the exceptionally strong ensemble to thank for saving the show. Each supporting player was a skilled performer in voice and movement. Partially due to the best number in the score, RJ Woessner as Dick, Sylvia's occasional lover, was stellar. His Ivy League charm won over the audience with his bright smile and silky vocals.
Rather than incorporating the standard dance element into the piece, director Emily Feinstein played with a more contemporary movement exploration. It worked in her favor as Feinstein and her company painted some beautiful stage pictures through the musical staging. Feinstein should also be commended for consistency. Rather than giving a light bump after songs, she forced the narrative to continue. The only trouble was it didn't allow a moment of recovery for the audience. The scenic and costume design by Christina Tang and Nell Simon kept the world of Plath in greyscale. With the concept of having the ensemble write on the paper on the wall units was interesting, unfortunately the execution suffered, as it was difficult to see what was being written due to the distance of audience to stage.
When it's all said and done, Plath was missing something. It felt incomplete. Perhaps it's just the first act for her full life story but if that's the case, the therapy session concept will have to be reevaluated.

Review: A 70s Sitcom Life

Write what you know. Sometimes that theory provides some awful stories and sometimes it gets gold. Verano Place falls into the latter category. Inspired by playwright Katie Atcheson's parent’s open marriage, Verano Place chronicles the absurd life of Emily growing up in California. Emily 's parents are in a very open marriage where the new loves take precedence over their own children. With a story that seems only believable on a sitcom, Verano Place is a comedy for the nostalgia deprived. With excellent direction by Josh Hecht, the comedy plays up the heightened absurdity allowing you to laugh at the humor and be touched when Atcheson offers the sentimental moments. With characters including an over dramatic dad, a never seen sister, a fake bad girl best friend, a wild little brother, and an oblivious to life mom, it allows for Emily to be a real character in her crazy world. Atcheson took the quirks and allowed them to flourish. While you could say that some of characters hit close to home, they are developed incredibly well. Though there are bits that Atcheson could cut to reduce the length, the story is wonderful and the dialogue is witty and pointed.
This is all about Emily's journey and Chet Siegel is simply excellent. She makes the best of her whacky situation and grows from it. Siegel stands strong and does an impeccable job carrying the weight of the show. As other lover loving parents Paul and Ruth, Bradford Cover and Helen Coxe couldn't be more opposite and more perfect. Cover’s comedy was big and over-the-top while Coxe was simple and subtle. As little brother Danny, Will Dagger brought a youthful exuberance that paired well with Siegel. Jessica Brown as neighbor Marcelle did a solid job, though she did stumble in and out of accent quite often.
Josh Hecht proved his immeasurable talent as a director, taking great commend of Verano Place. Hecht guided this piece through the ups and downs and allowing it to breathe naturally. Verano Place featured a very smart and simple set by Reid Thompson. Thompson and costume designer Julie Michael offered the perfect mix of patterns, colors, and fabrics that defined the era. The one struggle the production did find was through the foley style sound design. To give the feel of certain objects, like ice in the shaker, being live, sound designer Elisheba Ittoop offered a soundscape that was supposed to be timed to the action. Unfortunately when it was off and didn’t sync, it just looked bad.
Verano Place is a pretty solid production with much hope. But you can't help but make comparisons to Fun Home simply due to the time period and the familiar theme. Where this story goes next will be interesting to watch. Could be interesting to see it in tv series form.