Friday, June 22, 2018

Review: She Has Big Dreams

By Ed Malin

Project Y’S Women in Theater festival at IRT continues with Cindy, written by Amina Henry and directed by Michole Biancosino. This modern update of Cinderella has some surprise twists which I found very empowering for children and inspirational for me (a grown-up parent of a girl somewhere below princess age).
Cindy (Star Kirkland) is a thirteen year-old girl whose mother has died.  Fortunately, she gets good advice from her friend Rudy the rat (voice and puppetry by Zach Fifer). Her father, James (Joachim Boyle) tries to look out for her best interests, but he is not strong enough to resist his new wife, Cindy’s Stepmother (Rachel E. Evans), whose ego proceeds her. A very caring cow named Bell (voice and puppetry by Caleb Antony Green) lingers in the background, ruminating on Cindy’s future.
photo by ClintonBPhotography
Suddenly, the teenage Prince Rupert (Timiki Salinas) is ready to wed and throws a series of balls to find himself a marriageable girl who wants to be a princess.  The Stepmother’s daughters, Sarah (Veronica Cooper) and Suzy (Emily Ma) prepare to be sassy for the Prince, and make sure that Cindy will be helping them prepare for the ball rather than competing against them.  Much classical music related to Cinderella appears in this piece; Sarah and Suzy’s leitmotif is “Run the World (Girls)” by BeyoncĂ©, sometimes thought of as a female power song.  Meanwhile, Cindy dreams of being a pilot, something she knows she would enjoy more than being a groupie to royalty.
Now, the magic begins.  Honest Rudy the rat, loathed by the Stepmother and others who prefer image to integrity, helps Cindy get to the ball.  So does Bell the cow, who has the spirit of Cindy’s late mother. They provide the glass slippers (or superfly hightops) and carriage (or shopping cart) that takes Cindy—or should I say incognito “Princess Ella”—into society and brings her home at midnight.   Prince Rupert is a tall, jewel and cape-wearing party professional.  His gold and sparkly shoes and ripped jeans mark him as cool, though Cindy is not impressed.  Dancers thrill to the sounds of bhangra and congas, while Prince Rupert finds Cindy so refreshing, he does a split.  Cindy, with a thirteen year-old’s strength of will, tells him she wants to fly, and barely gets home on time.  One glass slipper remains in the prince’s clutches.
When the prince comes to the Stepmother’s house, she happily trots out her daughters and does everything to deceive the prince into believing that they are Princess Ella.   Sarah and Suzy each have a toe chopped off, but they can’t satisfy Prince Rupert that they wore the slipper at the ball.  Finally, the prince finds out that “Ella” is Cindy.  Her friends and family all want the best for her.  But will she marry the prince or find a way to take flight on her own.
Playwright Amina Henry has written a play that appeals to young people but frees itself from the fairytale form.  Amid fanciful moments, we see a Stepmother who does terrible things to her own children and a stepchild who chooses her own destiny.  Director Michole Biancosino makes sure that the humans and animals onstage never have a dull moment. Annie Ulrich’s costumes are flashy, contemporary and exciting, and the animal puppets are haunting and beautiful to behold. Hallie Zieselman’s set includes lots of signs and clues about the play for young viewers to discover.  Sound designer Amit Prakash did a great job with fancy interlude music and exciting dance tracks for the ball. Christina Watanabe’s lighting shows us Cindy’s loneliness and difficulties as well as the love she receives from her friends and spirit animals.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Block Talk: Episode 68- RuPaul's Drag Race Season 10 RuCap Episode 12



Cissy Walken and I break down the latest episode of RuPaul's Drag Race season 10 where the final four become...the final four.

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

And take a peek at our Patreon at patreon.com/theaterinthenow!


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: Slices of Intense Feeling

By Ed Malin

At the Brick Theater, The Festival of Lies continues from June 5 through July 5.
I saw Sweet Little Lies, which, as its title implies, is a thought-provoking program of short plays by talented regular artists at the theater.
Up first is Ruth: An Apology, written and performed by Bob Laine, directed by Maryanne Olson.  This is a moving solo piece about a man’s relationship with his mother—who has some of the supportive characteristics of the Biblical Ruth—as well as a woman named Ruth whom he dates during high school.  The young man liked boys more than girls, which, over time, turned out to be not just a phase but his identity.  Ruth was a year older, and wanted to be with him, and took on his interests, but this wasn’t the recipe for a healthy relationship.  From “Bartholemew and the Oobleck” to Billy Joel to the Atari game Pitfall and things you can do with a joystick, Bob Laine takes you down memory lane.
The second piece is The Three by Erin Bregman, directed by Maryanne Olson, with music by John Glover.  Ariana (Silvia Dionicio) sits at the center of a triangle of clicking metronomes.  Three observers (Jessica Marza, Clara Francesca and Roger Nasser) echo and critique in unison every word Ariana says. As the sound builds to a fever pitch, Ariana yells that it doesn’t matter, to which the replies is yes it does. Eventually, the three other voices cut out and Ariana can collect herself. For me, this is a piece about the oppressive nature of time.
The third piece is I Do Not See You by Richard Lovejoy, directed by Paige Blansfield. The Target (Morgan Zipf-Meister) tells us about how, as she ages, she believes that people actively try not to see her, except when they are looking for someone to blame. Perhaps it is true that babies get the most attention and it’s all downhill from there. In any case, she claims that a museum guard damaged an artwork and blamed her, which is why she went and broke something else in the museum.  If you’re going to get blamed, you might as well have done something, her logic goes. The other characters (Linus Gelber, C.L. Weatherstone and Daryl Lathon) loudly assail her for other minor things, like accidental littering. Finally, she is framed and carried off and beaten by two of the others, while the third tries to get some attention for himself.  He is ignored, and has to face the beaten woman in the end. Wouldn’t it be better for people to treat each other as equals?
The fourth piece is I [heart] Facts, written and performed by Alexis Sottile. The host of our presentation works as a fact checker for various publications. This important job is revealed to be a funny mixture of invention and harassment. We wouldn’t want the things we read to be inaccurate, would we? A few years ago, monologist Mike Daisey garnered some attention for his show about oppressive conditions in Chinese factories; at the same time, there was controversy about how much of the story was interview-based and/or fact-checked. Alexis’s adventures give some hope in a world where elected officials stray from the facts.
photo by The Brick
The fifth piece is Foxing by Greg Romero, directed by Maryanne Olson.
Beatrice  (Silvia Dionicio) is a bit of a personal trainer, complete with a whistle and furry animal ears.  Aaron (Linus Gelber) and Charlie (Bob Laine), two men not dressed for the gym, are put through a variety of aerobic exercises to dance music. Thus warmed up, they then sit and have a conversation, with the help of note cards which Beatrice hands out.  They apparently know each other, and raised a son who died.  It is so hard for them to talk to each other and find any kind of resolution that they try the exercise again until they can brave it all and go unscripted. Don’t knock drama therapy; it works!
The sixth piece is Level III by Erin Bregman, directed by Paige Blansfield
Anna (Morgan Zipf-Meister) and Lea (Anna Ty Bergman) are talking about their views of mirrors. Using stylized language, they explore some fears of the sun bouncing off a mirror and setting the house on fire. What is the difference between reflected and refracted? What do you call a lot of cracked pieces of glass? Versailles? Together, they are able to find their way to some very empowering resolutions.
The seventh piece is Hunkerpuss: The New Adventures, with words and sound by Chris Chappell, directed by Jesse Edward Rosbrow. Late at night, Polly (Rocio Mendez) is discovered watching those cartoons starring Hunkerpuss (Timothy McCown Reynolds), the cat who can never seem to stop chasing the lovely otter, Olivia Otterford (Clara Francesca). These cartoons combine several cute and awkward old cartoon characters such as Snagglepuss from Hanna-Barbera. Polly’s girlfriend Clare (Lex Friedman) joins her and offers a mixture of empathy for what is keeping Polly up and confusion about the appeal of an arguably sexist cartoon. As the two talk on the sofa, their roommate Brandon (V. Orion Delwaterman) appears from behind the sofa to offer his chock-full-of-semiotics perspective. On the other side of the stage, the adorable, lisping Hunkerpuss is seen reminiscing about the making of the classic cartoon. Eventually, not unlike some kids commercial, Hunkerpuss creates an energy portal to Polly, Clare and Brandon’s apartment. When the young fans (these appear to be the children of today, who are having this discussion 10 or 20 years from now) interrogate Hunkerpuss, he tells a fantastic story about his life as a cat, a very rich cat who could have invested in a progressive new Artificial Intelligence project but did not.  When Hunkerpuss died, he found himself alive again inside of the virtual world of the cartoon—which is controlled by the A.I.—continually forced to chase an otter. He moans that he doesn’t have a choice about such base desires. As technology permeates our world, are the animalistic traits of humanity refined away, or are they used against us?  It's a super-dramatic, finely-crafted and hilarious tale.
This show was delightful and ambitious.  Short plays, like cartoons (especially the one which mixes the two together) are magical sparkplugs which can launch a debate about human nature. Kudos to the versatile ensemble which brought to life so many interesting characters, and to the directors, some of whom worked on two or three plays of vastly different styles. Morgan Zipf-Meister’s lighting provides the intimacy that these works require.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Block Talk: Episode 67- Broken/Tired



I'm joined by Broken/Tired hosts Sarah Hill and Gunner Streitzel to discuss the latest edition of their show Broken/Tired at the legendary Stonewall Inn!

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

And consider becoming a patron today by visiting patreon.com/theaterinthenow


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Block Talk- Episode 66: RuPaul's Drag Race Season 10 RuCap Episode 11


Elise Navy-Dad and I, and our inner saboteurs, are here to breakdown episode 11 of RuPaul's Drag Race season 10!

To listen to the podcast, visit iTunes or SoundCloud!

Plus, check out patreon.com/theaterinthenow to learn about becoming a patron today!


Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Look Over Here

By Ed Malin

Blessed Unrest is presenting the compelling new play This Is Modern Art written by Idris Goodwin and Kevin Covall, directed by Jessica Burr.  We experience a dramatization of a clandestine graffiti bombing of the Art Institute of Chicago which took place in 2010.  You will certainly gain new perspectives from the debate on what art is and who decides who gets to make art.  This piece was commissioned by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater (where it premiered in 2010) and was developed by New Voices/New Visions at The Kennedy Center in 2014.  The performance I saw was followed by a talkback with the show’s Scenic Artist, veteran graffiti writer KEO XMEN.
It is Chicago in the winter of 2010. Selena (Nancy McArthur) is a young woman who hangs out with a crew of graffiti writers. In her words, "I can't draw, but I DO have a car."  As will become clear, those who don't have their own space to create and exhibit art must work very carefully together.  Selena helps keep a lookout for the police and takes her friends to safety after they put up a "piece" (i.e. a planned work, or masterpiece) on someone else's wall. Their work is often noticed and removed within a few hours, but brings immediate joy (in contrast with decades-later art appreciation) to many dispossessed people (and consternation to wealthy property owners). The Look Over Here (LOH) crew is made up of J.C. (Andrew Gonzalez), who took his new name from sports and religious personalities and Mexican populist muralists he admires, Seven (Shakur Tolliver), who is inspired by Chinese numerology, and Dose (Landon G. Woodson) who thinks MC Escher is a rapper and who doesn't see himself doing safe projects like invitation walls. LOH do not use their government names or spend much time in the "respectable" art world (which is ingeniously represented from time to time by Ashley N. Hildreth and J. Stephen Brantley as a variety of art snobs, passersby and tweeters); mistreated by the law and with racially-biased arrest records, they could never lead the carefree life Selena does.
photo by Maria Baranova
Graffiti artists, prepared for any outdoors survival situation, prefer to work at night and in fog and snow conditions.  LOH's efforts have become more and more ambitious, like the "chi" energy that reminds you of Chicago. J.C. discovers that patrol cycles and a busted security camera could give LOH enough time to piece the wall of the modern wing of the Art Institute.  They will have 14 minutes. If you've seen Blessed Unrest's work, you might be prepared for wild and crazy transformations of ordinary scenic objects.  For this show, the set is dominated by dozens of plain-looking brown boxes. During the dramatic scene outside the Art Institute, J.C., Seven and Dose turn and rearrange all of the boxes to create a very colorful work of art. They all escape with Selena and settle down to dinner (one of the boxes is opened to produce a table cloth), where they learn from TV news that their masked activities were caught on security camera.   Since we still don’t know the identities of the graffiti artists, the play ensures that they separate and lie low for a while.  Selena is even pressured by her parents to talk to a lawyer and find a way to protect herself, lest she is sued for $1 million.  While these characters find new horizons to pursue, their success is bittersweet.  Art is still largely the domain of white, elitist institutions and graffiti is hurriedly removed at taxpayer expense.
This play is well-written and fast-paced.  The excellent ensemble under Jessica Burr’s direction examine many viewpoints about art and culture which often enough are not heard in the mainstream media.  Matt Opatrny’s scenery, Heydee Zelideth’s costumes and Miriam Nilofa Crowe’s lighting keep things very real, focusing less on the urban environment than on the crew’s ability to reshape their surroundings. Things came into sharper focus thanks to the talkback with KEO XMEN.  He began writing graffiti in Brooklyn, NY in 1979, and nowadays is in demand as artist and consultant for detailed 1970s and 80s period pieces such as “Vinyl”.   His stories of the 1970s show us a time when New York City was falling apart and, perhaps, spray paint was the only thing holding some subway cars together. Urban children whom the bankrupt city couldn’t afford to educate were drawing masterpieces by age 9-15.  Such artists, who could turn urban decay into pockets of beauty for their neighborhoods to enjoy, could, working together in crews, cross areas controlled by different gangs and achieve surprising things.  Gangs might be seen guarding a graffitied handball court.   The transformative power of this art made a big impression on me.  If KEO XMEN senses the authenticity of storytelling in This Is Modern Art, I’m sure that you will, too.