Sunday, November 19, 2017

Spotlight On...Katie McHugh

Name: Katie McHugh

Hometown: Pensacola, Florida

Education: Undergrad at Florida State University (BA in Theatre) Graduate School, The New School for Drama (MFA in directing)

Favorite Credits: The Dream Project (A five-year international project), The List (Fringe NYC 2012- winner of Overall Excellence in a Solo Performance and Critic’s pick, Time Out Magazine, also performed 2013 at Fringe San Miguel in Mexico and Medea (The New School, Thesis production).

Why theater?: I am interested in many fields of study, science, math, medicine, architecture, archeology, and most of all history. Theatre allows me to be an artist and work in all these fields at the same time. It is the only profession in which time travel is indeed possible, where there are no limits to what one can accomplish. Theatre satisfies every ounce of my curious artistic nature.

Tell us about The House on Poe Street?: Gothic ghosts encounter modern monstrosities when twin sisters inherit the house where Poe is reputed to have composed The Raven. In The House on Poe Street a wealthy estate lawyer learns to appreciate Poe’s dark twisted spirit while questioning his own presumptions of wealth, gender parity and the power of poetry to conjure visions of a spectral afterlife.

What inspired you to create The House on Poe Street?: Fengar's work is both political and fantastical, stylized and fun with a potent message. House on Poe Street takes everything I like in a good play to the next level, a fun sci-fi ghost story encompassing a smattering of Poe's Macabre tales. A true quest of feminism that makes us laugh at the same time. 

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Any story with a strong message or interesting twist. I’m not into kitchen sink drama, but rather, theatre of the absurd, abstract, or bizarre, some of my favorite playwrights, in no particular order are Beckett, Charles Mi, Mark Schultz, Sartre, Gertrude Stein, Caryl Churchill, and our beloved Bard. The world around me! The people in my life, fellow collaborators and artists, conversations with strangers, and the brilliant minds of our youth. I am also highly influenced by movement and dance. My background is classical ballet which translates to my directorial vision through use of space.  Vertical space excites me and I find a way to use it in every production, whether it is climbing and choreographing in the air, or extending the set vertically, I strive to use 360 degrees of theatrical space. Ensemble and movement based techniques have strong influence in my work to name a few: Overlie’s and Bogart’s Viewpoints, the work of Frantic Assembly, and Williamson technique.

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

What show have you recommended to your friends?:  Frantic Assembly’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  This is a fun one.  Tina Fey, and it would be a comedy called Huzzah!

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Julie’s Midsummer.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Binge watching any good sci-fi show.  Right now it’s Orphan Black.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be ______?: An obstetrician or family doctor like my mother and father. I’ve always loved medicine and science.

What’s up next?: The Dream Project, Phase 1.5, March 2018, NYC. The Dream Project is a collaboration between North American artists from Mexico, United States and Canada. Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is deconstructed and reinvented into an immersive, experimental, multilingual and multidisciplinary piece. With original dance and music, Spanish, French and English text, aerial choreography, and multimedia design, The Dream Project encompasses the most compelling art forms of North American culture.  If you’re interested and want to know more about Dream Project, you can see exceprts of it at The Dream Party, Shetler Studios and Theatres Penthouse One, Saturday, December 2nd 6:00 pm.  www.yonderwindow.com

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: A Visual Legend

By Michael Block

A five octave phenom that took the world by storm. Rumors swirled of her origin. Who was this Peruvian jungle princess with the voice unlike any human? Time has passed since her death but her memory lives on. In The Legend of Yma Sumac, the songstress is celebrated through the art of lip sync and drag.
photo by Michael Block
Using video interviews and the magic of drag lip sync, Yma Sumac comes to life on stage once again. Portrayed by the wondrous beauty that is Scarlet Envy, the songbook is illuminated as the intrigue and mystery is paralleled through clips of interviews. Directed and written by Steve Willis, a friend of the late star, The Legend of Yma Sumac is a completely lip synced piece. Through song and spoken word, every moment is precisely mirrored by Scarlet Envy. There is no one who could possibly match Yma and rather than attempt, Willis takes a smart approach in his concept. That being said, there is a natural disconnect in this. A hint of intimacy is lost. But what you loose in spontaneity is gained in perfection of performance. Scarlet Envy dazzles as the titular singer. Between her tight lip sync and her inherent beauty, you are immediately drawn to her effortless presence. Billed as a “live documentary,” Willis switches back and forth from song and video interview, which is to the aid of Scarlet Envy’s quick changes into the next wondrous gown. It’s likely that you may not know Sumac by name. To the millenials who may not recognize her, those Drag Race fans certainly are reminded by her music as “Malambo No. 1” was used in an iconic lip sync for your life between Jinkx Monsoon and Detox in season 5. By placing this number as the start of the show, Willis engaged the uninformed by tempting with something they are familiar with.
The Legend of Yma Sumac was a transformative piece for the Laurie Beechman. With a topnotch performer, exquisite visuals, and a story so wild it desires more, this show deserves more. There’s a closeness to the piece that puts a boundary between creative and audience. Once that gap is bridged, The Legend of Yma Sumac will be a legendary stage experience.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Spotlight On...Drew Droege

photo by Russ Rowland
Name: Drew Droege

Hometown: Lincolnton, NC

Education: BA, Wake Forest University

Select Credits: The Chloe videos, “Drunk History,”  “Bob's Burgers,” “Transparent”

Why theater?: I got hooked when I played Naughty Victorian Child in a community production of The Nutcracker when I was three.

Tell us about Bright Colors And Bold Patterns: It takes place the night before a gay wedding in Palm Springs. Gerry arrives frazzled and chaotic. He's both the life of the party and the ruiner of it all. It's a comedy about friends and memories and booze and what we stand to lose in queer culture.

Who do you play in Bright Colors And Bold Patterns?: I'm Gerry, the wildest, sauciest, brightest, boldest MOST guy we've all met, maybe sometimes have been.

What is it like being a part of Bright Colors And Bold Patterns?: It's a party every night. And fascinatingly different for me each time I go up. I'm interacting with three other characters who the audience doesn't see, but I weirdly feel like I'm in a play with three other actors. I try to surprise myself a little every performance.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love character-driven pieces. Complicated people making difficult choices and/or misbehaving. I love watching people eat and drink. I love when there's a fine line between the outrageous and the real. This play is for sure inspired by Mart Crowley's Boys In The Band, Terrence McNally, Edward Albee, Tracy Letts. But I think above this, my friends inspired this play for me. I wanted to reflect how we talk and engage and fight and love.

What’s your favorite showtune?: There are so many, but I will never forget Lillias White singing "Brotherhood Of Man" in How To Succeed... I had no idea I could weep with joy like that.

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

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Ed Sheeran could play me in my biopic, "Slap On A Wig And Scream!"

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

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I LOVED A Doll's House Part 2, Oslo, and The Little Foxes this past season.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I love wasting hours of time with my adult coloring book.

What’s up next?: I'll be playing the drama director on the upcoming reboot of “Heathers" for the Paramount Network next Spring!

For more on Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, visit www.BrightColorsAndBoldPatterns.com

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Exploring a Scary, New Modern World

By Ed Malin

At Theater for the New City, you can now see the premiere of the late Lu Hauser’s play Prague, 1912 (the Savoy Café Yiddish Theatre).  Director George Ferencz guided Hauser in the evolution of the play, which is loosely based on real-life Yiddish theater personalities Itzhak Lowy and Mania Tshissik. These performers’ alter-egos, Jak Lowy (played by the indomitable John Barilla) and Mme. Trassek (the ethereal Jenne Vath) meet and inspire an emerging artist, who is, naturally, represented here by one of his characters, Gregor Samsa (the dynamo that is Jason Howard).  Ferencz regularly works with these actors, who are part of the ensemble known as “The Experimentals”, so come see this show for a few hours of fine-tuned ecstasy.
We see a stage with a beautiful frame (designed by Konako Nagayama) evocative of art nouveau posters.  Cornet player Alex Wilborn regales us with some of the most spirited traditional Eastern European songs, such as Rudolf Friml’s “The Vagabond King”, ”The Potato Song”, “Whiskey” and “Mazel-Tov”.  As some of these tunes might suggest, we are about to encounter some folks who live on the fringes of society.  Mme. Trassek is seen hawking hot potatoes. This is what she does when she is not pouring out her emotions on stage, in Yiddish fashion.  The view of Yiddish theater given here is one that accesses whole other worlds of sentimentality and power.  Lowy and Trassek are prone to break into song and dance at any moment. We see Mme. Trassek give a top-of-the-line Shakespearean performance, in which she plays King Lear, here called “Queen Leah”.  Lowy and Trassek do not always see eye-to-eye, and for this particular show Lowy has spent the advertising budget on gratifying his own desires.  The only person in the audience is Gregor Samsa, a young salesman sent by his father to do bourgeois things that make complete sense.  Samsa, who is often seen writing letters to his father, staring penetratingly into the audience and not at the words he writes, may be somewhat square but is sensitive to other things.
photo by Kamoier Williams
Lowy and Trassek do have love in their lives.  If only she hadn’t discovered that Lowy’s gift of a wreath of flowers had been lifted from a nearby cemetery. As their act in Prague is not panning out, the duo will need to hit the road, perhaps to Warsaw. What is a budding writer to do? Samsa, who is Franz Kafka and vice-versa, is inspired to write a story about a “Hunger Artist”. He senses the great passion in Lowy and Trassek’s lives, one which will keep them striving as long as they can negotiate a hostile world. (Lowy was ultimately murdered by the Nazis in the Treblinka Extermination Camp.) As the show’s music and spirit imply, the world is full of change.  Samsa, as fans may appreciate, is headed towards his own kind of “Metamorphosis”.
In its opening weekend, this show has already attracted large crowds of enthusiasts.  I am motivated to read more of Lu Hauser’s work, and likely many people will be opening up volumes of Kafka.  The show has an experimental edge.  It brings together several interesting pieces by its author, and borrows the cadence of the very influential Yiddish performers who enlivened Eastern Europe and its sister realm, New York. (The art framing the stage includes two small Yiddish phrases that read “New York”.)  Marc Marcante’s set is both homey and alienating, as fits the performance. Sally Lesser’s costumes include some nice, impoverished artist clothes and some surprise highbrow theatrical outfits. Hilary Shawn’s wigs also help us step backwards in time, to an era where ethnic artists had to blend in; is our world headed for more of the same?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: High Heels, Lipstick, and Other Forms of Pride

By Ed Malin

Pooya Mohseni, Iranian-American transgender performer and activist, is the star of One Woman, written by Cecilia Copeland and directed by Joan Kane.  Following a sold-out performance in the United Solo Theatre Festival, the run has been extended, so do yourself a favor and get tickets now.
We are watching a presentation by college professor Pooya Mohseni entitled The Elements of Feminism 101. She has many personal things to tell us, in her joyous,  animated fashion. A rainbow flask is standing by, stage left. Bruce A! Kraemer's projections help to outline the presentation.
Pooya embraces a clothing style that plays to her strengths (smaller hips than some, but better posture than most) which approves of the movie “Flashdance”. What, she asks, is the effect of women silently judging each other based on their clothing and shoe choices?  Having chosen to be a woman, Pooya also happens to do housework wearing stiletto heels. If high heels are simultaneously an assertion of female identity (for those who live within the gender binary) and a reminder of women’s subservient place in society, then women who hate other women for wearing heels are self-hating women.  Surely, self-hating women are much more dangerous than man-haters.  Confident women can be found wearing heels on the boardwalk at Coney Island, and, like Pooya’s aunt at brunch, will speak up when other women judge them.
Pooya also loves red lipstick, widely-recognized symbol of female power.  For those of us who don’t wear it, there follows a humorous emotional journey through many not-quite-right shades of red.  There is, so we hear, the fabled Estée Lauder “China Red”, which is unavailable.  Then there was that one lipstick Pooya once had and threw away without writing down the brand name, and could never find again.  Many is the time she has scoured cosmetics stores, without yet finding it again. And yet, she still seeks the elusive “Red Badge of Courage”.
Pooya relates how, after she physically transitioned to being a woman, she found herself going through some of the phases a teenager would.  There is an elevated need to be sexy, and also the echoes of unworthiness.  Dignified, flirtatious and vivacious, Pooya embraces life while knowing that women are likely to be abused by men and trans women are even more so.
Specifically, we hear about a relationship where her abusive partner asked to be comforted after a fight, was denied, and then tried to choke her.  What can we do to show women who feel responsible for failing relationships that it is not their fault?
Pooya and playwright Cecilia Copeland (“R-Culture”, many years of productions with New York Madness, the sci-fi TV pilot “Talatrics, etc.) are both multi-cultural and, I’m sure you agree, are speaking for the women of the world. Director Joan Kane has turned an hour lecture into an intriguing , poignant journey into full empowerment, with some Valley Girl and other inflections thrown in for good measure. Heroines surround us always.  There is Paloma Picasso, and the women in their sixties who can’t wear heels anymore but cheer on the younger ones who do. There is the charming reminder that when one goes to Rome to see the great aesthetic masterpieces such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, one should try to wear aesthetic footwear.  And, even as we learn that Pooya has survived a violent episode, there is this credo from the great Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The sense of being perfectly well-dressed can give one a serene inner peace that religion is powerless to bestow.”  Cat Fisher has costumed Pooya in many styles (Flashdance, academic femme fatale, heels) that make her story that much more elevated.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Review: A Beautiful Nightmare

By Michael Block

Jackie Cox was recently crowned the winner of So You Think You Can Drag All Stars. I Dream of Jackie 2 is proof why she won. Returning to the Laurie Beechman with a sequel to her hit debut show, Jackie Cox takes on her evil side in this hilarious comedy.
photo by Michael Block
If you missed the original, don’t worry; the exposition is alive and well. Jackie Cox, genie of the people, went on a fabulous adventure, brining wishes to all. But her evil twin sister Jacqueline was unleashed to wreak havoc on the world. With smart song selections and the brilliance of campy comedy, I Dream of Jackie 2 does something most sequels can’t do: be better than the original. What it comes down to is the writing. Jackie uses the sequel formula in crafting her piece. She allows the audience to have references to the original while maintaining its ability to stand on its own. If you lined up both next to one another, you can see the parallels. And by being referential to it through humor allowed Jackie to prove why her formula worked. Even if you didn’t pick up on these moments, the jokes still landed. She uses a nice blend of musical genres to hammer home the story. From the standard Broadway “I Want” song to the classic 60s “longing” mid-tempo ballad to the perfectly placed Christina Aguilera moment, the evening was cohesive. I sat in my seat beats before the “I Want” song thinking, “You know what would be perfect for this moment? ‘I Want the Good Times Back’ from The Little Mermaid musical.” And guess what? She delivered! Jackie Cox doesn’t just meet expectations, she exceeds them. There’s a bit of a looser performance this time around. And it may be due to the fact that it’s a heck of a lot of fun playing the bad queen. Jackie Cox is still present in Jacqueline. But the vocal affectations and villainous mannerisms separate the two. Like the first part, Jackie doesn’t do it alone. With the aid of Drew Bloom and Blake McIver, who returns again as director, the backup boys, this time clad in leather, get a bit of arc in the conflict. Yet another reason why this story flows. After two shows, these boys are ripe for a spin off. Perhaps an origin story.
It seems anyone can be a drag queen nowadays, but not all drag queens are stars. Jackie Cox is a star. I Dream of Jackie 2 is a beautiful nightmare. Jackie Cox has begun to establish a world of her own, quite similarly to Paige Turner. Let’s say Paige Turner is the “Cheers” and Jackie Cox is the “Frasier.” She's a brilliant supporting player in Paige's world who comes to life in her own. It’s inevitable that there is a third saga in this trilogy. Comedy works best in threes. But what will that one be?