Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: War, As Told Through Poetry

By Michael Block

As the program notes, Death Comes for the War Poets grapples with the full horror of trench warfare through the eyes, and words, of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. In addition to the Spirit of Death. The piece is also described as a dramatic verse tapestry. These are key bits of information to keep in mind before the lights go down. Playing the Sheen Center, Death Comes for the War Poets by Joseph Pearce can best be described as impenetrable in content but a wonder to the eye.
Performed as a series of poetic movements, Death Comes for the War Poets is very much a language play. Through the perspective of Sassoon and Owen, Joseph Pearce weaves their words, alongside some of the finest Christian voices of the modern era, to depict the reality of war. Death Comes for the War Poets is not an autobiographical piece about Siegfried Sassoon. It’s not a retrospective of his work. Essentially, it’s just an exploration of poetry as performed by a trio of proficient actors curated by the author. There is certainly a strong perspective in the narrative that Pearce weaves, and yet it still feels pigeonholed. Curiously, this is not a play where the sole focus is the words of the two main poets. Pearce intersects their text with some from other related poets. Cameos if you will. Dramaturgically, you have to figure out why as it’s not supported in the text. And if it is? Then it’s deep down there. That being said, if you dissect the piece and look at each movement on their own, you may find some richness in the words.
photo by Michael Abrams
If poetry isn’t your forte, this was an excellent showcase for the trio on stage. Capturing the essence of the poets, each actor brought a variety of emotion and physicality upon the stage. Capturing the hardships of war through the eyes of Sassoon, Nicholas Carriere was a beacon of hope against the backdrop of terror. Carriere gave Sassoon a confidence, which allowed Sassoon to accept his fate each time he was visited by Death. As his comrade Wilfred Owen, Michael Raver’s dynamic performance left you begging for more. Raver has a poise about him that is alluring. Both Carriere and Raver had a basis in which to craft their performance. Sarah Naughton did not. Personifying death can be tricky and yet Naughton, for lack of a better term, slayed. Naughton’s Death was captivating and engaging. She had a mystery about her that, knowing what comes with her presence, was even more enticing. There was a delicacy to her performance as she danced her through the piece. Sassoon and Owen truly did a remarkable job dancing with death.
Throw this script in a small theater with a budget of nothing and it’ll likely suffer. Thankfully, that was not this production. To say the staging was ambitious is an understatement. Director Peter Dobbins played the spectacle card to ensure elation. Along with his design team, Dobbins took some giant risks, not all of which paid off. First and foremost, Dobbins made this an intimate production despite the grandeur. Dobbins placed the audience on two sides of the giant planed cross that stood high above the ground. Flanked by two stone structures, one of which served as the projection surface, Connor W. Munion’s scenic design was certainly brazen. Munion gave Dobbins the tools he would need to stage it but with the inclusion of wondrous projection design by Joey Moro, you often didn’t know what the focus was supposed to be on. The precision to which Moro used Munion’s slate was extraordinary. It elevated the look of the show. But no matter where you were seated, if Dobbins had his players on the opposite side of the stage from the projection, the projections always won out. They just happened to be a tad more interesting to the eye. Yes, there were certainly moments where Dobbins guided the stage picture to appreciate both, but they were few and far between. Costume designer Jennipher Pacheco dressed the gentlemen in period wear but brought her creativity out for Death. Exploring a Black Swan like attire for most of the evening, it paired well with the balletic motion of the character. Kenneth Goodwin’s sound design fit the explosive nature of a battlefield. It almost played like an underscore at times.
Not every piece for the stage has to be a well-structured, plot-driven production. This show certainly isn’t. Had an exceptional cast and a stunningly beautiful design not aided Death Comes for the War Poets, it may have been hard to sit through.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: America the Dangerous

By Ed Malin

Joshua Young, President of The Playwriting Collective, is writer and director of the play Father Daughter as part This Is Not Normal: An Arts and Activism Festival at The Brick Theater.  The play stars John Carhart and Briana Femia.  The play was previously seen last year at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, another forum for socially conscious plays.   I had the pleasure of seeing this play on Father’s Day, at the end of a week in which, sadly, gun violence sometimes appeared higher in the headlines than the buffoonery of our commander in chief.
The play opens with a phone call, which is a matter of life and death.  A college student daughter is standing on one side of the stage, her hand covering a bleeding wound in her lower abdomen.  Her father stands on the other side, so glad to be speaking with his daughter and trying to be optimistic about getting her to safety. She was eating in the school cafeteria when she felt like she had been punched in the stomach.  She had been shot, and, now that she recollects, so had her nearby friends.  She is calling her father from a quiet closet, where she is taking shelter from the onslaught of the unknown shooters.
Photo courtesy of The Brick
As her father watches on the news, the police have not yet gained access to campus.  There indeed seem to be multiple shooters and bombers trying to kill students and prevent anyone from escaping.  The father talks his daughter through the best ways to keep herself safe, conscious and, hopefully, alive.  While they talk, the daughter asks her father questions that she dared not ask before.  What happened when her father rushed to her mother in the hospital as she lay dying?  Why didn’t they tell their daughter to jump on a plane and rush home?  During the daughter’s childhood, was there something dishonest about the parents’ relationship?  Most haunting is the daughter’s insinuation that her father is lying to her now, just to calm her down.  However, the heightened tension gives the two the chance to get to know each other as adults.

“Nobody likes who they are at 20,” muses the father, “except assholes.”
“Did you?” asks the daughter.
“I managed to be an asshole and still not like myself,” he quips.

I like the way the father takes charge of the situation.  Perhaps he is trying to make up for mistakes made in his marriage.  It’s like bootcamp.  It is nerve-wracking.  There are plenty of reversals.   And the play ends before we know the ending, so I am not going to give more away.
Carhart and Femia convincingly show how a father-daughter relationship survives latent periods and re-activates when called for. This was a tense and well-directed story of what is probably every parent’s worst nightmare.  Still, I understand that over the weekend, a major network is gave airtime to Alex Jones, someone who believes that the Sandy Hook school shooting never happened and that all related media coverage is a conspiracy to limit gun rights.  I am glad we have plays such as Father Daughter to keep our consciences flexed to protect our children.

Review: Enjoy the Silence

By Ed Malin

This Is Normal is Matthew Freeman’s contribution to This Is Not Normal: An Arts and Activism Festival at The Brick Theater.  Freeman is a tireless innovator, so perhaps I wasn’t surprised when the festival program described this work as “an opportunity for silent observation of real people in a real place in real time. It is a no-media environment and it’s BYOC (Bring Your Own Context.)”  And then I entered the theater and noticed on the program “This Is Normal a play”.
The descriptions are all correct, and the event is beautiful.  What follows are only my observations. I saw the show after the Mac Rogers-Rebecca Comtois double-hander God of Obsidian, the context of which is hard to abandon. Given the theme of the festival and the preponderance of xenophobic rhetoric in the brain of one man who lives in a nice house in Washington D.C., I give Freeman credit for putting a diverse group of people on stage.  Diversity is normal.  Women seem to be leading the resistance, both in "Star Wars" and in the U.S.A. Here in New York, public schools are closed for the Eid holiday for the first time ever.  It would be great to remind the world that difference is normal, and that confronting people with people is the real way for us to get to know each other.
photo courtesy of The Brick
Acting is not normal.  This is something that the show’s narrator, David DelGrosso, knows a lot about and that I am sure most spectators forget.  The only words in the piece were the introductory blurbs about each performer, read off of note cards.  Then, the five performers did what they would normally do.  What would I do?  Maybe turn my back in terror? Perhaps my knowing that Eugene Lee is (or might be) a creative photographer helps me understand his restless stance, his desire to turn his folding chair over and lounge on the ground, and his uncurling his hair.  Kieran Baldwin sat patiently and peacefully.   Stephanie Daniels, a fundraiser, seemed to radiate a vast knowledge of everything imaginable.  Caroline Sharman, a private tutor, wore very nice shoes and leaned confidently against the Brick Theater’s wall, the nice brick texture of which I had ample time to appreciate.  Pablo de Rosas, a technology guy, seemed lost in troubling thoughts, a state of mind I would perhaps be shocked to see on the face of a fellow subway passenger.  Maybe that’s why confessionals don’t come with spotlights.  What other places in the world are safe places?
While watching the event and listening to the sound of air conditioning, I felt somewhat uncomfortable watching people who were uncomfortable. I thought of Yoko Ono’s classic “Cut Piece” (where she sat still as folks in the audience were invited to approach her and snip away pieces of her clothing). When I watch the video of “Cut Piece”, I feel as though the spectators who enjoy objectifying Yoko are being indicted.  I didn’t try to interact with the cast of This Is Normal, but by being their audience, I did.  With director Freeman’s help, they did not respond with faces they thought I might want to see, or by swapping identities the way Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon are now doing on Broadway in The Little Foxes. No, these five people were giving the audience a chance to really look, if it was not too scary, and to really listen, the way John Cage asked people to do with the silent composition “Four minutes thirty-three seconds”.

Review: If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right

By Ed Malin

Gideon Productions presents God of Obsidian by Mac Rogers as part This Is Not Normal: An Arts and Activism Festival at The Brick Theater.  The play stars Mac Rogers and Rebecca Comtois and is directed by Jordana Williams.  The long-time collaborators have just taken the show to the Cincinnati Fringe Festival and are back for a few possibly sold-out performances in NYC.
Have you ever heard the mystical Jewish saying “The whole world is a very narrow bridge”?  You will see a narrow bridge onstage here.   It makes up most of the set, which is designed by Sandy Yaklin.  The bridge happens to come between the rest of the world and the snug house owned by Nathan (Rogers), to which he is bringing Alice (Comtois) as our story opens.  Some people have f@ck!ng lawns, which they have to mow, but Nathan has this interesting bridge over a chasm.  Nathan is a striking dude, who might be the proverbial “most interesting man in the world” if he spent a lot of time in the outside world.  His house is his castle, and he is a little protective, like Bluebeard, but he is not that kind of tyrant.  He and Alice are beginning a romance.  He wants to protect her.  He tells her he has just gotten a big chunk of capital, which he wants to share with Alice in honor of her birthday.  Would Alice consider quitting her job and taking six months or a year to just take care of herself?  It sounds like a sweet deal.  He even couches the luxury of this request in terms that Alice may indeed come to believe prove that they thought of this plan together. Have you ever heard of gaslighting?  No, it’s not some ancient theatrical technique.  There’s someone in the White House who does it a lot.  Gaslighting is when one talks to people in a way that makes them doubt their sanity and the truth of their recollections.  A manipulative man might then move on to persuade such people that only he has the truth, the plan, the power that will make everything all right.
photo courtesy of The Brick
When she moved in with Nathan, Alice was telling him about her friends, who just started a relationship and left her as a third wheel.  Alice would still like to see her friends, and to bring Nathan along.  Nathan subtly posits, as he did when talking about Alice’s former career, that some people just want to waste your time, but, if you say no to them and yes to yourself, you can take your life back.  Nathan is neutral or smiling when he says such things, so why does Alice look so sick?  Why is she trembling?  Is she really incapable of crossing the bridge to go shopping?  Nathan even convinces her that it’s more efficient to order clothes and send them back until you find the right size than to venture out to a store.
If you have encountered Mac Rogers the stage and podcast writer, you may be surprised at his smooth-talking acting skills.  Rebecca Comtois has played a number of heroines opposite Mac Rogers and in Gideon plays in general, but not like this.  The power play within the play is at first undetectable, then becomes the basis of an agonizingly good cautionary tale, nicely darkened by Morgan Zipf-Meister's lighting design, Jordana Williams shows yet again that she can bring such characters to a state of crisis in less than an hour if needed.   On the way home, I looked over my shoulder to make sure my surveillance-minded ex-girlfriend from Hades wasn’t shadowing me.
In the program notes, the playwright explains the title as a reference to the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca – the god of night winds, discord and obsidian – who entrapped a great crocodile called Cipacti and distorted her body to make the land he walked on.  The play will probably make you feel a lot of anguish, or bring up bad memories, or make you want to help people you know are being manipulated.  There is also the implication that media manipulation (during our usual sadistic general elections and now, under the current sh!thead of state) is as bad as it is pervasive.
Just for some closure, the full mystical quote from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) is “The whole world is a very narrow bridge.  The important thing is not to be afraid at all.”  It may be tempting to let someone else rule your life.  It may feel like a security blanket, or a strait jacket.
Alice’s ultimate response to Nathan is so brilliant, so strong and yet so broken, so logically sound and so rich in technology and other things that bullies try to take away from the masses.  It is clear to me why this play was acclaimed at the Cincinnati Fringe and offered an encore performance there.  Interestingly, the cast declined as they had to escape back to NYC to perform at the Brick.  I wonder if a bridge was involved.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Grief Heals If It Doesn't Kill You

By Ed Malin

Grief may push us out of our comfort zone, or intensify our inertia, or make us feel that life is even more meaningless, or drive us to drink, or allow us to see new connections in the universe.  Yes, and.
Go Get The Axe is the first full-length play offering from FIG Productions (whose name stands for "Fear Is Good”).  Over the past year and a half, James L. Menzies wrote the play, an expansion of several shorter pieces created through the vibrant downtown company Amios’s  monthly Shotz! productions.  Director Richard C. Aven guides the cast of 12 through their non-linear, perhaps therapeutically circular, adventure in many modes of being.  I learned a lot about the genesis of the piece through a recently-posted podcast from several of the creative leads.
I also learned that the title of the piece references a well-known folk song with whimsically random lyrics.  But, sometimes, don’t seemingly unrelated things, even loss of loved ones, bring people together?  At the top of the show, a member of the Drinkwine family sees several unidentified persons wearing white hospital gowns walking around a room, next to a sliding door.  When the door opens, we see a huge ascending staircase and a neon sign which proclaims “Parly Gates”.  From this  tantalizing bit of information, we jump between the lives of several Drinkwine siblings, who may be estranged from each other or have their own troubles, all for good, realistic reasons, which we may gradually discover from context.  Despite the David Lynch-like jumps between stories, and priceless dream statements to the effect that playwright David Mamet wrote a script for “Back to the Future” but it wasn’t as good (as the one we know in this world), the dialogue comes off as quite realistic.  If someone knows what they’re talking about, they don’t spend time on exposition.  You have to beat it out of them.  We do see some characters explaining their behavior, such as Tommy Tanner (Jay Ben Markson) a student being punished for a violent outburst, or Maeve Drinkwine (Lisa Kitchens) an unkempt employee called to the boss’s office to be terminated.  In turn, we see the boss, Strother Van Allen (Terrence Montgomery), reveal that his worldly success has made him more sad than anything else.  Consciousness of absurdity helps these characters open up.  Drew Nungesser’s sound design includes lively soul music (pun intended?) that gives us some knowledge of the characters’  mental states.
photo by Richard C. Aven
Doctor Martin Gaskins (Robert Robinson) who is Tommy’s French teacher, realizes that Tommy is dealing with the loss of someone close to him.  However, when Tommy hurls a racial epithet at his teacher and further insults the memory of the teacher’s deceased son, Martin smashes some office furniture with a baseball bat.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen onstage.  It was preceded by a polite conversation in French (with English supertitles) which was delivered in hostile tones.
Jessica Drinkwine (Leigh Williams) calls her brother Jim (Christopher Halladay) to tell him that his baby sister has died.  Jessica leaves multiple voice mails for her estranged brother, who blames Jessica for the death of their mother, Susan.  Ian Friedman’s video design fills in some of the chronology such as Jerry Tanner’s (Michael Propster), who is Tommy’s father, beautiful courtship, marriage and loss.   In the present, Jerry is not able to say much more than “do you have anything to declare?”
It seems that Jessica is connected to Strother Van Allen, her sister Maeve’s employer.  Archie Windows (Eric Michael Gillett) approaches Jessica in a bar and reveals that he knows quite a lot about her.  Such happenings help move the play back to Tommy Tanner and a comet which he has claimed is coming to smash the planet.  But, to remain expansive and optimistic, I should mention that Archie is not the dissipated alcoholic he might appear to be.   He may have bartered for the ability to spend thirty minutes with someone who has died.  More beautiful video and music help the Drinkwines and those close to them come to terms with what has happened.
This impressive play isn’t straightforward, but neither are most interesting people.  Alcoholism, overcoming fear of blood by painting with one’s own blood, storing a noose in one's office drawer, and other means of avoidance are slowly removed to reveal a multi-faceted picture of a family.  It’s the kind of show which doesn’t have a main character, and which calls for great performances from the entire ensemble. I applaud James L. Menzies, Richard C. Aven and the cast for avoiding cliché in their portrayal of young and old characters.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: Great Feminism Survives In Absurdity

By Ed Malin

Sometimes it’s not just the words, it’s how they slap you that leaves a lasting impression. The witty and enigmatic Kim Katzberg and Tom X. Chao have a new show entitled Hot For Feminist Theory Professor at The Brick as part of This Is Not Normal: An Arts and Action Festival.  The language employed is hell on books like bell hooks.  The onstage and video action are indeed hot, the kind of suggestive that you might not expect to find on the campus of the College of Low Hills.
photo by Matthew Kohn
As the 40-minute blitz opens, Professor Losstt-Keyes (Katzberg) is watching her feminist theory students present their thoughts on vaginas, of which we are only fortunate enough to catch one student’s poem on the “aboriginal paintings I found in my cave”.  Dennis Quan of the Office of Pedagogy and Learning (Chao) enters, surprised to find that the room has been double-booked for Losstt-Keyes’s and his seminars. From Losstt-Keyes’s crushing handshake, it seems as though she likes Quan.  They reminisce about a concert on campus several years ago, during which The Carnivore Killers played and frat boys started beating vegans.  After that event, all campus concerts were banned, and it looks like Losstt-Keyes and Quan haven’t had much fun lately. However, Quan’s niceties earn him shoves and the threat of a restraining order from Losstt-Keyes.  He only said that her dress reminded him of a spring day, in a painting by Klimt, which he had only seen in reproductions.   “Do you get paid by the adjective?” Losstt-Keyes asks him harassingly, after she follows him to the faculty lounge.   After much avoidance, she rubs up against his body.  What if the Bursar were to walk in?
“Why do you narrate everything?” she asks in the way many scientific-minded men have been upbraided by women.
Ultimately, Quan is invited to Losstt-Keyes’s place, where he meets her cat, Susan B. Anthony Dollar.  The two lonely academics share several kinds of intimacy, but I think the emotional kind was the most beautiful and fulfilling.
It is all quite absurd, which is why Quan constantly protests his entrapment by the patriarchy and why Losstt-Keyes takes these apologies as consent to abuse him. I think this is a very entertaining show from artists whose understatement is your gain.  Feminism is, of course, vindicated.  It’s 2017, for goodness sakes.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Block Talk- Episode 20- Sophie Moshofsky and Kaitlyn Farley

I got a chance to sit down with Sophie Moshofsky and Kaitlyn Farley to discuss Fight the Good Fight's inaugural production of Elemeno Pea.

To listen to the episode, visit iTunes or SoundCloud.

And visit patreon.com/theaterinthenow to learn about becoming a PATRON of the website!

Review: Agoraphobia Meets Addiction

By Michael Block

The fascination of the human mind is ripe for exploration in art. But how to depict it is the true test. Presented by The Dirty Blondes at the Kraine Theatre, How To Be Safe by Ashley J. Jacobson follows two women struggling to hang on when their paths cross in a time of great need. A psychological drama, this play just scratches the surface of what it can be.
Following the sudden death of her neighbor, Audrey has finally left her apartment. On her journey out of the house, she meets Willow, a young woman with a lust for adventure, on her own journey to recovery. Their chance meeting creates a unique bond that brings them both together only to have their lives come crashing down. Written by Ashley J. Jacobson, How to Be Safe is a showcase of complexity, in character and mind. It is exceptionally difficult to depict mental illness on stage. Jacobson and director Cezar Williams have done a noble job in their attempt. But the script and execution teeter on the line of textbook and presentation with not quite enough theatricality. There’s very much an essence of cinema in Jacobson’s script. Infusing that cinematic feel in a limited fashion is quite difficult. The sound design from Almeda Beynon helped display the chaos in the mind. From the anxiety of the continuity of the time to the excessive loud noises, the sound brought us into Audrey. It was intimate but not intimate enough. Even in the brevity of the piece, Jacobson has much more she can offer. The heart of the play comes when these two individuals connect after their chance meeting. It wants to happen much faster. Playing with structure could easily allow this to happen. How to Be Safe isn’t necessarily a relationship play. The connections aren’t the draw into the piece, and yet we watch what human connection, or lack there of, looks like for these two women. As someone living with great fears, Audrey’s solace of connection comes in the form of her fish, and her love for procedural shows. It’s hard to learn about Audrey’s backstory, hence needing Willow a little sooner. Willow’s connection comes from Scott, a man who wants to help but has a need for a different type of closeness. It’s a strong juxtaposition to Audrey, showing the two individuals and how their illnesses play a factor. But it truly is when we see them together that we learn the most.
photo by Rachael Elana Photography
How to Be Safe isn’t a journey play but a “moment” play. We don’t get the chance to watch Willow and Audrey go on a complete journey but deal with their problems in the here and now. With that in mind, it was important for these women to be presented with integrity and truthfulness. As Audrey, Faith Sandberg played the fear to the max. It was in stark contrast to the intensity from Jenna D’Angelo as Willow. Together, D’Angelo and Sandberg made this wonderfully odd couple that were equal parts engaging and heartbreaking. As the more dominant force, Willow’s control, and subsequent loss of control, allowed D’Angelo to stand out as the central focus. Brandon Ferraro’s sweet Scott was endearing, despite the character’s slightly skewed moral compass.
With the complexity already being a strong factor in this show, director Cezar Williams had a tough road ahead of him. Even in the brevity of the piece, the pacing was sluggish. A leading factor in this was Williams’ transitions. Jacobson’s script called for locale after locale, but on the Kraine Theatre stage, there is simply not enough space. That being said, streamlining would have assisted Williams. He often tried to pair the transitions with an accompanying scene but there was too much commotion, to no fault of the crew. The stage is simply too tiny for it. This production desired sharpness and clarity.
To be fair, the evening I saw the show, there were some technical issues with the lighting. Could it have played a factor on the overall performance? Perhaps a little. But there is more to story. There is something innately promising about How to Be Safe. It might be Ashley J. Jacobson’s daring approach to tell a difficult story.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Spotlight On...Patrick Reilly

Name:  Patrick Reilly

Hometown: Houston, TX

Education:  University of Southern California

Select Credits: Feature Films: “Danny The Manny” (Danny), Dating "My Mother" (Danny, Opposite Kathryn Erbe, Kathy Najimy, and James LeGros); Regional Theatre: American Idiot (Tunny, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts), We Are The Tigers (Clark U/S, Hudson Stage, Los Angeles, Ovation Award for Best Music/Lyrics)

Why theater?: Honestly, observing people has always been my favorite thing to do, so getting to put those observations to good use on stage- that's gold for me.

Who do you play in Afterglow?:  Darius

Tell us about Afterglow:  It's a story of love and intimacy between three people, the way they confront societal standards, their own personal bias in life, and what they do in regards to that triangular connection.

What is it like being a part of Afterglow?: Amazing. Great cast, amazing production team, and conversation for ages!!!!

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theater with complex themes and a POV

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Alan Cumming- and it would be called “My Future”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Constellations, Gypsy with Patti, and The Color Purple- so basically shows that I told myself I'd see but life was like "nah"

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  Cereal for daysssss

What’s up next?: Filming two shorts I wrote- "Needy Bitch" and "Mommy"- the former a commentary on white privilege and the latter a horror drama

Review: A Tree Is The Way Out Of The Tender Trap

By Ed Malin

The Woman Who Was Me is a solo show written by Peter Grandbois (adapted from his novel), performed by Liz Stanton, directed by Jeremy Williams.  After several runs at United Solo Festival, the show is now being presented by Convergences Theatre Collective at TheaterLab.
Lanie is a “woman of a certain age”, an author, wife and mother of a seven-year old son named Noah.  The story opens with Lanie waking up, standing up in bed, wearing all white amid the whiteness of TheaterLab.  She goes about her life the way she has accepted she must.  Her husband’s idea of kissing her is giving her a peck on the cheek.  What a surprise when a passing stranger gives Lanie a passionate kiss in her garden.  Suddenly, Lanie is fully conscious of her desires, and is ready to use her body to fulfill them.  Nina Simone’s song "Wild Is The Wind" plays in the background as Lanie creates a new identity for herself: Elizabeth.  Elizabeth hears the thudding noise of her ceiling fan and is moved to go to salsa clubs, where she is taught by and dominated by strange men.  Whatever she wants, she pursues.  However, she still has writer’s block, for, thinking of her grandmother and the girdle she felt pressured to wear, Lanie is acutely conscious of how society restrains us from living the way we want to live.
photo by Lloyd Mulvey
As sometimes happens in a play centered on the imagination, there are several mythological references.  First, after Lanie views the film "Clash of the Titans" with her son, we are reminded that (according to Ovid in his Metamorphoses), Medusa was a beautiful woman, desired of many men, when the god Neptune raped her in the temple of Athena.  Athena then punished Medusa by turning her into a dangerous, snake-haired monster.  Second, the river nymph Daphne was pursued by the god Apollo as a result of her beauty.  She called out to her father, and was turned into a laurel tree.  The set (designed by WT McRae) is dominated by a tree-like clothes drying rack.  Lanie/Elizabeth fears getting stuck in any normal pattern of life, and shows us her tree-enforced power by changing from her matronly white outfit into tree bark-patterned tights (thanks to Natalie Loveland’s costume design, this metamorphosis was surprising and quite effective).  She is full of erotic energy, like water dripping in a cave, but she also has the very real need to take care of her young son.
Her husband initially ignores Lanie’s increased passion.  Lanie responds by telling us of rough sex with more strangers.  She tries to find satisfaction with her husband, who refuses her, and then is heard muttering in bed “I wish I were alone”.  Finally, after Lanie removes her wedding ring and leaves it on her husband’s pillow, she is confronted by that most spineless remark: “You’re not the person I married.”  Lanie tells us that she is not the same person she was five minutes ago, let alone whoever she thought she needed to be because of marriage, a contract, “something that creeps between two people” and stops them from being who they are.   Lanie tells us that perhaps the kiss was a dream, but her son and her societal role are real.   The audience must decide if this is a story of fulfillment (after all, polyamory and other kinds of sex-positivity are more acceptable nowadays) or unfulfilled longing or some mixture of the two. Kate Jaworski’s lighting helps show the dance between complete empowerment and loneliness which Elizabeth Stanton bravely undertakes.
Following the hour-long Act One, we are treated to the forty-minute talkback which is Act Two.  The play motivated a lot of people to speak up about empowering themselves.  Women’s voices will be heard, most prominently through the hundreds and thousands of women who are now seeking public office.  If the current administration does not care what women want, we can clearly see how the sisters of America (and France too, as reported) will be doing it for themselves.   Many of the creative people behind this production were in the same graduate program, and very happy to tell us that they share a common theatrical vocabulary: from Grotowski movement training to Roy Hart vocal technique.   Jeremy Williams, Artistic Director of Convergences Theatre Collective, has worked closely with Liz Stanton to bring out the mundane and “woke” aspects of her character; the trapped whimper and the primal roar.  The results are fascinating.

Spotlight On...Brandon Haagenson

Name: Brandon Haagenson

Hometown:  Oswego, IL

Education:  BFA:  Millikin University in Decatur, IL.

Select Credits: Monty Python's Spamalot (Patsy, NTC); 42nd Street (Billy Lawlor, Ocean State); going on for Lumiere in Disney's Beauty & the Beast (NETworks tour); Shows at FringeNYC, Theatre Row, St. Luke's, Snapple Center.

Why theater?:  Doing theater in school was when I found 'my people.' I've met the most interesting people in this business - creative, fun, focused types who challenge me, and they're who keep me coming back.

Who do you play in Afterglow?:  Josh

Tell us about Afterglow:  Afterglow is a play revolving around a married couple and someone that they become involved with. There's this line that couples teeter on between sex and love when they open up their relationship, and the playwright, Asher Gelman, does a really nice job of exploring all the different things that two people need out of the same relationship.

What is it like being a part of Afterglow?: The process for Afterglow has been incredibly collaborative.  When you do published works without the playwright in the room you take for granted what's written and kind of glean your own meaning from it. With this, we really got to sit down with our scripts and ask Asher what's underneath everything that happens in the story. Every scene, every word has something behind it, and it's been really cool to discover that and be given the freedom to add to it throughout this process with such talented actors.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:  I love when theater pulls the audience into the world it's painting. In Afterglow, we put the audience on either side of the action to make them feel like they're in these rooms with us. I'm just very attracted to any theater that breaks the form and invites everyone to live in this world for a couple hours. That's a luxury that film and books don't have.

Any roles you’re dying to play?:  Ken in Red by John Logan. That play deals so deeply in what making art does to a person and what it ends up meaning to the world.

What’s your favorite showtune?:  "Sunday" from Sunday in the Park with George. Not your typical showtune, but always gives me the goosebumps.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  Nicky Silver. He writes such compelling, funny characters that are so bent out of shape; I just want to see what building that with him is like.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Jonathan Groff looks right both in the cornfields and in the city, which sums me up pretty much, I guess. "Small Town, Big City." "Lost in Harlem." I hate coming up with titles!

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would like to see A Chorus Line downtown at The Public in 1975 just to see what the energy in that theater felt like.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:  A Doll's House, Part 2.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  Kit Kat Bites. How are they better than Kit Kats?

What’s up next?: Hopefully something as exciting and daring as Afterglow.

For more on Brandon, visit www.brandonhaagenson.com