Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: A Storyteller's Delight

Secrets, secrets are no fun, unless you share with everyone! Every family has some skeletons. Some dark past that stays hidden away until someone gets curious. Set tucked away in the titular state, Brian Watkins’ astoundingly mighty Wyoming brings a formally shattered family together on a day of thanks as a healed wound is ripped open once again. Produced by the hit machine Lesser America, Wyoming is a gripping saga of family and the power of keeping truths away.
Played in the mid 1990s, Brian Watkins’ Wyoming shares the story of the reemergence of a long departed brother who mysteriously returns to town, forcing a family to question a life-defining instance that happened over twenty years earlier. Broken into two distinct parts, the first part of the play is filled with exposition, told through smart theatrical devices. The second part is an action packed dinner where an innocent party game leads to truths being revealed. From a structural standpoint, Wyoming utilizes some pretty standard devices, but the way Watkins boosts them is smart and fresh. From flashbacks to a monologue, the array of storytelling is perfect for this mystery play. Brian Watkins is a wordsmith. His marvelous storytelling talents are on full display as he keeps you glued to the edge of your seats, waiting with bated breath for the ultimate reveal. The moment the word game at dinner begins, each sentence that the family creates leads to such a fantastic reveal.
photo courtesy of Hunter Canning
To bring Wyoming to life, Lesser America has assembled a cast filled with company favorites along with seasoned pros. As April, the curious sister and daughter who hopes to unite the family, Sarah Sokolovic is simply stunning. Sokolovic has an innate ability to blend humor into her performance, all while remaining firm and grounded. Sokolovic is truly the glue that keeps the family and play together. Daniel Abeles and Nate Miller as Tom and Grant respectively have a natural connection as performers that made playing brothers easy. Their tag team act blended well with Sokolovic’s April. Carter Hudson does a great job as the smokey Hank in the flashback scenes. His chemistry with Laura Ramadei’s Maggie is exquisite. While Laura Ramadei does beautiful work as young Maggie, there is a small layer missing as she transitions to play the matriarch. The age dynamic between mother and daughter was lacking. She does transform and finds some beautiful moments in the dinner scene, there was more to be desired.
Watkins’ script is near flawless and Danya Taymor’s direction was equally brilliant. The rollercoaster of momentum was expertly maintained by Taymor. She found the moments when the story needed to take time and when it needed to keep moving. Taymor’s staging throughout was spot on. In the first part, keeping Edward T. Morris’ rundown world stationary allowed Taymor to blend into each scene and memory with ease. By mixing present with past, Masha Tsmiring’s lighting design allowed for some beautiful stage pictures. The soundtrack that Robin Pecknold and Neal Morgan composed fit beautifully into Watkins’ world. It was subtle and served the play well.
Wyoming is one of those simple plays that hits you. It mixes an array of emotions that allow to feel as if you are part of the family. Brian Watkins knows how to tell a story. And with a top notch team surrounding in, his story is even stronger. Wyoming may be the best thing from Lesser America yet.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: A Truly Beautiful Day

If you ever thought your family’s holiday gatherings were nuts, wait until you see the folks of Kate Benson’s wildly flawless A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes. A typical Thanksgiving goes haywire as relatives unite on a day of thanks as history recurs in the present.
Presented like a high speed sporting event, including wickedly spot on play by play, A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes follows an average American family’s Thanksgiving from preparation to completion. Rather than offer a stereotypical family drama, playwright Kate Benson does the extraordinary and turns the family drama on its head, finding ingenuity in a high concept piece. Her characters lack ordinary names. The cast is a wonderfully diverse ensemble. There are no props or furniture. All of this allows Benson’s piece to be universal and accessible. Benson’s script on paper is merely a blueprint for possibility. Director Lee Sunday Evans lifts Benson’s words and breathes such life into it on stage. Evans takes great precision in her direction. She has taken great care and dedication as she guided her ensemble to victory. Evans has a Wes Anderson-like specificity that was vibrant, energetic, and stunning to watch. The theatrical vocabulary that Evans created was crisp and inventive. The brilliance that Evans adds to Benson’s wide-open script is nothing short of daring. Her attention to detail adds a wonderful layer to an already solid production.
photo courtesy of Heather Phelps-Lipton
Benson’s cornucopia of personalities that make up the family is a wonder to watch. The blend of generations is dynamic. As the host with the most, Brooke Ishibashi as Cheesecake gave a solid and grounded performance. Her array of personality shined depending on who she was interacting with. Her camaraderie with her sisters Cherry Pie and Trifle, played by the equally wonderful Alicia Simms and Nina Hellman respectively, was pure delight. Mia Katigbak as matriarch SnapDragon is true and comical in her physicality. Kristine Haruna Lee as the hazardous Gumbo brings an extraordinary sharpness to her character. Her sense of vulnerability shines through as her family gets down on her, but the moment she becomes the hero, her strength is astonishing and real. While the majority of the cast had a lot of physical work to explore, it was the pair of color commentators that seemed to have the most fun and hardest job. Hubert Point-DuJour and Ben Williams as the color commentators have a sensational report with one another. While you may not have been watching the dynamic duo at all time, their presence was alive, all thanks to their silky smooth vocals.
With a blank canvas to create Benson’s world, the design team brought an authentic and cohesive design. Sara C. Walsh’s 70s inspired set with wood galore was just what this athletic play needed. At first glance, the tape on the floor of the stage looked arbitrary, but with close attention, each color and shape defined specific movement by the company. Costume designer Kathleen Doyle did a solid job defining the generation gap between characters and allowing each individual to have their own personality through costume. If ever there is proof of the importance of sound design, it’s in this play. Brandon Wolcott’s brilliant design captured the spirit of the piece by incorporating stadium buzzers as replacements for various everyday items like doorbells and oven timers.
While the end is bound to pose an abundance of questions, the lead up is quite brilliant. A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes is a defining piece that proves theater doesn’t need to always fall into that cookie cutter mold to be great. Kate Benson has written a great play but it’s the top notch directing by Lee Sunday Evans that makes this play a celebration.

Spotlight On...Brian Watkins

Name: Brian Watkins

Hometown: Parker, CO

Education: DePaul and Northern Colorado

Why theater?: It's live and completely unlike any other art form. The flesh and blood aspect of it never gets old. And it's very hard to get right.

Tell us about Wyoming: It's a play about a family that's trying to avoid the past. Their estranged and silent brother is spotted at a hometown diner twenty years after a confounding childhood crime and his return uncovers some buried memories and unspoken bounties, hatching a quite eventful Thanksgiving. It's a ensemble piece that explores the places and people we come from and the fragile power that memory holds over family. We have an excellent team all around with a cast that will knock your socks off. The play is heavily reliant upon music as a tool for understanding Time, so we've enlisted original music to be composed by Robin Pecknold and Neal Morgan, who have done some beautiful work. Robin is my cousin, and so it was a joy to collaborate with him on this, as his sound is an absolutely a perfect fit for the world/tone of the play. Add some great designers and the stellar work of the producers at Lesser America and I think we've made a great night of theatre.

What inspired you to write Wyoming?: I'm interested in the elusiveness of memory and the stakes that it holds in our relationship to family history. This is directly affected by the land our family occupies, and I wanted to write something that contrasted the permanence of that land with the temporality of its inhabitants. We all have a connection to the past, and I find it's typically more mysterious than concretely fathomable. This is the flint that sparks the dramatic action in Wyoming (I hope).

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theatre that is muscular and unexpected and stories filled with characters whose choices are oddly defined by environment. I love plays that see the stage as a kind of altar for Americans shaped by the history of the land they live on, or moonstruck by the culture and heritage they keep. It's always shifting but one thing that's remained constant is a continual fascination with where people are from (i.e. Place). For me, Place is the gathering agent yet totem of individuality that shapes society. In it's best form I think this expresses a distinctly American conflict, that is, characters driven by instincts that are at once territorial and transient. Some of my favorite artists that do this are Bruce Nauman, Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Sam Shepard, Faulkner.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Tough question, as the people I'm working with right now at Lesser America are some pretty great folks. People that can do more with less are the best kind of artists in my eyes.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: More recently, Scenes From a Marriage at NYTW and Father Comes Home From The War at the Public. Jez Butterworth's The River was pretty damn good too. I'll see anything he writes.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Jim Varney, "Ernest Goes to Camp"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would have loved to see the original production of Long Days Journey Into Night

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Barbecue/beer.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Probably writing in some other capacity.

What’s up next?: Wyoming plays with Lesser America until the end of the month so come see it while you can. Then I'm headed off to Colorado for a reading of the play with Local Theatre in Boulder as part of their Lab series.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Spotlight On...Corey Tazmania

Name: Corey Tazmania

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Education: Antioch College, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts

Select Credits: The Parable Conference (Next Wave Festival, BAM); On the Future of Art (Guggenheim); Pericles and Oliver Twist (STNJ); Jericho (NJREP); The Housewives of Mannheim (59E59).

Why theater?: Theatre is an art form that requires collaboration- of ideas, craft, and expression. Because it is a shared event throughout its entire process, I feel connected to and actively engaged in something much larger than myself (esprit de corps).

Who do you play in Villainous Company?: Claire Ashburn

Tell us about Villainous Company: This play is like a puzzle. All three of its characters reveal certain truths. Each of them (and us) have to figure out where these pieces fit to make sense of the real and whole story being told.

What is it like being a part of Villainous Company?: Super fun! I think we're pretty lucky to have a group of people who are playful, thoughtful, clever, wicked good at their craft and bring homemade snacks...

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Wow, I have to say I am inspired by all of the performing arts and the artists, artisans and technicians who make it happen. There is something so beautiful and scary and reflective in the ephemeral quality of live art.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Martha (Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?); Medea (Medea); Frankie (Frankie And Johnny At The Clare De Lune); Pilot (Grounded); Portia (Merchant of Venice).

What’s your favorite showtune?: "My Friends" from Sweeney Todd.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Director Ken Rus Schmoll.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Natalie Wood, "The Foolish Grin (Working Title)"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Ellen Terry in Macbeth, Ruth Gordon in A Doll's House

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Under the Radar Festival

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Chinese food in bed.

What’s up next?: In February, I'll be working on an installation for Camel Collective at REDCAT and then return to NJREP for Richard Strand's new play, The Realization of Emily Linder.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Spotlight On...Julia Campanelli

Name: Julia Campanelli

Hometown: I’ve lived in NYC long enough to call it my hometown. I think I was born here in a previous life.

Education: University of Maryland (theatre) and The New School University, NYC (film)

Select Credits: Sleep No More (Punchdrunk NY); Cornbury: The Queens’ Governor (Theatre Askew); The Seagull (East River Park Amphitheatre); And It Spins Twice by Alex Roblan, Benefit of A Doubt with Carol Kane, The Comings And Goings Of Average People with Mackenzie Phillips, directing the site-specific Macbeth on LES for Shelter Theatre Group.

Why theater?: It’s the only place being a drama queen isn’t frowned on. I think. I may be wrong.

Who do you play in Villainous Company?: Joanna Clay, the fastest cat in the jungle.

Tell us about Villainous Company: 3 female sociopaths in a game of intrigue and a war of wills.

What is it like being a part of Villainous Company?: Wonderful! The company is great. It’s a great, tricksy script, and director is delightful. My cast mates are so good it’s intimidating. I really had to up my game to play with them.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theatre about strong, independent, intelligent women speaks to me, which is why I was drawn Villainous Company. Playwrights like Sarah Ruhl and Moira Buffini inspire me because they write these types of characters. Ann Hamburger’s En Garde Arts did some site-specific productions directed by Tina Landau and Ann Bogart that blew my mind. Literally, my head left my body. It was messy, but worth it.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Mr. Macbeth, Hecuba, Tamora, Lady Bracknell (let’s take it back from the men). Juliet, or any ingénue. I was never an ingénue. Too tall.

What’s your favorite showtune?: I’m not a musical theatre person, but I do like A Little Night Music, and West Side Story, because of the stories they’re based on, and of course the music is so brilliant.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I would love to have worked with Mike Nichols. He inspired me to become a director.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I am developing a screenplay about myself. In high school I broke the gender barrier in sports in the United States. The role I would play would be writer and director. I’m stuck on the title, though. I’m open to suggestions.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Wow. So many. I would love to have seen an original Globe production in Shakespeare’s time. Moliere in his last performance, dying on stage (that’s how I want to go). John Wilkes Booth at his last performance. (talk about theatre as politics!) Sarah Bernhardt in anything, Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie, Charles Ludlam and Everett Quinton in Camille. The original production of The Trojan Women; (Imagine Euripides’ notes to actors -  “I love what you’re bringing to the role, but it’s a comedy!”)

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Villainous Company, Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night Time, Tamburlaine Parts I & II.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Seeing 2 plays or 3 films in a day.

What’s up next?: In 2015 I’m directing three concert staged readings for my theatre company, Shelter Theatre Group: a gender-reversed Romeo and Juliet, on the same weekend VC opens (multi-tasking!), an all-male version of The Maids, and a gender-mixed version of Hamlet. After VC closes I go into pre-production on a short film I wrote and will direct and act in, based on one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, called “116”. I have a horror film project with director Jeremiah Kipp in development that we hope to shoot this year. And I have another film I’m developing based on Jocasta and her relationship with Oedipus, placed in modern day New York City. Again, I’m stuck on the title. Do you think ‘Motherf**ker’ is too literal? Spoiler alert, definitely.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Spotlight On...Terri Mateer

Name: Terri Mateer

Hometown: Brattleboro, Vermont

Education: BS Interior Design

Favorite Credits: Doing A Kind Shot at FringeNYC. What an experience!

Why theater?: Because there are actual real, live people there.

Tell us about A Kind Shot: It's a solo show that chronicles my life as a basketball player, designer, coach, stripper…. It's uplifting and thought provoking and some have said that the pace of my delivery makes them feel like they are watching a basketball game. I used to play pro ball in France and I played thru college so the story uses basketball as a metaphor. And just when you think, "Oh my God..! This is getting heavy." I slip in some humor.

What inspired you to write A Kind Shot?: After my first solo show, I wanted to take what I had learned and tell a story with a "truer angle" of my life. So, I Googled "how to do a solo show" and found Marty Moran's show All the Rage and later saw The Tricky Part. I liked how he told his life story with a thru line and how it was on the edge with humor and smarts. After performing "a kind shot", people write me emails saying how they can now talk about stuff (like sexual abuse) that they had never talked about with their  loved ones. Many people have said that the show inspires them to get out there, play, let it rip. It's the feedback from people that inspires me, that keeps me going.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I like the "straight" plays. But then I really like the weird outrageous ones too. Anytime there are humans on a stage crushing the lights out, I'm game, all in, give me more. I mean, I love Stomp! And I could fall in love with a solo artist, who is simply on stage and pouring out their heart and soul. What inspires me are those laughs, those moments of sizzle, the mistakes that you as a performer can turn into gold on the stage… the opportunity to share yourself live! To see what is gonna happen tonight…knowing that you are seeing a show for the first time! Every time is the first time.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Jeff Goldblum, Jodie Foster, Steve Buscemi, TILDA SWINTON!!!

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Random Acts by Renata Hinrichs, both of Marty's shows, and any of Mike Birbiglia's shows -- he's got one now called Thank God for Jokes.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: A female coach who is falling apart, she coaches a team, say from a small town and the kids are living like below the poverty level and thru coaching, the kids get into colleges, she heals, a community is created.  The movie would have to be called "Coach". And star Sigourney Weaver or Mariel Hemingway or Kate Winslet.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Burn This.  It was my mom' favorite play she always talked about it. I played Anna in some scene studies. Plus, I love John Malkovich too. And I miss my mom, so it would be cool to see what she liked.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Eating.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _______?: I'd be a mess….but I'd be working in architectural design services or finding a way to create my landscaping biz into a full time gig.

What’s up next?: Raising money. You got any?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Spotlight On...Kyoung H. Park

Name: Kyoung H. Park

Hometown: Santiago, Chile

Education: MFA in Playwriting, Columbia University

Favorite Credits: disOriented and the upcoming premiere of TALA

Why theater?: I stumbled into playwriting as an accident and after many years, it just became something I did. Sometimes, it’s pure discipline, because I don’t understand why I keep doing it, except that I’m miserable when I don’t, and unless I keep writing, I feel like something inside me is never let out. I wish there was another way to explain where it comes from, but it comes from a real need, and once a play is written, it just seems logical that I would find a way to make the play happen. The process is long and protracted. It feels like you’re pregnant for four years, and you just carry this thing—this play—and find the ways to make your words human, by finding actors who’ll embody your words; then, you create a home for them, by finding designers who can make this “play-world” you’ve written come to life; and then, you figure out why you’re putting all of this together, and for whom, and how you’ll make it happen, so you can find an audience.

Tell us about TALA: TALA tells two stories—the first is a semi-autobiographical narrative about my immigration story as a gay, Korean-Chilean playwright (performed by Daniel K. Isaac)—and the second story is the story of Pepe and Lupe, two lovers inspired by Chilean poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda (performed by Flor De Liz Perez and Rafael Benoit). We collage these two stories together and thread them into a whole with original music by Svetlana Maras, choreography by Yin Yue, illuminated props by Jason Krugman, live video by John Knowles, in a theatrical production with set design by Marie Yokoyama, lights by Chuan-Chi Chan, sound by Lawrence Schober (and Chris Barlow) and costumes by Elizabeth Barrett Groth. The overall effect is seriously playful, challenging, and beautiful—everyone involved is an active collaborator and doing really fascinating work.

What inspired you to write TALA?: I started writing TALA four years ago because I was trying to find a way to immigrate to the United States. Obviously, you can’t immigrate to a country by writing a play, but I wrote the play as a way to expressively work through what I had to figure out legally, as an immigrant. When I was finding my way through the immigration system, the play did well, but when I lost my way, the show stopped. I got my Greencard this May and we received our artistic residency at the University Settlement a few weeks later. Soon after that, we scheduled the premiere of TALA and I’m quite excited that we’re doing it in this historic, NYC landmark that has served immigrant communities for over 130 years. I’m very thankful Alison Fleminger and Lisa Clair (Curator and Co-Curator of the Performance Project @ University Settlement) have invited us to tell this story in their space—it’s a heavenly match.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I am inspired by the theater made downtown—although “downtown,” “experimental,” or “performance art” doesn’t really capture the nature of this work. I am inspired by theater that challenges conventions, manipulates forms and techniques, and I respond very well to work that is personal and made by individuals—when you feel like someone is really reaching out to you to tell you something. I don’t go to the theater to be entertained, I like going to the theater to listen, to think, and to be asked to think about things in a different way. That really inspires me.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I feel like I’ve worked with everyone I wanted to work with as I prepared myself to make this show. Previous to my studies at Columbia, I was an exchange fellow in Augusto Boal’s Center for the Theater of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro and learned how to create work based on collaboration and improvisation. I searched for ways to make this happen with my own writing, and I interned with Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company for two years, before jumping on the Mabou Mines’ band-wagon to work with my mentor, Lee Breuer, for another two years. Last year, I was a fellow with Target Margin Theater’s inaugural Institute for Collaborative Theater-Making and found ways to process and distill all of these practical experiences into a method I can call my own, and now I’m more interested in making my own work. I have more than five plays in different stages of development, waiting for me to make them happen, so if anything, I’d like to work with theater companies that can help me keep making my work, or tour my work to support the making of future projects. Now that I am not restricted by my immigration status, there’s this door that’s been opened and I’m just trying to stay centered as the ideas flow out.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Since it’s January and festival season, I am recommending multiple shows to my friends. I’m excited about The Assembly’s That Poor Dream at The Tank, Temporary Distortion’s My Voice Has an Echo In It at the COIL Festival, Bora Yoon’s Sunken Cathedral at HERE’s Prototype Festival, Cynthia Hopkins’ A Living Documentary at American Realness, Lucy Alibar’s Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up at Under the Radar, and La MaMa’s SQUIRTS!, curated by Dan Fishback. I’m sure I’m not the only one excited that all 10 seasons of “Friends” are now available on Netflix, but if you’re a theater person and not going out to the theater every night this month, you are really missing out on some of the best theater in the city. It’s just that plain and simple.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I am in love with this question because I’ve already written this movie. It’s called "SEOUL BABY" and it’s a gay drama set in Korea. Daniel K. Isaac would play me, as he’s already done so in disOriented, an immigrant family drama with Korean fan dancing, and will be doing again, in TALA. Daniel K. Isaac is my muse and we have a really wonderful, collaborative partnership. We challenge each other to grow artistically with each project that we work on, and I hope we get to keep working together in the future. He’s a generous artist and phenomenal actor, and the way we’ve managed to keep collaborating over the past few years truly excites me.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed,what would it be?: I really wish I had seen more productions of Sarah Kane, Martin Crimp and Caryl Churchill, more work by Richard Foreman, and I always missed Dimitris Papaioannou when his work was somewhere in the States. I have a feeling that I would appreciate their work even more if I had had a more direct, visceral experience with them, so I’d go back in time to see their works.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I am obsessed with "Project Runway". I think there’s something really satisfying about watching all these people make clothes and “put on a show” in sixty minutes and see the [very reduced and edited] creative process that makes that happen. By the end of each episode, it makes me feel a sense of creative completion, which is nice, because my process is so glacial. It takes so much time. Theater is probably one of the slowest and most complicated ways of expressing yourself creatively, but the collaborative practice and social nature of theater is my ultimate guilty pleasure—it’s like an addiction. I am hooked on people.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I would probably find ways to work in film or TV, because you can reach more people through these other media. But to be honest, I already work outside the theater to support the work I do artistically, so in some ideal future, in which artists are more sensibly compensated for their work, I would probably love being a full-time artist.

What’s up next?: I have readings and workshops lined-up for the Spring following the premiere of TALA, on-going discussions about a TV show, and I’m looking forward to spending lots of time writing grants so we can produce our next show!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

Theater in the Now's Best of 2014!

Another year, another whirlwind of great entertainment! 2014 brought a lot of daring and new theater as well as some great revivals of classic and modern texts. While some would say the year on Broadway was a bit lacking, the Off Broadway and Indie world greatly made up for it! Here's my list of the top 5 productions of the year!

1. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
The cult classic finally found it's way to the Great White Way and in fabulous fashion. The Tony winning revival brought showman Neil Patrick Harris to don the infamous wig and rock out to an updated rockin' score. With Andrew Rannells, Michael C. Hall, and John Cameron Mitchell following in the Tony winner's platforms, it was Lena Hall that gave one of the stand out performances of the year.



2. Fly By Night 
Quite possibly the most underrated production of the entire year, Playwrights Horizons enchanted audiences with this stunning musical by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick, and Kim Rosenstock. The stunning intertwining love story brought some performances that pulled on your heartstrings. Allison Case and Henry Stram gave some beautiful performances but try not crying while watching Peter Friedman.







3. Propaganda! The Musical
Theater festivals rarely give you perfection, but in this year's New York Musical Theater Festival, there was perfection. And that perfection happened to be the future of theater. Written by Taylor Ferrera and Matt Webster, this musical comedy was a hilarious new piece that brought the laughs from start to finish. And it also showcased a star in the making, Dale Sampson. If the theater gods were watching, Propaganda! The Musical will have a new life soon.

4. Pentecost
Each summer, PTP/NYC comes to the city and spends a month in residence at Atlantic Theatre Company's Stage II. This year, they brought with them an incredible revival of David Edgar's Pentecost. Wonderfully directed by Cheryl Faraone and featuring a large ensemble of professional and student actors, Pentecost defined the brilliance of Edgar's story with a stunning commentary on art.








5. Powerhouse
Sinking Ship Productions brought the life of Raymond Scott to the stage in exquisite fashion. With a limited run at The New Ohio, Powerhouse was a color explosion about one man's love for creating art and the effect it has on his life. The bioplay featured some incredible moments of puppetry as we saw the creation of a cartoon and a mini cartoon live on stage.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review: A Forgetful Modern Fairy Tale

Living the life of a fairy tale may seem like a dream, but when the fairy tale becomes a reality, the dream may turn into a nightmare. In Kristen Palmer’s haunting Once Upon a Bride There Was a Forest, a young bride to be journeys to find the missing piece in her heart before she can marry the man of her dreams.
When Josie goes on adventure to find her father, she stumbles upon a mysterious mansion that houses a screaming child in search of a nanny. Josie poses as the nanny and discovers this place is also home to her father who disappeared. But what exactly is this place, well that’s the big question. Palmer’s Once Upon a Bride There Was a Forest is a modern fairy tale with a horror spin. It’s also a tale of mystery and intrigue that creates rules and occurrences as the play progresses. The rules of the world that Palmer devises are quite confusing, conflicting, and, at times, implausible. Sometimes depending on happenstance, the way the plot unfolds makes you scratch your head and think, “wait, what?” The spell that is cast over the house somehow makes people forget. Josie’s father, Everett, and her fiancé, Warren, have no recollection of Josie when they see her. And we never really know why. Josie happens to forget to call Warren while she’s there. We never see this “vortex” that prevents this amnesia-like occurrence. The timeline of events that Palmer sets forth are also a bit questionable. It’s quite possible the world that Palmer has created is very specific, but the execution of the world needs to be much cleaner because her story is fairly beautiful and heartwarming.
photo courtesy of Isaiah Tanenbaum
The sextet portrays their modern inspired fairy tale counterparts with great fun and willingness to play. But the strength within the ensemble falls to the woman, though Brian Silliaman offers a solid portrayal as the Hitchcock-ian butler. The strongest performance on stage comes from Kristen Vaughan as Eugenia. Vaughan has a Victoria Grayson aura about her character. Vaughan’s witch-like persona makes her a loveable villain, carrying her character with wonderful entitlement. As her childlike daughter Belle, Becky Byers evokes a youthful and bratty naivety to the fiancé stealer. As a modern day princess, Rachael Hip-Flores brings an interesting strength to the role. Her character, which seems to be a remix of many iconic princess including Cinderella and Ariel, finds courage with and without her words. Though, it’s still a bit odd that not a single piece of paper exists for Josie to use. Arthur Aulisi and Chinaza Uche as Everett and Warren respectively struggled with their memory-losing counterparts. They seemed to have difficulty naturally easing into the heightened world Palmer created for them.
While Palmer’s rules may have been confusing, director Heather Cohn’s rules of the space were equally as blurred. The space that scenic designer Will Lowry created was a beautiful wood inspired set that created some interesting challenges. With no true boundaries, besides a door and a platform, Cohn’s physical world was never consistent as actors trotted around the stage haphazardly. The costumes designed by Stephnie Levin fit the characters’ personalities quiet well but the wedding dress, especially post reveal was absolutely stunning on Rachael Hip-Flores.
Despite the beauty of the story, Once Upon a Bride There Was a Forest was an underachieving piece that needed more time and care. The idea was something special, but the execution was a miss.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review: An Ocean of Recovery

The struggles of living through addiction while dealing life, love, and money take center stage in the fishing port of New Bedford, Massachusetts in Mike Gorman’s If Colorado Had An Ocean. A series of intertwining stories that eventually meet, If Colorado Had An Ocean brings the past to the present while attempting to alter the future.
In Mike Gorman’s fishing port inspired drama, one play of a trilogy, Steven and Big John, a pair of high school buddies reunite on a construction job and string along Steven’s artist girlfriend Michelle and writer brother Jim on an adventure they wish they never entered. What at first seems like an easy gig soon turns into a clashing of personalities and an entangled drug smuggling scheme that leads to reverting back to addiction. On the surface through synopsis, the play has an appealing and unique story to share but the truth is If Colorado Had an Ocean is a structural nightmare. Gorman throws a plentiful amount of ideas at the wall and uses whatever sticks. From a musical number to narration to thin secondary plot lines, the execution of a well built play is missing. To engage the audience to exposition, Gorman employs a musical montage that seemed incredibly out of place. The cast appears on stage together and sing the titular song while snippets of scenes are thrown in between the various choruses. The device is bizarre and never appears again. To allow campiness to enter this particular story seems iniquitous. The other campy moment of the piece comes in Act II with the incredibly presentational arrival of the client and distant relative of Moby Dick harpooner, Tashtego. The Tashtego sub plot is strange enough and only seems as the logical connection to tie the drug and harpooning themes into the play. The other large structural problem the play had was how Gorman used Jim. Jim was established as a narrator type but was sparsely utilized. His monologues were quite poetic, which was a jarring contrast from his dialogue with the other characters. The credibility of the character may be called into question due to the contrast. With so much going on and so much to track, it may be easy to lose focus and miss out on the importance of the story. With an abundance of cross relationships to cover, Gorman seemed unable to strengthen the core relationship of the motley trio.
photo courtesy of Ken Arcara
With a team of strong veteran Indie actors, finding cohesiveness as an ensemble unfortunately seemed like a difficult task. The trio of Matt Hurley, Nick Lawson, and Alan Barnes Netherton as Steven, Jim, and Big John respectively, lacked chemistry. Hurley, the cog and link of the trio, delivered a very centralized emotional performance. As the focal point of the story, Hurley was often overshadowed by his costars, especially those on the other side of the plot. Jeff Pagliano as Jason offers a wide range of emotion as the antagonist of the piece.
Director David Bennett, who has a deep history with Gorman’s trilogy, brought his previous experience to the piece but lacked an overall goal. With an striking set by Donald Eastman, Bennett was unable to utilize it properly. Yes, Eastman’s set was filled with challenges, including the primary playing space being thrust so far back in the space, but one of the more unfortunate recurring staging moments was the overhead project in relation to the wall it was projected on. Michelle, played by Melody Bates, spent much of her time creating art using the projector. With action and dialogue happening on the wall and by the projector, it was easy to get distracted by the images created and lose important dialogue. There was some beautiful theatricality though coming from lighting designer John Eckert and composer Rebecca Hart. The cohesiveness during the drug scenes with the tribal music and eerie lighting allowed for some striking moments on stage.
If Colorado Had an Ocean was an ambitious attempt at creating an important but ambition got in the way of execution. Perhaps before the other two parts of the trilogy are presented, another glance at the structure will be taken.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Spotlight On...Laura Butler Rivera

Name: Laura Butler Rivera

Hometown: Ponce, Puerto Rico

Education: MFA in Acting from Columbia University; and BA in Drama from the University of Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras

Favorite Credits: Teach, Teacher, Teachest (One-Eighth Theater at INTAR Theatre); UBU (One-Eighth Theater); so go the ghosts of México: Part 1 (La MaMa); Zoetrope (Caborca theatre).

Why theater?: The stem of it all? Wanting to learn as much of everything as possible, by doing. At age 8 I thought through acting I’d have the opportunity to ‘step into others shoes’ and be able to do and learn of the world and its ways.  Throughout the years I’ve come to appreciate the ritual and the uniqueness of theater even more. Theater is not only scary and exhilarating, it’s educational and social. I love meeting up with other artists and being silly, serious, frustrated, scared, sad, vulnerable, inspired, and joyful, all the many facets.  Then getting a drink and talking about the process; then sharing it with an audience and having a drink with them and talking about it.  The simplicity and complications of a theatrical event are fantastic. There is a quote I heard and love that says “I lose and find myself in Art.” This definitely applies to me.

Tell us about All That Dies And Rises?: All That Dies and Rises is a piece created out of a love of expression and dedication. The Ensemble, the heart, and the space were all there. What was needed was a common denominator to tell the story. A situation during the original planned process occurred that wasn’t expected and we were faced with two options: To stop or to create. We rose to the occasion and decided to create and share what James Rutherford calls “a hurricane of sweat and laughter, asking how we go on in the face of catastrophe.”

What inspired you to choreograph All That Dies And Rises?: I had met James working on Love’s Labour’s Lost, a Columbia thesis production directed by Andrei Serban in 2010; He was assistant director and I was a movement coach. Since then I respect his work. I admire the beautiful imagery in his plays and the way he talks about theater. When he approached me to work with him on his next project I loved how open to exploration he was. It would also give me the opportunity to work with Casey once again. When All That Dies and Rises emerged as an idea the opportunity to dive into the unknown with a great ensemble to create a piece from zero was an inspiration and an exciting challenge.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I am attracted to pieces that take greater risks (because theater is a risk in itself). And I enjoy theatrical pieces that are unafraid of genres.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: This list is long and vast. I’d love to work with as many as possible. I’m a theater nerd. And film lover.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Flirting with food. I just ate at Chef Martin Picard’s Au pied de Cochon in Montréal, Quebec and tried his House-made Boudin with a great red wine and it was one of the guiltiest pleasurable experiences ever. Thanks to Chef Anthony Bourdain’s recommendation, he’s never let me down. And I never miss enjoying a delicious mofongo accompanied by a Medalla beer whenever I’m in PR.

What’s the most played song on your iPod?: Currently it’s “Sail” by Awolnation.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A Film director…or in dance...or a painter’s assistant…or a film editor…pretty much something to do with the Arts. haha.

What’s up next?: Zoetrope with Caborca Theatre at Pregones Theater in January 2015, Distant Star, an ART workshop of Roberto Bolaño’s Distant Star in Cambridge, MA in March 2015, "The Entitlement", a film by Javier Antonio González in the summer and Ankara, Turkey- Teaching at Bilkent University 2015-2016, starting in September

For more on Laura, visit www.laurabutlerrivera.com

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: A Silent Night of War

The history of war is filled with moments of horror, terror, and sorrow. The stories that are often spoken of are ones that memorialize the struggles and death of the people fighting. Rarely do the inspiring or heartwarming tales get spoken of. But through times of war there are glimpses of hope and peace. In Ricardo Perez Gonzalez’s heartwarming war drama In Fields Where They Lay, the stunning Christmas Truce of 1914, a moment of peace during World War I, is celebrated on stage in exquisite fashion.
Capturing a moment of fascinating possibility, In Fields Where They Lay follows a troop of British soldiers on the Western Front as a day they never imagine became reality. Written by Ricardo Perez Gonzalez, the drama takes inspiration from the “War to End All Wars” and the momentary truce that shocked the world. The specific story watches a young and optimistic solider, Teddy, and his comrades including Pfeirrer, a husband with hope, Dietrich, the token pessimist, Osbourne, a Jamaican, Sargent Woodward the comic relief, and the aways prim and proper Lieutenant Jeffries as they discover the atmosphere of war changing as the holiday season arrives. While the piece is very ensemble driven, Teddy truly becomes the focal point for the climax. Despite this, Ricardo Perez Gonzalez seems to give the theatrical focus to Pfieffer by including his wife Catherine, appearing through note. This device doesn’t carry through to any of the other characters which forces focus toward Pfeiffer despite him being less of a firestarter than Teddy. Even so, the device of using Catherine truly takes away from the beauty and intrigue of life behind the trenches as she adds little except for exposition. Ricardo Perez Gonzalez capitalizes on the hardship and camaraderie of wartime. The relationships he develops behind the trenches propel the story toward the heart of the piece as they, and their enemies, bond over their mutual adoration for Christmas.
photo courtesy of Hugh Mackey
With a fine group of actors assembled to portray the soliders, the shining star performance came from Spencer Davis Milford as Teddy. Bright eyed Milford brought confidence and a genuine hope to the role. Though Teddy may be the weakest of the lot, he is truly the strongest and Milford conveyed it brilliantly. Another strong showing came from Stephen James Anthony as Private Pfeiffer. Anthony had a subtle strength in his performance that resonated well for his character. Jeff Gonzalez as Private Dietrich took the unenthusiastic persona of his character and gave it great life, avoiding monotony. Zack Calhoon fulfilled a much needed comic relief role as Sargent Woodward. Calhoon hit his comedic marks effortlessly while still giving his character a realistic presence.
With a skilled and sharp mind to lift the characters off the page, director Brad Raimondo depicted this undesirable world with great ease and excitement. With an impressive scaffolding set by Clifton Chadick, Raimondo brought the trench world to the stage with great theatricality. Raimondo guided his actors to find the humanity of their characters and the situation that allowed for the final scene to resonate with the audience. Lighting designer Wilburn Bonnell offered some beautiful looks that allowed Raimondo to great equally beautiful stage pictures. With such a realistic moment of history to portray on stage, Chadick’s theatricality worked with the exception of the back wall piece. When it was revealed later in the show, it made sense but the sharp and jagged negative space image it created was a bit distracting at times, especially when Bonnell’s lights showcased it.
Perhaps with some trimming in the middle of excess material, In Fields Where They Lay may be a newfound Christmas tale you remember for years to come. The straight from the history books story is touching and still significant 100 years later.

Spotlight On...James Rutherford

Name: James Rutherford

Hometown: Downtown NYC

Education: BA Brown University, MFA Columbia University

Favorite Credits: Last year’s Oscar Wilde/Ernest Hemingway mashup The Importance of Being Ernest Hemingway was a beautiful mess years in the making. I also recently assisted Peter Brook on his most recent production The Valley of Astonishment — a truly lifechanging experience that took me all the way to Paris.

Why theater?: While other children were taken to church or temple, I was taken to the MoMA to see my grandfather’s paintings. So art, family and religion have always been deeply connected for me. I think this must have been what drew me to the theater — a place where a community of artists can come together, channeling the energy of performers and audience alike into something resembling transcendence.

Tell us about All That Dies And Rises: All That Dies And Rises draws heavily on traditions of physical theater training — Grotowski and Russian biomechanics, among others — and on text from a wide variety of dramatic, poetic and academic sources (Fanny Howe, Anne Carson, Charles Bukowski, etc.), building compositions based on death and resurrection with an extremely tight ensemble. The result is a dream collage: part play, part ballet, part choir and part pantomime.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I feel that theater is a combination of the absolutely fake and the absolutely true, and I’m fascinated by the tension between the two. Dance tends to speak more directly to this than straight theater. Consider a choreographed dance: a group of people moving in unison is ludicrously artificial, but the physical exertion necessary to achieve it is undeniably real. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m attracted to extremely rich, dense texts, and most of my work thus far has lived in that sphere (Sarah Kane, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Goethe). Our current piece is an attempt to bring these two energies together — to sing with our bodies and move written words through space.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I recently got to direct the incomparable Kathryn Hunter for three glorious hours, and nothing has been the same since. I would love to work with her on a full production.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Suzan-Lori Parks’ Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) at the Public. Vast, bold, open and devastating.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would be played by a young Gene Wilder in "The Golden Asshole".

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I find text kerning obsessively wonderful.

What’s up next?: Working with a team of playwrights to reconstitute Richard Wharfinger’s long-lost Jacobean opus The Courier’s Tragedy.

For more on All that Dies and Risies, visit M-34.org. For more on James, visit james-rutherford.com

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: The New Mean

Growing up, everyone seems to find their niche, the thing or friends that help them survive their tween years. In Jenny Rachel Weiner’s darkly funny comedy Horse Girls, an elite equestrian club comprised of twelve year olds experience the potential end of their life when the stable they so nearly and dearly love is potentially about to disappear on them.
Horse Girls follows queen bee and president and decider of all Ashleigh and her entourage of “friends” as they embark in an eventful meeting of the Lady Jean Ladies. What begins as a normal meeting of hierarchy, jealousy, and all around cattiness on the part of President Ashleigh soon turns into an afternoon of chaos as news breaks that the Lady Jean stables may soon be sold, forcing the horses to be sold for, not glue, but meat. When a mutiny arises and the girls turn on their leader, Ashleigh does what any sensible twelve year old does, a reign of terror. Weiner’s script is everything you wish for in a tween-centric comedy. Weiner captures the hilarity and gravity of every little thing in a twelve year-old’s simple life. Her dialogue is sharp and witty. The dichotomy of characters Weiner presents in this tight circle of friends is quiet interesting. Rather than have similar clones, she mixes the privileged with the odd ball with the sidekick. With a very short running time, Weiner has much room to continue to develop this eclectic mix of girls so the supporting roles have a bit more of a cleaner arc. The meat is there, and quite nice, and by adding more, the abrupt climax of Shakespearean proportions doesn’t come across as rushed.
photo courtesy of Hunter Canning
The ensemble of seven have a wonderful time portraying these whacky girls. Leading the team of girls is Olivia Macklin as the epitome of mean, Ashleigh. Macklin uses a delightful amount of resistance to portray her power. Her journey of entitlement to loss of power is wonderful to watch, keeping her composure. Macklin employs a dry sense of comedy to Ashleigh, something that is drastically different from the more caricature based performance by Kaley Ronayne. Ronayne offers a strong and transformative performance as odd duck Margaret. Ronayne channels her inner kid bringing out the awkwardness of Margaret. Rounding out the strong performances is Angeliea Stark as second in command Tiffany. Stark is well-rounded and sincere. Despite her character having a bit of a radical change after she discovers her best-friend-since-the-womb is about to kick her out, Stark brings out the pain and loyalty of her character.
Director Sarah Krohn does a magnificent job getting her ensemble to believably bring their characters to life. She keeps the action moving and allows the beats to be found. Her staging was quite calculated, even keeping a keen eye on minute details including the leveled seating arrangements of the girls. Krohn does struggle finding the cohesiveness of comedic styling among the girls. While they each find their own comedic style that fits their individual character, it occasionally doesn’t mesh as one. Scenic designer Daniel Geggatt does a wonderful job of using the space, incorporating the architecture into his design. The ambiance brings you into the bedroom, allowing you to feel like a fly on the wall. Geggatt too has a nice eye for detail with the pieces and décor in the room. Costume designer Siena Zoe Allen captures the essence and quirks of each of the girls.
Horse Girls is a wild comedy with room to expand. And I don't think the audience would complain to see more of these girls. Yet in it’s current state, Horse Girls is an exceptional glance at the mean girl culture and the struggles it brings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Spotlight On...Joey Arias

Name: Joey Arias

Hometown: New York City… Via North Carolina &  L.A.

Education: Went to Catholic schools my whole life… into College…!!!

Favorite Credits: Capitol Records Contract as a kid..…  Many movies, Television..  Concerts around the world..  A Book.

Why theater?: Theatre, I Love it…  Grew up watching movies, musicals & plays…  Then I would do my versions of them for my friends at home…  I’m so inspired by the magic that’s on stage…

Who do you play in Christmas with the Crawfords?: I play Joan Crawford…

Tell us about Christmas with the Crawfords: Christmas With The Crawfords is based on a radio broadcast that Joan did in 1944 at her Brentwood home with Hedda Hopper and the writers used this to spring off and incorporate other films for script.  Joan is preparing for Christmas Eve and during the broadcast other movie & celebs keep interrupting this moment and the children start to act up..then Joan snaps in front of her guest and things get interesting.... don't want to give away to much!

What is it like being a part of Christmas with the Crawfords?: I LOVE working on this play directed by Donna Drake….  The cast is so much fun… There are a few originals actors from the beginning such as Connie Champagne & Chris March from S.F. production and I've done it 3 times in NYC. Sherry Vine has joined the cast and Flotilla deBarge too so you can imagine the INSANITY!  The others are new faces… and they are all so much fun and really push the bar.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: The theatre that speaks to me is one that has all you need to make a show run smoothly  And who inspires me as an artist is someone who makes me dream…. and that is many… old movies and classic theatre inspire my work!

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I would Love to play Alister Crowley..The most evil man in the world... al that black magic etc.   Very curious!!!  I wanted to Play Lady Day but thats been done already.  Manfred Thierry Mugler has written a play / musical for me called.  Z CHROMOZOME so I'm working on that!

What is your favorite showtune?: My favorite showtune…is  “Let Me Entertain You”  from Gypsy.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I would love to work with Helen Mirren - that would be a GREAT challenge. She saw me when I did ZUMANITY's Cirque Du Soleil and she said I was Brilliant!


Who would play you in a movie and what would it be called?: Jake Gyllenhaal.  I think it would be a challenge for him….and it would be called…..  “Z CHROMOZOME  the Next Adventure!!!”

What shows have you recommended to your friends?: I could recommend so many, but I'm still a sucker for Wicked.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: CREAM- Their first album & anything by BILLIE HOLIDAY.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: MY GULITY pleasure is watching Movies...I can watch Movies all day…

What’s up next?: Coming up is the Billie Holiday Centennial. She would have been 100 yrs Old…Touring thru Europe & The states.     Trying to finish a script about the story of Klaus Nomi and Alan Cumming would play him…  Working with my partner / Husband..Juano Diaz from Scotland on his Art Show…. and working with MAC Makeup on another project with my MAC Makeup wipes  - always creating ART  !!!  And some recordings… A New CD.  I think thats the big picture for now.   LOL