Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review: A Powerful, Emotional, Raw Play

By Kaila M. Stokes

Chokehold written by Anthony P. Pennino was a profound outlook on the prevalent racial issues in our country today. It opened with a director type figure named Jason, played by Roland Lane, moving lights and the camera to a perfect angle viewing a chair. There was a TV set up reflecting whatever the camera was getting for the audience the entire show. This type of viewing was unique because the audience was seeing what was going to be sent out to the public and then also catching everything “behind the scenes” as well. The lights were outside event style flood lighting used to create drama and shadows in a very open space. Jason then calls action and in walks Devon. Well, he is actually forced in by two characters dressed as cops who are yelling and getting physical with Devon. Devon, played by David Gow, is a frightened “white boy” who seems to be oblivious as to why he is there under duress. David Gow’s performance is moving to say the least. He went on an emotional journey unlike any other and reached those emotional peaks bringing the audience along with him. The reason Devon was there is because of no reason at all. Due to Devon’s pure and innocent “whiteness” he has been chosen to be a sacrifice for the greater good of the movement this group of people believe in called Justice Now Front. The Justice Now Front is made up of five friends that have tried to peacefully protest when a black person is killed unlawfully by police, they have tried writing letters, doing interviews; but they are at their wits end and believe that the only way people will start to listen is if they start to sacrifice innocent white people. No matter your beliefs, Chokehold is a remarkable view inside the lives of people readily affected by this painstaking issue and are out to make a difference whether they are using the right or wrong methods is the question.
The director, Tim Cusack, should be commended for taking such a huge issue in our country and still finding the humor in the text, in the actors and the beauty in each characters story. It felt as if the audience knew each character by the end. Even though the end was surprising, there was a buildup that makes the audience hold their breath.  The time was taken for each characters’ story to development from point A to point B. Tika, played by Marija Juliette Abney, is a stunning actress that delivers lines with grace and ownership. Tika was the voice of reason throughout the play, asking each one of her friends to look inside themselves for their own stories and see if this was the right path or not. She delivered a beautiful monologue about her heritage incorporating movement that was fresh, exciting, and allowed for the words to flow like her physicality.
photo by Alberto Bonilla
There were moments in this serious play that made you laugh; specifically Rokia Shearin (playing Dominique) always had a spit-fire delivery that kept the audience on their toes. She is a strong black woman that believes she is doing good not evil. During her story, the act of killing someone breaks her down into a mere mortal like the rest of us and it is humbling to watch. Andre, played by Michael Oloyede, surprised everyone. His anger and rage grew throughout the piece erupting into a violent irrevocable scene of carnage at the end. His pain represents so many that act on that pain. Chokehold reminds us that no matter how bad it gets, if you stoop to that level, you have lost your own self.
The couple things that could have changed were; the moment when Dominique decides she should kill Devon and the physicality of Carter, played by Thomas Mussnich.  Carter was the other police officer hostage-taker partnered with Andre. He was constantly brooding with his shoulders hunched forward, and fists clench. Throughout the piece he comes to a realization that he does not want to do this and delivers a moving monologue about leaving his mom and sister to fend for themselves. Ultimately, he has a change in heart.  With this enlightenment he gains, it would have been an interesting element to see his physicality change too. He could have softened a bit throughout the play making him go from physically menacing to relatable.
A huge moment was when, after all the arguing about who was actually going to commit the crime, Dominique decides she will put it all to rest and do the deed herself. She wraps her hands around the night-stick, thrusts her hands over Devon’s neck, begins to choke him for about three seconds, and pulls away in fear. What a major moment! This needed to be held longer to let the audience simmer in the pot of discomfort that is killing someone! It was the only missed opportunity of the entire show, but it needed to be held longer and the audience needed to see the fear take over her.
Overall, Chokehold, had everyone on the edge of their seats. Without giving away anything, this show is funny, provocative, honest and gut-wrenching all in one. And all of this is done in a little black box theater at the 14th Street YMCA? Theater is a wonderful tool to let your voice be heard. Chokehold used this tool in a beautiful and titillating way to raise awareness. I would run to see this while you still can!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Spotlight On...Joe Ferraro

Name: Joe Ferraro

Hometown: West Babylon

Education: University at Buffalo

Favorite Credits: As an actor- George Tesman in Hedda Gabler and Lee in True West. As a writer- Diamond Dogs and Deadly Humor.

Why theater?:  There is something incredible about the intimacy of theater. You are watching something unfold in front of you and while the results may be predetermined, there is always a feeling that anything can happen. I love knowing you could be in the audience to witness “the show when everything clicked.” With film or music you can create that moment through numerous takes. Theater doesn’t afford that luxury which makes it so incredible when it does happen on the stage.

Tell us about Diamond Dogs:  Diamond Dogs is a mix of Putnam, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Best in Show." It’s an absurdist comedy that takes place in the already absurd world of the competitive dog circuit. The competition narrative has always been something I gravitated to because in every character’s mind, they have a justified reason for winning. I think this allows for an interesting, fleshed out group of characters. Plus, dogs are amazing and with Cats back on Broadway, I felt the canine fans needed something to cling to!

What inspired you to write Diamond Dogs?: I have wanted to do a show about dogs for years but could never visually grasp how it would work on stage. I ended up going to a friend’s show (A series of one-acts produced by some incredibly talented people over at Theater 68) and saw a play that featured an older gentleman playing a little girl. I was legitimately crying from laughter because every moment I bought into the character, I was quickly reminded that it was still this older guy. I loved the playful balance of being in on the joke but still being emotionally affected by the source material. That’s when I realized I could actually write this weird dog play and it would work.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I’m the worst person to answer this question because the smallest things inspire me. If you are the guy at work who cracks jokes that make everyone’s day a bit better, you have inspired me more than most Broadway actors. I think any theater that is willing to take risks to be true to the source material will always speak to me. We live in a time where being able to produce content is shockingly easy and sacrificing that same content to reach a broader audience is just as easy….I’m inspired by those who decline the latter.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: As shocking as it may sound, I’ve yet to work with Stanley Tucci. I actually strapped the script to a homing pigeon with a dvd copy of “The Devil Wears Prada” as a visual reference for him but never heard back. Mark Strong did reach out for the same role but it was already cast.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I am a huge fan of Christopher Durang, so just about anything he has ever done is worth taking a look. I let people know if you can combine him with David Mamet and remove about 67% of the talent, you sort of get what I’ve been going for with my writing.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: The title of the film would have to be “Some Like it Hot 2: Others like it Frumpy.” I would approach the casting directors with a list featuring Idris Elba and George Clooney to play me but would likely get Paul Giamatti, Joe Pesci and Danny DeVito in response. We end up agreeing on Stanley Tucci.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: It would have to be the original production of Noises Off or the 2004 Broadway run of Assassins.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I enjoy watching competitive e-sports (specifically Super Smash Brothers, League of Legends and Overwatch), I’ve been known to watch WWE and I’m also shockingly a big fan of Savage Garden.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?:  I am currently working as a video editor but I’ve been strongly considering opening up a soup truck with a coffee-menu theme to confuse tourists. It’s called “Cup O’Joe.”

What’s up next?: I have a few projects lined up and hope to start working on those as soon as Diamond Dogs ends. Look out for a full adaptation of Deadly Humor, a family dramedy entitled Shrimp in a Shoebox, a musical set in the world of Fighting Video Games or just me playing bad covers of folk songs as a way to recoup the loses of my wacky dog show!

For more on Diamond Dogs, visit www.newyorktheaterfestival.com/Diamond-Dogs

Spotlight On...Quinn Franzen

Name: Quinn Franzen

Hometown: Kailua, HI

Education: Williams College '09, LAMDA '08

Select Credits: Doug in Threesome (59e59 Theatres), Tor in The Lucky Ones (Ars Nova), Louis in Angels in America (pts. 1 & 2) (Intiman Theatre), Cassio in Othello (Seattle Shakespeare Company), Romeo in R+J (Intiman Theatre). I have a recurring role on the show "Billions", and have been recently featured in Younger" and "The Blacklist"

Why theater: Oh christ I don't know if I have any good reason for doing it. Probably the cons far outweigh the pros. I just keep doing it.

Who do you play in Hedda (Gabler)?: I play the troubled writer, Eilert Lovborg.

Tell us about Hedda (Gabler): Hedda Gabler is an extremely complicated play, but at its heart I think its agenda is simply to expose the raw nerve of the human soul. There are so many obstacles to it being shown -- social mores, the will of others, and even (maybe especially) conflicting impulses within oneself. The play resists neat morals and agendas. It just wants to tell itself -- a great story beautiful and dark characters.

What is it like being a part of Hedda (Gabler)?: It's terrifying. There is an infinite amount of work to do and a very finite amount of time. The play is a Hydra and every time we have a little victory in the room, five more heads immediately show up to remind us not to get too cocky. But it is a lovely struggle and very rewarding. A dream to work with this text and group of dedicated actors.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theatre that isn't only patronized by rich old white people. Theatre that features language, dark humor, relevant social issues, and diverse casts. Theatre that is thrillingly written and not afraid of reinventing the wheel. Theatre that maybe has a hunch that it's theatre.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Any role in King Lear. George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Any role in a Clare Barron play.

What’s your favorite showtune?: My favorite showtune is all of the new Frank Ocean album.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Tom Hardy today. Kevin Spacey if we're time traveling to before he accepted "Nine Lives"

Who would play you in a movie and what would it be called?: Who is trying to make this movie? This is a terrible idea for a movie. There is nothing exciting about my life history, that's why I became an actor. Other people's stories are far better. That being said, I would be played by Annette Benning.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Spiderman Turn Off the Dark. People make great art everyday. We only get one opportunity per lifetime to witness a true and utter fiasco. I fucked up and missed mine.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: My favorite shows of the past year:
Public Works' Twelfth Night, Ironbound at Rattlestick Theatre by the flooringly talented Martyna Majok, King Charles III by Mike Bartlett, and YOUARENOWHERE by Andrew Schneider... And Hamilton.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Killing.

What’s up next?: A whole Fall of paying rent, hopefully.

Review: I Like It Like Eh

By Michael Block

Some theater makes set out to engage through intellect. Others seek engagement through entertainment. Both are viable options but sometimes entertaining gets in the way of content. Such is the case of David Maldonado and Waddys Jaquez's I Like It Like That. Blending a score of Latino hits with some specially made numbers, set in New York City in the 70's, I Like It Like That is a celebration of a spirited people during a time of struggle.
"El Barrio" is alive in I Like It Like That as we watch a Puerto Rican family live in a time of turmoil. Set to an energetic soundtrack of fan favorites, we watch as each family member, along with their vibrant neighbors, deal with varying moral and social issues. The plot is thin. And so are the characters. But it's an experience just to witness the participatory reactions from the audience. If you thought the energy was high on stage, it was multiplied in the crowd. It's one thing to engage an audience in a manner that makes it a crowd pleaser, but the truth is I Like It Like That pulls the wool over their eyes. If you truly dissect this show, it's sadly not a good theatrical product. It's part In the Heights, part Trip of Love. In reality, it's a thin book musical with a little jukebox thrown in. There are way too many characters to honor a strong arc for each individual. It's no secret, this is a musical for a certain demographic. Maldonado and Jaquez insert references just to get bold reactions from the audience. There are even moments when the crowd will burst out the coming line simply because they know where it's going. Pandering is one thing if it can be earned. Unfortunately, they were not. What's interesting about the structure of the piece is how Jaquez writes music for specific beats. And surprisingly, they offer some great musical moments. Could I Like It Like That thrived on all original material? It's very possible. Pigeonholing the jukebox into the show did not pay off.
photo by Marisol Diaz
This is a show that requires true triple threats. This company was not that. We had some folks who ticked off two boxes and many who could do only one. But nevertheless, each individual brought an exuberant amount of energy and pride. The closest triple threat was Chachi Del Valle in the multi-track role. Del Valle brought the funny, the sexy, and the dramatic. Ana Isabelle was delightfully sugary as youngest daughter Paula. The main attraction of the production was the theatrical debut of salsa legend Tito Nieves. Nieves as Roberto has a booming vocal and managed to sell the paternal aspects of Roberto.
Taking on the directorial role was Waddys Jaquez. Jaquez’s vision was bold and extravagant. There’s no doubt, whether it was due to his closeness to the material or not, there was a plethora of excess material that could easily be eliminated. When it came to guiding his design team, Jaquez and company went for flash and panache. The set by Raul Abrego was a bit of a detriment. The slated brick wall allowed the exceptional band to be heard but there were no secrets when it came to seeing actors moving around behind. Aside from the limiting playing space, the texture on texture was not good for Rocco Disanti’s projection design. Disanti mixed the English subtitle projections between a black cutout on the wall and an ostentatious lyric video design, the latter being much more exciting. Between the lights from Lucrecia Briceno and G. Benjamin Swope and the costumes by Hochi Asiatico, color thrived.
You absolutely cannot deny that I Like It Like That is a crowd-pleasure. The moment the first chords of the title song are played, the crowd goes wild. There is a history in this story, but it doesn’t shine. It’s the energy of the music that brings this show together. If you’re looking for a strong musical, this is not it. If you want to have fun, you’ll like this like this.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Spotlight On...John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen

Name: John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen

Hometown:
JA: Born in Houston Texas, Moved to New York when I was 6 months old.
CPM: Raised in Malvern PA, lives in Brooklyn New York.

Education:  
JA: Graduate of Syracuse University
CPM: BA, DeSales University

Select Credits: 
JA:  Appeared in Journey’s End, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Waiting for Godot among others on Broadway, as Orson Welles in Orson’s Shadow Off-Broadway as well as appearing in the Coen Brother’s "Inside Llewyn Davis".
CPM: West Side Story (1st National Tour); The Runner Stumbles (Off-Broadway revival); Metamorphoses, A Little Night Music, Candide, Assassins, Macbeth with the Arden Theatre Co and over 50 productions with The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and People’s Light.

Why theater?:
JA: Strangely I never intended to be in theater, I wanted to be what is perhaps the opposite of an actor; a forest ranger.  I fell into theater kinda by accident and never looked back.
CPM: My sister made me perform pantomimes when I was seven and it became my life.  My only other temptation was baseball but I didn’t grow fast enough.

Who do you play in ChipandGus?: 
JA: I play Gus, a very established yet troubled, lonely Professor of Philosophy who is hiding from a lot.
CPM: I play Chip; a forty something journeyman musician, between jobs, between girlfriends, between domiciles and about to walk off a plank.

Tell us about ChipandGus?:
JA: It is about two guys who meet once a month to play ping pong, and they meet it a rundown game room off of a rundown bar in an Upstate college town.  They are acquaintances not friends, and on this one night something happens to change their relationship forever.  And they really play ping pong.  It is fast, funny, surprising and cathartic and quite unlike any other play.

What is it like being a part of ChipandGus?:  
JA: We are the writers, directors and performers so it is a little like being a Queen in Chess who can move twice in a row, it is like having ultimate power, being able to change a line at will or simply keep tweaking something until it is exactly what we want.
CPM: It’s like tap-dancing while playing an 80 minute scene.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:
CPM: When I go to theatre I want to go for a ride, and everything that goes with a ride, the dips and turns the “oh, no, oh no we’re not going to be taken there are we?!”  And I need a window in, something that hits me, and I prefer theatre with a giant window or many windows so everyone, even a child has way in.  The beauty of ChipandGus is that it has a universal window in, the simple game of Ping Pong. Something so basic we all can relate, and it is the starting point for this amazing ride that Chip and Gus go on and take the audience with.
JA: I love when characters have to face great and grand questions, when their humanity is called upon.  As a playwright I am always looking for the way to freedom, the way to an ideal coexistence…and of course humor and wit are this magic world, a dimension that I love to explore.

Any roles you’re dying to play?:
JA:  I’ve played Falstaff 11 times and I’d happily do it 11 more, but the part I’m dying to play is Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner.
CPM: Two come to mind for me; Harold Hill in The Music Man and Cyrano, oh, but my dream role is Bill Snibson in Me and My Girl.

What’s your favorite showtune?: 
JA: Impossible to answer but an example of how I listen is to find recordings, say “Some People” from Gypsy by Angela Lansbury, Patty Lupone, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Liza Minelli and listen to all five in a row. (My favorite?  Drum roll………..Liza, by a mile, committed, raw and brilliant!)
CPM: Wow, so many…I can’t name one…“Send in the Clowns” is so sentimental, I can’t…this is…oh alright “Shipoopi”, there, both ends of the spectrum. Wait, can I add Hello Dolly’s “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and from Fiddler: “Little Chavala” and the “Dream.”
JA: Sorry I have to stop you.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:
JA: At this point there are several directors I’d love to work with, Jack O’Brien, Daniel Sullivan, David Saint, Doug Hughes, etc.
CPM: My friend Rob McClure.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  
JA: It would be called "Get the Laugh" and I would be played by Oliver Hardy striking out on his own (without Stan Laurel).
CPM:  I would be played by Robert Downey Jr and it would be called "The Walking Cautionary Tale."

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?:
CPM: I would want to see the first performance of Hamlet.
JA: I would go back to the Globe and see Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts one and two.  Or see the Marx brothers during one of their live Vaudeville shows.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:
JA: Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth is the one I recommend but I certainly would recommend ChipandGus.
CPM: I recommend Something Rotten.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:
JA: I collect little figures; toy soldiers, cartoon characters, and small super heroes.
CPM: Red wine and classical music.

What’s up next?:  
JA: After ChipandGus finishes in the Fringe Encore Festival I’m off to Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey to do A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
CPM: Every Christmas Story Ever Told at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre.

For more on ChipandGus, visit http://www.fatknighttheatre.org/

Spotlight On...Kathleen Marsh

Name: Kathleen Marsh

Hometown: My family and I lived all over the country but the closest thing to a home town would be South Windsor Connecticut where I went to high School.

Education: I have BA in Theater from the University of Maryland

Select Credits: Broadway: A Streetcar Named Desire, The Night of the Iguana, Rumors and Footloose. My favorite roles have been in the plays Rapture and Little Beasts written for me by my sister, playwright Jeanne Marshall.

Why theater: The theater chose me at a very young age. I was always shy as a child but wasn't shy on stage and it has always appealed  to my need to lead a creative life.

Who do you play in Hedda (Gabler)?: I play Miss Julia Tesman

Tell us about Hedda (Gabler): It is a wonderful, accessible new adaptation by Matt Minnicino. The production is inventively directed by Joseph  Mitchell Parks and produced by The Wandering Bark Theatre Company.

What is it like being part of Hedda (Gabler)?:  It is an absolutely talented cast and crew. This is my second production with The Wandering Bark Theatre Company and they are heaven!

What kind of theater speaks to you? Who or what inspires you as an artist?: I am a big believer in cross pollination! I am also a  parent, painter, avid gardener and novice Celtic harp player all of which inspire and inform me .

What's your favorite showtune?: I have many favorites for a variety of reasons but I cry every single time I hear Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald sing "Wheels of a Dream" from Ragtime.

If you could work with anyone who would it be?: It would be Vanessa Redgrave.

Who would you play in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would definitely want to play my mother... She is amazing. I haven't the foggiest idea what it would be called.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original cast of The Glass Menagerie to see Laurette Taylor's performance as Amanda Wingfield.

What's your biggest guilty pleasure?: Spending  hours in my art studio playing VERY loud music and painting.

Whats up next?: Hopefully more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: Geist, I Must Express Was a Let Down

By Kaila M. Stokes

Geist, produced by Horizon Theatre Rep, is a story of soldiers putting on plays by the greats; Stramm, Marx, Kafka, and more. Geist means “ghost” in German and from the description on the website, it seemed to be a promising play. German Expressionism is rarely done probably because most people have bad memories from their High School English classes. Geist started off with the five actors on stage doing nothing…for a while with an old video of warplanes from WWI playing on a three-paneled screen behind them. At first, it was super interesting to see that multitude of media being used in a play set in the WWI era. As the play began, it was hard to follow from the start. Basically, the five actors portrayed characters in five different stories by five different men that didn’t seem to have any connections to one another from what was portrayed on stage.
Geist is conceived and directed by Rafael De Mussa, Mr. Mussa also starred in the play. Wearing all of these hats, it is not hard to see how Mr. Mussa may not have been able to step out of the box and see the underlying issues. Conceptually, Geist is interesting, intriguing and play-worthy. Delivery wise, Geist needed more writing of its own and less of others. Never once was the location, time, or reason for these soldiers being in what one can only assume was a bunker in WWI spoken of. Instead they literally went from story to story and it was hard to follow. If the show started with the actors entering from off stage or down the aisle and all had moments of getting their bearing, speaking about what is happening out there, and connecting with one another than maybe the audience would have connected with the characters too. There was no audience to character connection because there was nothing answered only text that was long and dragged at times making it hard to focus. The first scene thrust the audience into Stramm with an actor as a Jesus figure and the other actors scorning each other for their wickedness. Was this supposed to relate to the wickedness of war? Why was this set in WWI? The second story was by Toller, a German Expressionist writer who wrote many plays from his prison cell. The third story by Kafka was about a guardian of the tomb who had the tombs ghosts haunt him at night. The fourth story was by Benn who was a famous essay writer and novelist in Germany who supported Hitler later in WWII. The fifth story by Schreyer had an intense ending with the characters questioning life/death, mortality, and the meaning of it all.
The cast (Cory Asinofsky, Sean M. Bell, Angela Dahl, Rafael De Mussa, and Adam A. Keller) had some nice “acting” moments. It was impressive to see them connect with the different stories each time even though the connection with the audience was missing. On one hand that is a good thing and on the other it means that they got to an emotional place without cause. There were many moments when shouting would ensue and it seemed shocking or out of place because the audience had no stakes in what was happening on stage. But yet, one has to commend the dedication of the actors.
photo by Richard Termine
The lighting, by Yuriy Nayer, was very interesting. It was dimly lit, which set a spooky tone but old Edison light bulbs were strung up around the ceiling. These light bulbs would flash and flicker in unison with a screeching sound that usually would signify the end of that story and the beginning of the next.  It was the only way the audience knew when one story ended and it added to the assumption that the characters were in a bomb shelter of some kind.  The sound, by Arisiteded F. Li, was also key to the progression of the stories. At times it was a bit too loud, with the audience plugging their ears, as the sounds were so high pitched and long that it was difficult to focus. It definitely took one out of the performance momentarily. Again, the idea was there, but the execution needed to be tweaked. The video, also created by Arisitedes F. Li, was very clever. It allowed the audience to know something about where the characters were and what they were doing. The one huge thing that detracted from that was when one of the characters, played by Rafael De Mussa, referred to the video. It took away from the fact that this unique piece of audio visual entertainment should have just been used for the audience, not the characters. The ongoing theme with Geist is that the idea was there, but the execution was not.
Overall, Geist was not something to see if you like plays that have logical explanations and clear plot points. Maybe this audience member doesn’t love German Expressionism as much as one thought. It could have been/could be great with the implementation of more plot writing, character descriptions, events happening in between the acting out of plays, and the clear establishment of a who/what/when/where/why.

Spotlight On...Terence MacSweeny

Name: Terence MacSweeny

Hometown: Tulsa, OK

Education: MFA Columbia

Select Credits: Iago (New York Shakespeare Exchange), MacBeth (Southwest Shakespeare), R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Hudson Theatre Works)

Why theater?: Because I can't decide whether I'd rather spend my energy confronting reality or indulging fantasy. Theatre requires that I do both simultaneously.

Who do you play in Hedda (Gabler)?: Judge Brack

Tell us about Hedda (Gabler): It's a fantastically vibrant, funny, distilled adaptation of Ibsen's masterpiece, featuring a great team of artists having a crack at one of the summits of theatrical literature...!

What is it like being a part of Hedda (Gabler)?: It's incredibly satisfying to work with such talented, well trained and experienced artists on this project. You can actually feel everyone in the room operating at the top of their game. These actors came to PLAY.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Personally, I prefer minimalist theatre. It's certainly more challenging for an audience which is why I think so many companies shy away from it. But I suspect that the more distractions a production has, the more it inhibits the story, and even inhibits true catharsis in the audience...

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Pale in Burn This, Proctor in The Crucible, Richard III

What’s your favorite show tune: Uh..."Nessun Dorma"?

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Ivo Von Hove or Mark Rylance

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I'd play myself (unconvincingly), and it would be called "In the Parlance of Our Times"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Paul Scofield's King Lear

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Hedda (Gabler)!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Late Night Grilled Cheese sandwiches

What’s up next?: Hedda (Gabler)!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Spotlight On...Vishaal Reddy

Name: Vishaal Reddy

Hometown: Johnson City, TN

Education: Boston University and Atlantic Acting School

Select Credits: Death of a Salesman, Out Cry, Sweeney Todd, Godspell, Reasons to be Pretty

Why theater?: I feel like I feel most at home on stage. Theater is the only thing that truly connects me to others and forces me to be something else. It allows me to get an immediate reaction from something and makes me listen intently and focus on goal at hand.

Who do you play in Out Cry?: Felice Devoto

Tell us about Out Cry: Out Cry or The Two Character Play is a work by Tennessee Williams. This is an obscure work of his and chronicles a brother and sister acting duo who’s acting company has left them- because they are insane.

What is it like being a part of Out Cry?: This is honestly one of the hardest parts I have ever played. Felice is a curious creature. He’s brash and bold, yet calculated and tightly wound. He is highly self aware and is very type A. He’s crazy! Felice goes through an emotional journey throughout the play and I love taking the audience on this crazy, erratic, and heart stopping ride. To play a character who’s mind is slowly deteriorating is thrilling! I am exhausted by the end of the play!

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Oh man, I get inspired by all sorts of theatre. It honestly does not matter the genre or type, it just needs to have a message that resonates with them in some way. However, I love theatre that showcases human nature in its most natural state, observing the good, bad, and ugly sides of people. Naturalistic, dark, dramedies are my jam but I will not say no to doing a great comedy or musical! As an actor, I get inspired by a lot of people (too many to name) but I love it when I get to see an actor breaks type and step out of their comfort zone, surprising people with a brilliant performance. I find inspiration in proving people wrong, which might seem strange but it drives me to take on challenging parts and to be okay with accepting parts that are not fully realized.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Oh man…Iago in Othello (I like my villains), Brooke in Noises Off (if they gender bended the role), Aaron Burr in Hamilton (no caption needed) and the Leading Player in Pippin (for real though..)

What’s your favorite showtune?: "Saturn Returns" (Hymns and Myths by Adam Guettal)

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Playwright Brandon Jacob Jenkins. His plays are outstanding and his material is so rich and complex.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I don’t think would play me but knowing my luck, I’d probably just get cast in a Lifetime original movie about Aziz Ansari and it will be called “Treat Yo Self: The Aziz Ansari Story.”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury and original Angels in America.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Humans. It’s quietly brilliant.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Full disclosure…I love watching really awful movies. The Room is a personal favorite. It’s incredible.

What’s up next?: Out Cry (playing September 28th and October 1 (tickets at www.tamashanyc.org) and then working on a pilot presentation of "Off the Runway". Additionally, I am working on a solo concert so stayed tuned for more updates on that.

For more on Vishaal, visit www.vishaalreddy.com

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Spotlight On...Arpita Mukherjee

Name: Arpita Mukherjee

Hometown: New Delhi, India

Education: University of Virginia , Columbia University

Favorite Credits: How to Succeed as an Ethnically Ambiguous Actor - 2016 (NY), Romeo & Juliet at the Access Theater - 2015 (NY), My First Time - 2010 (DC), Love Times Seven, Washington DC. - 2010 (DC), I  AM SAAM - 2007 (DC) .

Why theater?: It’s not readily apparent but South Asians have a rich tradition of the performing arts. I grew up learning Indian classical music and dance and whenever my cousins and I used to get together for the holidays, we used to put plays up. It was never a viable career option, especially being a second-generation immigrant and for a long time, I faltered, trying to find examples of people who look like me out there doing this, but they were quite few and far between. I started making theatre anyway and now happy to say especially in New York, there is a real community of artists of color.

Tell us about Tamasha: A Festival of South Asian Performing Arts: The festival brings together South Asian artists (and other artists of color) across disciplines. There is theatre, music, dance, comedy and even spoken word. We want to focus on the range of experiences that South Asians are talking about to move the conversation beyond the “identity play.”

What inspired you to create Tamasha: I guess it goes back to my first answer. 10 or so years ago, when I wanted to work in theatre, I didn’t think someone like me could do this. I didn’t know where to go to make Shakespeare mixed with Indian classical dance or which theatre would want to make the old story of Shakuntala as an opera. I didn’t have a festival that didn’t want me to just talk about being a South-Asian-American or didn’t automatically assume that’s what I wanted to contribute to the fabric of American theatre. This is why Shubhra Prakash (Hypokrit co-founder and artistic director) and I created Tamasha for emerging artists, to give them a place to just come and play - to take risks, to be daring. There is no so much pressure on South Asians for ‘excellence,’ at the cost of personal happiness even, that we equate success with no failure. I don’t think you can go into the arts without the willingness to fail and I think if you start and you fail, you will go on. The fear of failure on the other hand can be crippling.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I try to learn from everything I see .

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Shah Rukh Khan (one of the biggest superstars in the world - Bollywood actor) ; I’ve always wanted to work with Mira Nair…and now I am on Monsoon Wedding; Rachel Chavkin - I would do anything in a production of hers.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (just closed), Daphne’s Dive, Hadestown, Hamilton (of course), Bedlam’s Sense and Sensibility .

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would want Viola Davis to play me and I think the film would be called "Bokami," which means silliness or foolishness in Bengali.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I wish I had seen the Deaf West Spring Awakening (most recent example I can think of) .

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Watching Criminal Minds/ Law & Order/CSI - those kinds of crime shows as a way to de-stress.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Working in politics .

What’s up next?: 2016 is our big year! We have already had two award-winning and highly critically-acclaimed shows this year - How to Succeed as an Ethnically Ambiguous Actor and Eh Dah? Questions for My Father. Next up, we have Tamasha (www.tamashanyc.org) - A Festival of South Asian Performing Arts, which will feature over 50 artists across disciplines. Then in November, we will premiere our flagship event. In a co-production with Junoon Performing Arts, we will be bringing a dual presentation of Bengali classics Devdas and Chokher Bali. Devdas will be presented as a ballet and is being choreographed by Dance India Dance Finalist Swarali Karulkar and Chokher Bali will be presented as a Greek tragedy, directed by me.

Spotlight On...Winsome Brown

Name: Winsome Brown



Hometown:  Toronto, Canada
   


Education:  High school: University of Toronto Schools. College: Harvard College 



Select Credits:  This is Mary Brown (La MaMa/ Edinburgh), The Burial at Thebes (Irish Rep), Tale of 2 Cities (PS 122/ UCLA Live – Obie Award for Best Ensemble Cast), The Master Builder directed by AndrĂ© Gregory, Shakespeare’s Sister directed by Irina Brook (La MaMa and on tour in France). I’m also a film actor, writer, and director.  



Why theater?: Theater is an ancient and sacred art and is especially valuable now when we Americans spend so much time on our phone and computer screens “communicating” with each other. Getting in a room, face to face, breathing the same air – this is what human contact is about. And as a theater performer, I’m in the contact business.

Who do you play in Hit The Body Alarm?: Ooh, that’s a fun one. I play Satan! And I play Eve, the mother of all humankind. Two great characters from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Then I jump from the epic and eternal to the here and now: I tell a crazy and electrifying story about a federal jail in Brooklyn (that’s the title monologue of Hit the Body Alarm), and finally, I play Elaine, a woman in jail because she did something really bad. I’m not going to say what it is. But it’s bad. 



Tell us about Hit The Body Alarm: I want audiences to come out of Hit the Body Alarm exhilarated, terrified, awake. To feel like they’ve been on a wild ride, really, truly, a roller coaster. The show has an intense pace, and it lasts only 65 minutes. There is a dense and rich sound design made by Sean Hagerty, with incredible luminous music that the renowned composed John Zorn has given to me for this project. It’s a multi-sensory experience, that should delight and challenge the eye, the ear, the heart, and the mind. Hit the Body Alarm is about how life can change on a dime. That’s a polite way of putting it. In my personal communications, I use a stronger term that might not be appropriate for your paper. It’s about *%#!-ing up. The Performing Garage, where the show is going up, is one of the most important and historic performance spaces in New York. When people abroad think of New York theater, they think of the Performing Garage and all the work that has happened there. It’s a cool space with a rock and roll feeling. I have always loved Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is of course the story of two tragic falls: Lucifer/Satan’s fall from his position as a beloved angel of God, and Eve and Adam’s fall from grace and banishment from Eden. All these characters had everything, and they lost it by their own actions. That terrifies me, and thrills me. The play starts with Satan in Hell asking “Is this the place that we must change for Heaven? This mournful gloom for that celestial light?” It’s a moment of shock, and shame, and reckoning. On a personal level I see that people make crazy choices that land us in our own personal hells all the time. We hurt the people we love, we betray our own divine natures. And on a larger political level, I see that we are at a turning point. This election is electrifying the country – we all sense that something huge is at stake. And even beyond our own national election,  there is the world, which is continuing down a frightening path towards fascism and war. And over all that is the environment, which we must take huge measures to protect and preserve, or be forever lost. I see us on the brink of losing our own Paradise. Starting with the huge epic that is Paradise Lost, I asked myself “how can I translate hell to people’s lives today?” The answer seemed obvious to me: jail. In the US, we incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the world. My friend and co-director Brad Rouse had written an incredible monolog for me called Hit the Body Alarm about an event that happens in a Federal jail in Brooklyn. I knew immediately that it was a perfect match for Paradise Lost – especially since the narrator of that monolog has the same instinct as Satan does to invite or coerce people along on his hellish journey. Each part of the play is like a chapter. There is Satan in hell, there are two jail tales, and then, beautifully and terrifyingly, the play ends with Eve in Eden dreaming of eating the fruit. She wakes and says how glad she is to find it “but a dream.” Well, we all know what really happens. Soon it won’t be just a dream.


What is it like being a part of Hit The Body Alarm?: It’s my own show, so it’s kind of like what I said I wanted the audiences to feel: exhilarating, terrifying, thrilling.



What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:  Great theater. That’s a dumb answer, maybe. But to say one genre or another would be incomplete. Recently, I loved Phyllida Lloyd’s all women Henry IV at St. Ann’s. I loved Fiona Shaw in Happy Days. I love Wallace Shawn and AndrĂ© Gregory. The first solo show I ever saw was a production of The Importance of Being Oscar, about Oscar Wilde, in Toronto. I was 17 years old, and I saw the intense generosity and power that a single performer can bring. Then I saw Lily Tomlin doing The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life, and  loved that. And then, of course, I love The Wooster Group, whose home is in The Performing Garage. I loved Hamilton. 


Any roles you’re dying to play?: I’d love to do some comedy next. I’m a pretty funny actress. I think Arkadina in The Seagull should be a pretty funny role. But I really mean just a straight-up goofy comedy. A new one.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Wow! What a question. The first song that popped into my head was "Strike Up the Band", of all things. I used to listen to a lot of Gershwin, and also Leonard Bernstein. Right now though, we have Hamilton on repeat, and here’s one of my favorites from that: “Non-Stop.” I love how they all say “non-stop” at the same time.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  Mark Rylance. I saw him in Jerusalem and it was like watching a beast being born. I felt like audiences must have felt when Robert De Niro exploded in Mean Streets: what is that?

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Funny, I’ve just played my own self in a movie! It is a film based on my one woman show This is Mary Brown, where I play my whole family. The film is called "Everything I Know About Love". It’s written by me and directed by the New Zealand director Harry Sinclair. But in a film version of myself here’s who would play me: Cate Blanchett or if I were older, Liv Ullman. The film would be called Chestnut Park. That’s the street I grew up on in Toronto. Ooh… but that would mean I was a child. If it were a film about me today, it would be called Perfect Daughter and it would be a biting comedy. But what I really want is for Maggie Smith to play my mother. If you know her, please tell her I have a script for her.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original Angels in America.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:  Most recently I recommended Simon McBurney’s one-man show The Encounter, although I haven’t seen it. It was playing in Edinburgh when I was there with my show This is Mary Brown. Apparently it’s great, and I have tickets! 


What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  Why have guilt if it gives me pleasure??? But seriously, I love to drink.

What’s up next?: Gosh, I don’t know. I hope maybe a TV role. Line my purse, you know?