Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summer and Smoke (Clurman Theater)

BOTTOM LINE: as good as it gets.

So often great plays by great playwrights get mired by a director’s compulsion to change, re-think or re-invent what is already a perfectly round wheel. Perhaps no playwright in the pantheon of American greats has been more victimized by this tendency than Tennessee Williams. Williams’ plays, famously famous for all the things they are rightly famous for, frequently have their beauty and their power and their frailty and their humanity diluted by productions that don’t adhere to the idea that if a play is great and you have a talented creative team behind it, the best thing to do is to get out of the way.

I am happy (no, thrilled actually) to report that Big Sky Theater Company’s current production of Summer and Smoke, does just that. Director Tlaloc Rivas and cohorts have taken an incredibly engaging minimalistic approach to their current production – running, sadly only through August 31 so go when you are done reading this – literally putting forth the play, the whole play, and nothing but the play. The stage is essentially bare, there is no set save for chairs for the well-costumed actors and a few furniture pieces, there are almost no props, lighting and sound cues have been whittled down to the bare minimum. The playing space on stage looks and feels physically uncluttered, and that allows for the playing space in your heart and in your head to be likewise, and thus open to receive whatever comes at you.

And what comes at you is a moving story told without the distractions that need not be there when you have a play this rich and a cast this good. Rivas keeps the show going at a good pace, allowing moments and emotions to be fully realized, but never over indulged. The cast is pitch-perfect in every aspect – individual call-outs are unnecessary as they are a true ensemble and operate as such, with nary a weak link to be found. I can’t imagine a finer showcase for this play or for these actors.

This is no small feat. Having seen a number of productions of a number of Tennessee Williams plays, from the well-known greats, to the lesser-known not-so-greats, this production of Summer and Smoke is an absolute standout. It succeeds mostly because it adheres to the idea that I think great theatre is predicated on: you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, movable set pieces and expensive pyrotechnics when you have real human beings experiencing real human emotions on stage. Sometimes the brush of face or the turn of a phrase or the realization of a universal truth (“Forget about pride whenever it stands between you and what you must have”) has more impact than a thousand volts of electricity.

(Summer and Smoke plays at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street at 9th Ave. Remaining show times are Friday, August 29th at 8pm, Saturday, August 30th at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, August 31st at 2pm. Tickets are $18...visit or call 212.279.4200.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fringe Encore Series

The Fringe Festival is over, but the best-selling, most well-received shows get an extended run through the FringeNYC Encore series. Each Encore show gets 4 performances; they begin on August 30th at 2 venues, The Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow at Christopher St.) and Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam between 6th and Varick). For Encore Series schedules visit

This year's Encore shows are:
The Complete Performer
Blanche Survives Katrina
Monsters in the Woods
Perez Hilton Saves the Universe
The Fabulous Kane Sisters
Boy in the Basement
See How Beautiful I Am
That Dorothy Parker
The Redheaded Man
There will come soft rains

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Refugee Girls Revue: A Musical Parody (Theatre 80)

BOTTOM LINE: wacky, political, confused
If you’re a fan of sketch comedy you’ll enjoy some bright comedic moments, but the piece is still in need of polishing.

The Refugee Girls Review is a parody (a musical parody at that) of the mega-industry that has become “The American Girls”. For those of you not born post Y2K or without kiddies at home, “The American Girls” are a series of novels turned merchandising empire dramatizing the stories of young women living at different points in US history. There’s (and these are the real “American Girls”) Josephina from Mexico struggling in the wake of her mother’s death, Kaya, an American Indian girl who must become a leader for her people, and Kirsten whose family travels from Sweden to settle on a Minnesota farm. Now several American Girls stores across the U.S. sell, Sell, SELL their products to the tween set who can come have a tea party, watch a dramatic performance about their favorite dolls and shop to their little consumerists hearts' content.

The Refugee Girls Review at the New York International Fringe Festival, works under the premise that there is a new line of “Refugee Girls” on the market - whose stories of trials and hardship and struggle are performed by the Refugee Girls Club, a plugged-in set of tween glitterati, whose mega fan-dom compels them to act out their dolls’ sad stories. The premise is fun and the characters inventive. There’s Kyoto Canary, an Inuit girl whose igloo home has melted due to global warming and must relocate her family to cooler climates (in this case, Chicago), there’s Guadalupe Flores, an undocumented laborer in West Texas, whose life is saved by joining the army, or Payne Gone, a young Indonesian girl who floats to America on a Tsunami.

There are some real inspired comic moments here like from Rita and Katrina, two displaced girls from New Orleans, who proclaim “Rita, I told you, Santa died in New Orleans”. Or the young Refugee doll, Faluja, from Iraq, who goes to find “My uncle Osama… I mean Obama”. But in the end some of the Refugee Girl stories work better than others, and the piece as a whole seems to forget who it set out to skewer. Or maybe it’s just that it can’t seem to make up its mind who it’s making fun of. Are we lauding the yuppie consumerist culture that likes to package up its PC’ness nice and tidy and sell it to the masses, or, as also seems to be the case here, are we poking fun at the refugees themselves?

Somehow, though it sounded like comic gold on paper -- a skewering of the actual refugee’s stories, and the inherent stereotyping involved -- seemed to fly less as comic fodder. And this cast of Second City Alums, though they danced and performed their little hearts out, didn’t all have the comic chops to rise to the occasion. That said, there were some truly inspired performances, like the wacky Ruth Gamble who steals every scene she’s in, or Dave Hill who plays Token Male (the sole guy in the show) who takes on all the male role in the Refugee’s stories, yet manages with incredible precision, to milk every laugh out of his many small cameos. Lauren Maul, who plays the keyboard in her wheelchair for the Refugee girl songs (and has a Refuge doll in a wheelchair to accompany her), has a baby-voiced sincerity that skillfully and unexpectedly throws down some major comic punches.

The cast is having fun, and no doubt working hard to play against a somewhat muddled script, but alas, though the show attempts a longer format, it can’t seem to escape it’s shorter sketch comedy roots. A 10 minute short, YES, but an hour long show….

The Refugee Girls Revue plays at Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place. Show times: Saturday, August 23rd at 5pm. Visit refugeegirlsrevuecom or for more info.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Sound of One Hanna Clapping (The Jazz Gallery)

BOTTOM LINE: one-woman show, charming and hysterical
It might be because I found The Sound of One Hanna Clapping super relatable, but I really enjoyed Hanna LoPatin's one-woman saga of being a mid-twenties, single Chicagoan who yearns for a successful career in theatre with a dreamboat husband waiting at home.

First of all, the pre-show music to One Hanna Clapping was a fabulous taste of what was to come. As I sat there looking at the cabaret-ish stage (complete with piano and coat rack holding a bowler hat) I listened to the most obviously girl-power musical theatre anthems ever..."Take Me or Leave Me" from Rent, "And I'm Telling You" from Dreamgirls, and finally "Defying Gravity" from Wicked. My expectations were high for the musical theatre love letter I was about to experience. Plus, I give credit for self-referential, inside jokey pre-show music.

Hanna LoPatin is an improv comedian who wrote this one-woman show detailing her life and where she hopes to go. The premise isn't innovative, but it's real. LoPatin talks out to the audience and lets us in as she tells her story. Through her comedic abilities (and the comical direction by SNL veteran Ana Gasteyer), One Hanna Clapping is an incredibly entertaining ride. LoPatin splices her monologues and stories with original songs (she also plays guitar). The content ranges from being Jewish but not too Jewish, to forays into the Chicago theatre scene and the selling out she's encountered, to her desire for a career in musical theatre, to her undying love for Michael Showalter. The all-encompasing theme is that one can find happiness through the journey, not just when dreams are realized.

LoPatin is a talented comedian with a great voice...she's certainly deserving of a successful career in the theatre (if not as a performer than at least as a writer). And you should see her show because it's full of heart and it's super funny.

The Sound of One Hanna Clapping plays at the Jazz Gallery, 290 Hudson Street south of Spring St. Show times: Friday, August 22nd at 8:30pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 1:30pm. For more info and tickets visit or

Green Eyes (Theatre 80)

BOTTOM LINE: modern dance, love story, talented people

Green Eyes is a love story told in song by one couple, while told in dance by another couple. A band backs the story and the performance is entirely musical. It's not perfect yet, but it's a wonderful attempt at a unique production.

Green Eyes tells the story of a young couple in love; they meet, they flirt, they fall head over heels, they fight, they break-up (?) and they realize that love is hard. And that's really the extent of the premise. First, the downfall (and then I'll tell you all the reasons I liked the production)...there isn't really a story, and we never get to meet the characters. The man and woman in the relationship are as ambiguous as you can get and the ins and outs of their situation are as completely unclear. As a result, there isn't a story to grab onto and the outcome of their nondescript struggle is of no consequence to the audience. I'm hoping Green Eyes gets another chance at a production, and I'm sure with some fine-tuning and editing, a beautiful narrative can develop in this piece.

And here's why Green Eyes is's a wonderful and captivating way to create art. All of the artists involved are ridiculously good, it's a joy to watch them all. First off, hearing the five-piece band rock out to well-crafted folk-pop music (by the gifted Brian Mazzaferri) is like watching a fresh, new indie band in a coffee house...there is great energy in these songs. The man and woman who dance the piece are strong and graceful. They partner almost consistently in their choreography and they dance beautifully together. The modern choreography is appropriate for the path of their relationship and it's super cool to see the couple's story unfold in this way. The man and woman who sing the piece have intensely good voices. They both have successful careers already (Nick Blaemire wrote Glory Days and performed in the new musical Cry-Baby, and Celina Carvajal was on MTV's Legally Blonde reality show). FringeNYC is lucky to have performers with these credentials and this level of talent.

The artistic expression that is communicated in Green Eyes is a captivating thing. The combination of dance and singing from two different couples keeps the interest of the audience and gives a well-rounded approach to the production. I really enjoyed all of the performances and I hope this show gets a life after Fringe.

Green Eyes plays at Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place. Show times: Thursday, August 21st at 7:30; Saturday, August 23rd at 7pm. Visit or for more info and tickets.

There Will Come Soft Rains

BOTTOM LINE: inventive, daring, experimental
If you're into seeing incredibly cool stuff on stage, you should probably check this show out. There Will Come Soft Rains is a wildly inventive staging of three sci-fi tales "How the World Was Saved," "On the Nature of Time," and "There Will Come Soft Rains."

Undoubtedly, the draw of this "science fiction symphony" is, ironically, its visual brilliance. The company employs puppets, an extraordinary use of projected image, and three white panels on a bare stage to create the distinct worlds of each story, and it's a pleasure to watch the immense amount of creativity and talent that this show highlights.

While Soft Rains is brilliantly conceived and well directed (by Jon Levin, who also adapted each story for the stage), my one comment is this - that the creativity of the staging may sometimes overshadow the stories themselves. While each story is, in itself, surprising and poignant, the sheer coolness of seeing how it's brought to life, sometimes makes you forget what's actually being said. But if you're a person who loves daring and ingenuity on stage, you'll do well with Soft Rains.

There Will Come Soft Rains plays at the New School for Drama theatre. Show times: Thursday, August 21st at 5:15pm. Saturday, August 23rd at 7:30pm. For more info visit or

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Creena Defoouie (The Studio at Cherry Lane)

BOTTOM LINE: silly, weird, British
British humor prevails in this 2-person play with music. It waivers between brilliant and random-as-hell, but it's overall a great hour of live entertainment.

Straight from England, the Ruby Bloomsbury Theatre presents what they call "Ab Fab meets Addams Family by way of Rocky Horror." I'll agree with the Ab Fab's consistent silly, dry banter between Creena Defoouie (Charlotte Barton-Hoare who also wrote the play) and Superintendent Hardon/Kenny Buckwald (James Hoare). I'll also agree that it's Rocky Horror-esque...there is a playful and sex-driven undertone (which becomes more apparent in certain scenes, i.e. the green dildo swordfight). I'm less sure of the Addams Family reference, but I'll let it slide.

Creena Defoouie is a counselor at a mental hospital and she finds herself intertwined in a murder mystery investigated by Superintendant Hardon. It's hard to explain much more than that but suffice to say, through comedy, musical numbers (Hoare on acoustic guitar) and a silly back-and-forth between Creena and the others, Creena Defoouie is a mighty entertaining show.

To quote the most appropriate comment I've read regarding this performance, "if crazy were crack, Creena would be the best buzz available" (Hamilton Spectator). Agreed. This play (albiet bizarre) works incredibly well, in part because the script is cohesive and the plot moves, and also because the performances are fantastic. Both actors have a knack for comedic timing and they interact brilliantly with one another in the space. It's first-rate funny randomness with a darker, snarkier tone...and it's pretty great. Check it out while you still can!
Creena Defoouie plays at the Studio at Cherry Lane, 38 Commerce St. between Bedford and Barrow. Show times: Wednesday, August 20th at 9:30pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 3pm. For more info and tickets visit or

See How Beautiful I Am: The Return of Jackie Susann (The SoHo Playhouse)

BOTTOM LINE: See How Beautiful I Am's Fringe run is over, but it still deserves a shout-out.

The primary reason to see See How Beautiful I Am: The Return of Jackie Susann is for the return of Jackie Susann - in the form of Debora Weston. Weston so successfully inhabits the character of Susann that I never for one second thought that I wasn’t actually watching the woman who wrote The Valley of the Dolls, or VD as Susann lovingly refers to it, tell me the story of her life. I knew nothing of this woman walking into the SoHo Playhouse, but was nonetheless rapt for the entire hour or so that Weston was onstage. I think that is a testament to the real person, the person pretending to be the real person and everyone else involved (writer Paul Minx, director Paul Dubois) in this very simple, classy, and intimate one-woman show.

Weston effectively navigates her way through Susann’s life hitting what I assume to be all the major events playing both the lead and supporting characters. The script beautifully illuminates Susann’s humor and strength and vulnerability and sass and puts them all on equal display constructing not a character or caricature, but a real human being. The keep-it-simple motto with respect to set, lights and sound all work to great advantage keeping the focus right where it should be - on Susann and her story. Most importantly, however, the play communicates a real sense of affection and respect for its subject and that makes it a pleasure to watch. And don't think for one second I didn’t go home and Youtube the afternoon away watching clips of the real Jackie Susann. But, truth be told, I liked the one onstage at the SoHo Playhouse better.

See How Beautiful I Am comes from London's Off The Cuff Theatre Company. For more info visit

O! Balletto (Theatre 80)

BOTTOM LINE: beautiful, regal, humorous
If you are a lover of ballet, you will find this piece particularly delightful.

O! Balletto begins slow but then seduces you into its entrancing world. This piece is unusually well-acted for dancers! I found the dancers’ acting to be surprisingly superb. Also, the fully extended movements in all of the dancers are consistent and beautiful, there are some particularly sexy moments that I found absolutely breathtaking.

Tobias Wildman Burns is perfectly cast as commanding narrator, Balleto Master Signor Fabritio Caruso. Burns glides in between the dancers with ease and when he is tempted to break the rules he has previously declared; it is quite amusing. John Knowles’ video art design is intriguing and mysterious. I must admit I enjoyed the piece more when it moved away from traditional music and became more contemporary so I congratulate Neil Alexander for his wonderful musical additions. Lane Gifford’s choreography is beautiful, creative, and humorous. She is a particularly gifted director. I also appreciated the diversity in her cast. Also, there is some nudity so if that helps get you there, I thought I should mention it.

O! Balleto plays at Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place. Remaining show times: Thursday, August 21 at 9:30pm. Visit or for more info and to purchase tickets.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Be Brave, Anna! (The Players Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: Funny isn’t mean, and mean definitely isn’t funny.

I am going to be completely upfront about my dislike of this play. I am not sure why I had such a strong reaction to it, but I did, and I feel compelled to air my grievances. Loudly. For the record, I am not suggesting that this play is bad. Just that it pissed me off.

First, the positive aspects: The dialogue is sharp and witty, the cast is more than capable and seems to be having a good time, and that is always fun to watch. The show moves along at a good clip keeping the mood light. The costumes and minimal set are all appropriate for the occasion. But...

Be Brave, Anna!, by virtue of its title, postures itself to be a play that is going to take a sympathetic, albeit comedic, look at the life and tragic death of Anna Nicole Smith – a woman whose name, likeness and story are both literally and figuratively the stuff of which E! True Hollywood Stories are made. I challenge you to find anyone over the age of seven who doesn’t know the major plot points of her sad, short life.

Why, then, is this play necessary? I ask this not rhetorically, but with a real desire to understand what the impetus for this play really was. If it were an attempt to illuminate a side of Anna Nicole not yet served up for public consumption by the handlers who were all too eager to make money at her expense, then, I might find it interesting. But to serve up the same old shtick – to simply paint Anna Nicole as a bumbling dumb country bumpkin and to suggest that she is absolutely nothing more than the image the media constructed for us to lust over and laugh at, is, to me at least, not funny. Obviously something about this woman touched a chord with the celebrity-crazed-reality-show-addicted American public (and, curiously, with me – who knew?), or we wouldn't be writing plays about her, but to perpetuate the humiliation she endured in her life after her death is just mean. I don’t think the creators of this show intended to be mean, but this play felt mean to me. Surely there are many things about Anna Nicole Smith that we didn’t know – a love of books, perhaps, or an allergy to flowers, a fear of flying or a freakish aptitude for math. Who knows? But surely there had to be more to her than what we saw. Why not write a play about that?

If only the creators of Be Brave, Anna! had used their collective and considerable talents and taken a more sympathetic approach to their subject, and made an attempt to see what was really going in the head underneath the bleach blonde hair and in the heart behind the big boobs. My guess is that is where the untold story and the real drama of Anna Nicole Smith really exists. And it is undoubtedly more compelling than any E! True Hollywood Story.

Be Brave, Anna! plays at the Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street just south of West 3rd St. Show times: Thursday, August 21st at 9:45pm; Friday, August 22 at 3pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 3:30pm. Visit or for more info and to purchase tickets.

The Johnny (Michael Schimmel Center)

BOTTOM LINE: inventive, playful, entertaining
A fun musical send-up of all things '80s. For the theater goer who laments the bygone era of John Hughes films, but always secretly wished the nerds could make off just a little bit better.

Remember all those great teen flicks in the '80s: Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Better Off Dead… Now mix those with the best of teen dance dramas: Flash Dance, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Dirty Dancing, and you get the inventive new musical The Johnny. The Johnny asks the question – what happens when the popular jock actually loses the teen tournament everything depends on?

In this case, popular senior stud, Johnny, loses the all important Cape Bluff High School Racquetball tournament in Act I to school nerd, Kyle, and like a country western song also loses his girl, his home, his respect. He spends the rest of the musical trying to find his way back to life on top, this time by winning the school talent show. Meanwhile Kyle brings a nicer, gentler kind of rule to his new-found position as king of the school by bringing nerds and jocks together for weekly bird-watching meetings and hang-out-time at the Boys and Girls Club. In this upside down world the only one lamenting the old ways is Bobby (played by Joshua Brandenburg) as a fantastic comic foil to Johnny’s all Americanness.

The musical is at its strongest in the creative song and dance numbers, but several of the scenes fell flat. David L. Williams who directed as well as wrote the book and lyrics, works best when exploring the humor of the piece and debunking the conventions of 80’s teen films. His lyrics are quite catchy too “Now you're second place and we’re losers again” sung to Johnny by his parents lamenting their inability to live a successful life through their son vicariously. “You can win vicariously, it sure beats winning yourself”. The musical suffers however, from a week book and some performances that miss their mark, but more than makes up for it with Grady McLeod Bowman’s hilarious choreography and the spot on send up of 80’s fashion designed by the talented Liz Toonkel.

Stand out performances include Derek Krantz, as jock turned tap-dancing fool Johnny, Jonathan Cody White, as Kyle, the lovable nerd with a heart of gold, Joel Abels as an Irish ex-racquetball player turned “Karate Kid” like motivational coach, and Rori Nogee as Lanie, the always overlooked “smart” girl at school. The well dressed, those '80s-running-shorts-ought-to-be-outlawed ensemble looks to be having a blast, and you will too.

The Johnny plays at the Schimmel Center at Pace University, 13 Spruce St. at the end of Park Row. Show times: Saturday, August 23rd at 7pm. Visit or for more info.

III (The Cherry Lane Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: intelligent, riveting, provocative
A first-rate production with three wonderful performances and a well written script that should not be missed.

So, the great thing about the Fringe Festival is that you are exposed to plays that you might not other wise have seen. Some are good and others, well, are not really so good. I did not plan on going to see III at The Cherry Lane Theatre. It just happened to be starting right after another show that I saw next door, so I thought I would stick around and check it out, and boy am I glad I did. It truly is a theatrical diamond in the rough. I was riveted from the moment the lights came up and think I will be hard pressed to see a better drama at this year's festival.

III tells the story of the real life fifteen year (1927-1943) relationship between acclaimed writer Glenway Wescott, MoMA curator Monroe Wheeler, and photographer George Platt Lynes. While this premise may seem scandalous, the author, Joe Salvatore, crafts a beautiful play using some material from letters written between these three men they struggle to define the meaning of family in an unconventional menage-a-trois of sorts. The story easily could have been sensationalized, but Salvatore manages to tell an almost wholesome account of what it means to be in love, be a part of a family, and what happens when emotions are stretched to their breaking point. This is truly first-rate theatre that rivals anything that you can see currently playing Off-Broadway or even on Broadway for that matter.

Salvatore does triple duty, not only writing this remarkable piece, but also smartly directing and appearing as Glenway Wescott in a heart-felt performance. John De Vecchio is superb as Monroe Wheeler, the man who decides to bring a third person into his relationship with Wescott and then must face the ramifications of this choice. Rounding out the powerhouse cast is the phenomenal Daryl Embry as the photographer George Platt Lynes who is off the charts fantastic as he tip toes through this rocky emotional terrain.

Needless to say, I LOVED this play. If you like good theatre (and who doesn't) I think you'll like III. Don't let the subject matter scare you. I would take my mother to see this show, and I know that she would like it too. It's not about sex, it's about a part of three men's lives that was kept hidden for years and makes for a really interesting night at the theatre. If I were you, I would see this play now while it only cost $15, because I think it has a really great chance of getting picked up for an extended commercial run here in New York. I know there is an audience for III and I hope that some producer will see just how good this play is and give it a permanent home here in New York so that everyone will have the privilege and pleasure of seeing this play.

III plays at The Cherry Lane Theatre located at 38 Commerce Street between 7th Ave and Hudson Street. Show times: Wednesday, August 20th at 4:15pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 7pm.
For more info visit or

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kansas City or Along the Way (CSV Milagro)

BOTTOM LINE: romantic, artsy, well-executed
A love story told through different narrative structures with just a two person cast. It includes original music (but not enough of it) and lovely performances.

Kansas City of Along the Way takes place in Ohio during the Great Depression. It essentially tells the story of Louise (Rebecca Benhayon) and Joseph (Adam Groves) meeting and falling in love. In the first half of the prodution, Louise and Joseph simply tell their stories past-tense, out to the audience. In the second half, we see them meet for the first time (presumably present tense) and play out their chance encounter, though we know from their previous monologues how their story eventually ends. The writing is almost poetic in its language and the performances are refined and passionate...these components make the monologues quite compelling.

Kansas City says it's set to a Woodie Guthrie-inspired folk music soundtrack. The music is really incredible...Groves plays three songs on acoustic guitar throughout the play. But for my money, three incredible songs are just a tease. Every time Groves walked toward the guitar I was hoping he'd pick it up and play some more.

I really enjoyed this play and I'm impressed with the caliber of talent involved with it. From the direction to the acting to the design, it's was an all-around enjoyable experience.

Kansas City or Along the Way plays at the Milagro Theatre at CSV Cultural Center, 107 Suffolk St. between Rivington and Delancey. Show times: Sunday, August 17th at 12:30pm; Monday, August 18th at 7:45pm; Thursday, August 21st at 3:15pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 9:45pm. Visit for more info and to purchase tickets.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Becoming Britney (Theatres at 45 Bleecker)

BOTTOM LINE: satirical, endearing, rough
The life of Ms. Spears told as a musical...a brilliant premise that pretty much writes itself. This production feels like a good first attempt, but it needs some cleaning and polishing.

There's nothing I like more than a good celebrity fall from grace, except maybe musical theatre. You can imagine just how excited I was to hear that Becoming Britney was the telling of the Spears saga as a snarky, self-aware musical. This production has a lot of promise and a lot of heart, but unfortunately as a cohesive story it falls short.

The main issue is lack of plot. And since it's the biographical story of a drama the audience already knows, plot should be relatively self-explanatory. At the time the play begins, Spears has just gone bat-shit crazy and shaved her head. From there, the writers take Spears on a "what would happen if" journey and show her voluntarily admitting herself to a rehab facility for moderately talented celebrities; it's a rehab clinic slash PR firm to help with the image boosting. As Spears delves into herself she takes a look back on the past and with the help of the other people in the facility (who may or may not have been figments of her imagination...I'm a little unclear). She comes to terms with her inner goodness and commits to starting anew.

Becoming Britney bills itself as a "snarky musical adventure" and although it doesn't bring any new twists or clever insight into the story of Spears, it does have some priceless moments. Seeing Kevin Federline sing a classical ballad of love to Britney with style and sophistication is a pretty hysterical concept. The looks back to the past with young "Bit-Bit" and her tyrannical mother are also deliciously entertaining (and probably all too true).

With a bunch of musical numbers and some kick-ass popstar-esque choreography, Becoming Britney does what it can to entertain. The cast is having a really good time, and Molly Bell (who also co-wrote the book) is pretty spot-on as Britney. Bell has a great voice (not so much like the title character in real life) and she nails Spears' lovable innocence. Becoming Britney is a fun ride and with a little fine-tuning and plot development it could be a timely and hilarious production. It's a great premise as it stands.

Becoming Britney plays at the Theatres at 45 Bleecker, 45 Bleecker just East of Lafayette. Show times: Tuesday, August 19th at 5:15pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 2:30pm. Check out their diva-tastic website at and visit to purchase tickets.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Boy In the Basement (SoHo Playhouse)

BOTTOM LINE: I liked it a lot. You will too. Go see it. Its fun and the cast is good looking.

More than any other Fringe show I have seen over the last couple of years, The Boy In the Basement epitomizes what I think this festival is all about. It successfully manages to walk the line between serious and ridiculous; it employs a mode of storytelling that is unique (though not revolutionary) and thoroughly effective; it has a cast that is young and attractive with just the right amount of crazy thrown in for fun; and, most importantly, it has a director that has assembled all these pieces into a finely woven, immensely entertaining play that is not only very funny, but also manages to take a few unexpected turns on its way to leaving you...well, if not exactly moved, then tingly.

When a play is good, the less said the better. I walked in not really knowing what to expect and I think that is the best way to experience a play, especially one that is relatively uncomplicated from a plot standpoint, and one that intends to toy with audience expectations. I deny the play the opportunity to toy with your expectations if I tell you what to expect. Right?

Right. So, suffice to say, I really liked this play. The idea isn’t necessarily groundbreaking (what is these days), but that is okay because it is sweet and fun and masterfully executed. The cast is uniformly exceptional – each member of the ensemble has found a way to maximize the camp quotient without sacrificing any of the emotional truth necessary to keep the play from becoming frivolous. The staging is perfect for the mood and style of the play and venue, while at the same time feeling somewhat clunky and spontaneous…which worked to the play’s advantage so I am assuming it was intentional. But maybe not. Who cares? There is a keyboard accompanist too (no, its not a musical) who provides musical interludes. I am not sure what it adds, but it adds something. Music, I guess.

This play is an example of when the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, but equal to it. It demonstrates that you can successfully mount a play that toys with theatrical conventions and audience expectations without sacrificing the basics – plot, conflict, humanity, vulnerability – and you can do it with a wink and a smile. And isn’t that the whole point?

The Boy In the Basement plays at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam between 6th and Varick. Show times: Thursday, August 21st at 11:45pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 10pm. Visit or for more info and to purchase tickets.

The Naked Dead Elephant in the Middle of the Room (The Players Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: irreverent, gratuitous, humorous, interactive, short
A Fun little piece about the creative process with some random nudity.

The Naked Dead Elephant calls itself "a satirical comedy with adult themes and nudity about creating a satirical comedy with adult themes and nudity." That about sums it up. It tells the story of a playwright trying to write a play for the Fringe Fest which we then see unfold in front of us as a play within a play within a play. If it sounds confusing, don't worry. You will follow this quick romp through the creative process with ease, I am sure.
Now, you might be saying that this premise sounds a lot like the currently running Broadway musical [title of show] and you would be correct. It's exactly like that-minus the music, plus some full-frontal nudity. While the comparisons are inevitable, this little show is by no means anywhere on the same plane of greatness as the brilliant [title of show], but that's OK. It's not great, but it's not bad either. And while there really isn't much of a plot, or conflict for that matter, somehow it works. There are some really good performances from Keith Broughton as the struggling playwright and Jim deOrophetis as his supportive boyfriend. If you are in the neighborhood and looking for a quick laugh, then The Naked Dead Elephant in the Middle of the Room is worth a look.

The Naked Dead Elephant in the Middle of the Room plays at the Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St. south of W. 3rd. Show times: Saturday, August 16th at 8:15pm, Friday, August 22nd at 11:30, Sunday, August 24th at 1:45. Visit or

Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy (45 Bleeker Street)

BOTTOM LINE: clever, campy, morbid, fun, raunchy
A really smart musical comedy that deals with what could have been disastrous subject matter but is a staggering success. The bad news is Love is Dead has already closed...but look for it again and if you see a new production be sure to check it out.

Love is Dead tells the story of a lonely mortician who has sex with female murder victims, talks to dead bodies, and gets caught up in the middle of the hunt for a serial killer that he is trying to find. Now, if that doesn't sound like the makings of a good musical, I don't know what does. Oddly enough, this premise works to deliver a very funny musical comedy not for the weak at heart. I laughed out loud on several occasions.

The book is extremely clever and is helped by stellar performances from Chicago-based comedians Dan Jessup as the hysterical small town sheriff, and James Amus as the love struck undertaker. Amus along with Andrew Hobgood deliver some of the funniest lyrics you are bound to hear at Fringe. My personal favorites were delivered by the solid Lyndsay Hailet, who plays Jane Doe, as she expounds on the glories of post-mortem liaisons by belting out, "Flesh is flesh, even if it feels like flounder." Another favorite was from the very funny, freshly murdered surfer played by Mort Burke, who fancies himself a ladies man, who boasts that "The Earth is going to cum when they put me inside her." This is only a smattering of what you will get if you are willing to take the journey with Love is Dead. It's an exciting piece that I hope continues to have a life (no pun intended) long after the dust settles on the Fringe Fest.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Down Around Brown Town (Schimmel Center)

BOTTOM LINE: well worth your $15 for incredible dancing plus the music of James Brown equaling some damn fine entertainment.

Loved this show. I’d happily recommend this to all my friends. It is a solid hour of some fine dancing and singing celebrating the music of James Brown. That’s it. Pretty simple and a whole lot of fun.

Down Around Brown Town has a decent sized cast of dancers, a few singers, and even a little something extra. This production was the unplugged version, no elaborate sets this round, just a bench and raw talent. I do wish the singers had microphones to match the recorded music, but the real focus of the show is the dancing. There isn’t really a story other than moving through the history of James Brown year by year ending in the early 1970’s. It is simply a series of song and dance numbers; the dancing is what won me over. These are some very talented dancers combining ballet, hip-hop, and just some solid moves. Some pieces were absolutely beautiful and some were just freakin’ cool.

The only thing missing from the show was an audience, I caught the first production which was a Wednesday night at 10pm, so I can understand the low turnout, but with more shows coming up I’d love to see it with the house rockin’. So get on up, get on out with some friends and see this celebration of the godfather of soul. For $15 it's worth it.

Down Around Brown Town plays at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, 13 Spruce St. at the end of Park Row near Gold St. Show times: Thursday, August 14th at 5:30pm; Friday, August 15th at 8:15pm; Saturday, August 16th at 4:45pm; Sunday, August 17th at noon. For more info and tickets visit or

Review by writerbeasy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

For Reasons Unknown (Barrow Street Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: Bathroom humor is funny because it is a taboo subject about a universal experience. It's rarely discussed with mixed company...maybe there is a reason for that.

For Reasons Unknown felt like a great idea for a ten minute sketch that was stretched a little past the breaking point into a ninety minute play. What had the potential to be a dirty, unusual and funny little play about poo - yes, I mean excrement - certainly a topic not frequently investigated on stage, sadly went nowhere terribly dirty, unusual, or funny. And it took a long time to not go there.

That is not to say the experience is totally void of entertainment value. The first ten minutes are quite funny. The two lead characters, Bradley and Julie (Jeff Long and Andi Teran, also real life best friends and co-playwrights), are both gifted physical comedians who give energetic performances that includes a fantastically choreographed dance number the folks in Chicago would be proud to call their own. And the supporting cast is also more than 100% capable and committed.

The central problem here is that the initial crisis (Dude, who poo'd on my couch?) does not lead to any sort of realistic conflict. I was not clear what anyone seemed to want or need, and none of the characters were terribly sympathetic so I was left sitting there with nothing to care about and no one to root for. Add to that the fact that the play takes all sorts of random detours (a neighbor with M.S.; a monologue about pigeons; a re-enactment of a pickup at a gay bar the night before), has a slew of inside jokes that friends of the playwrights got but that left me scratching my head, and an ending that offers no resolution or any sense that the last ninety minutes had any sort of impact on anyone. What you are left with is an unfocused construct inside of which talented performers get to spread their wings but never really take flight.

Perhaps with some re-writes this could be a viable play. And I certainly look forward to seeing Jeff and Andi in something that will better showcase their obvious and considerable comedic talents. Then again, maybe its just me. The rest of the audience was quite vociferous with their enjoyment of the show, some of whom were compelled to their feet at curtain call. I just can’t get that excited about someone else’s poo.

For Reasons Unknown plays at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St. at 7th Ave. Show times: Thursday, August 14th at 10pm; Monday, August 18th at 7:30pm; Thursday, August 21st at 2pm; Sunday, August 24th at 2:15pm. For more info visit or

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Choose Your Own Play (CSV Milagro)

BOTTOM LINE: A fun show...unnecessary language and crude jokes hurt the humor at times, but with a light heart you can appreciate this production.

I liked this show. Choose Your Own Play relies on audience participation, doesn't take itself too seriously and the actors have fun entertaining the audience. The concept of the show is formatted after the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, where the reader decides what happens next with a series of choices along the way (answer the phone or open the door? Go after your girlfriend or seek a new romance?) In this production, the audience's round of applause makes the fun decisions as the story unfolds.

The story is a blend of improv and scripted scenes and comedy-wise, some jokes are really funny. The cast is a young group of college students and recent graduates from Houston. Their biggest detriment is when they opt for dirty jokes with foul language or sexual references as opposed to a smart joke or just moving the story forward. Some actors do show developing comedy chops when they aren't making a crass joke or trying too hard. When they hit the earned or surprise jokes, the audience loves it.

It is easy to look past the bad jokes, because the show is fun. You will restart at the beginning during the course of the show, so no worries if your choice at the beginning wasn't chosen. Don't look for too much plot, it is nonsensical by definition and the stories might end up disappointing (as the books did if I recall correctly). I'd love to see this group continue working to polish the scripts, jokes, and the overall payoff for each show. As for its run at the Fringe Festival this year, Choose Your Own Play is an enjoyable and refreshing way to experience theater.

Choose Your Own Play plays at CSV Cultural Center, Milagro Theatre, 107 Suffolk St. (between Rivington and Delancy). Show times: Wednesday, August 13th at 3:15pm; Friday, August 15th at 9:30; Monday, August 18th at 5:15pm and Thursday, August 21st at 9:30pm. For tickets and info visit or

Review by writerbeasy.

I Heart Hamas & Other Things I'm Afraid To Tell You (The Players Loft)

BOTTOM LINE: charming, intriguing, brave
A brutally honest one-woman show exploring what it means to be a woman who is American, Palestinian, & Christian.

Jennifer Jajeh tells intriguing stories about her complicated life. One of the highlights is when she explains how she inherited a Jewish cat. When she tries to explain to an Arab man at the grocery store why she has a Jewish is pretty hilarious. Once Jajeh moves the story to her life while living in Palestine, the play gets much more serious. She gives a heartwrenching and eye opening perspective on what it means to be a Palestinian living in Palestine. She ends the show with candid bravery and vulnerability as she reveals her feelings about violence, Israelis, and war. I must admit I feel even more empathy for Palestinians after seeing this show. Jajeh's story is not one we often get to hear so I recommend getting down to see it.

I Heart Hamas and Other Things I'm Afraid To Tell You is playing at The Players Loft, 115 MacDougal Street, 3rd Floor (south of West 3rd Street). Show times: Thursday, August 14th at 7:45pm, Sunday, August 17th at 9:30pm, Thursday, August 21st at 3:15pm, and Sunday, August 24th at 4:15pm. For more info and tickets visit:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Murder of the Seas (The Jazz Gallery)

BOTTOM LINE: zany, tongue-in-cheek, tons-of-fun!
This show is bound to put you in a good mood...if you straight-up love watching acting gymnastics, the Olympics ain't got nothin' on this guy.

Murder of the Seas is a one man show written by and starring Pierre-Marc Diennet, and tightly directed by Jason Schuler. It's the story of Chester Fields, a hapless insurance salesman who finds himself in the middle of a madcap murder mystery. From the minute you walk into the Jazz Gallery performance space, you enter the world of the play - a, dare I say, fishy second-rate cruise ship, complete with red velvet draped walls, a rather beat-up looking grand piano, and those party favor leis you get at luao themed class reunions. Though the space is small, the lighting and sound create distinct atmospheres throughout the show, ranging from the onboard casino, to the ship's bridge, to the cruise director's -ahem- private suite.

The real show, of course is Diennet himself as he whirls through one vibrant character after another - including, but by no means limited to, Rastafarian room service, magical maintanence workers, royal bar keepers, washed up dames, and tall guys named Sven. It's truly a tour-de-force. Adding his own voice to the mix is Dave Murelli Jr., who underscores much of the play, and provides a few choice soundbyte gags. The story itself - some deliberately convoluted thing about ships docking in Maine and a missing husband- is pretty inconsequential next to the telling of it. The play runs an hour and a half, and Diennet puts on such a show that you'll more than feel like you've gotten your money's worth.

Murder of the Seas is playing at the Jazz Gallery, 290 Hudson Street between Spring and Dominick. Show times: Wednesday, August 13th at 3:45pm; Sunday, August 17th at 7pm; Friday, August 22nd at 10pm; Sunday, August 24th at noon. For more info and tickets visit:

Time, Et. Al.: (Connelly Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: dark, smart, witty.
It's probably not the best date play, but if you're into bending your mind and heart around some stuff, this will give you food for thought.

Time, Et. Al.: (by Gil Varod and Jennifer Lynn Jordan, directed by Shannon Fillion) bills itself as a cautionary tale of love and time travel. The idea behind the show is really interesting (to sci-fi dorks, like myself). Two people, Clara (Lucy Owen) from 1925, and William (Stuart Luth) from present day, communicate through means of a magic diary (like you do) and fall in love, eventually finding each other in a dreamland meant only for them. The play has an interesting and poignant premise - knowing you're supposed to be with someone, but not knowing how - but, what's cool about this show is how it plays against itself. It's a love story, yes, but it isn't Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks playing email tag. And it's sci-fi, but with so much self-referencing humor and tongue-in-cheek leaps of faith, you'll love every comic-con-type reference whether you get them or not.

On the night I saw it, there were a few technical mishaps which sort of took me out of the experience, but the interplay between the characters, including Jedediah Baker as William's modern day sci-fi loving brother, was always a pleasure to watch, particularly in act two, when we find out what happens after Happily Ever After.

Time Et Al is playing at the Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street between Aves A and B. Show times: Thursday, August 14th at 4:15pm; Saturday, August 16th at noon; Tuesday, August 19th at 9:45pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 9:45pm.

Visit for more info.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

FringeNYC 2008

BOTTOM LINE: the coolest summer theatre festival, right here in New York! Get the complete scoop at from your trusty Theatre is Easy writers.

The 2008 New York International Fringe Festival kicks off in all its glory Friday, August 8th and lasts until Sunday, August 24th. In that time you can take in 202 shows: plays, musicals, comedies, dramas, dance, performance art, et al. Theatre is Easy will be there to cover as much as we can and scoop you to what you shouldn't pass up.

FringeNYC is very audience-friendly so don't fear if you've never seen a Fringe show. Tickets are only $15 each and can be purchased on the Fringe website,, or in person at FringeCentral (201 Mulberry Street between Spring and Kenmare). The 202 shows in the festival are performed in 19 venues around town...check out the venue guide for directions and maps to the theatres. All 19 venues are below 14th Street in Manhattan.

Here are the shows already gaining buzz (and selling out!)...
• The Sound of One Hanna Clapping (directed by Ana Gastayer)
• I Love You, Petty and Favre
• Kaboom! (a new musical directed by BT McNicholl)
• Be Brava, Anna (that would be Anna Nicole Smith, of course)
• Perez Hilton Saves the Universe

Go to for a complete list of shows in the festival as well as schedules of what's playing when. If you find a show you want to see, jump on it quickly because each show only has 5 or 6 performance times. It helps to get a ticket in advance if it's a popular show; the venues are pretty small and can sell out fast. Check back for reviews starting Monday, August 11th.

Happy Fringe-ing!

Monday, August 4, 2008

What to Do When You Hate All Your Friends (Lion Theatre at Theatre Row)

Susan Louise O'Connner, Josh Lefkowitz, Amy Staats, Carrie Keranen, Todd D'Amour. Photo by Martin R. Miller.

BOTTOM LINE: a talented cast trying really hard to rise above so-so material...but still worth the price of admission.

You can probably guess that I didn’t love this play; but I didn’t hate it either. I am actually completely neutral, it just sort of happened. Larry Kunofsky’s new play What to Do When You Hate All Your Friends tells the story of Matt (Todd D'Amour), a man who (as you can no doubt guess) hates pretty much everyone. He decides to join this clique of friends who assign a ranking system to determine who is each respective member’s number one friend. Matt grows to actually like these people and feel accepted and he even falls in love with the ring leader of the group, Celia (Carrie Keranen), who has major intimacy issues. But the problem with the script is that I didn’t really care. The hero of the story doesn’t like anyone or anything, so likewise it’s really hard to like him. This is no fault of D’Amour, who does a good job, but he has a lot working against him.

There are some pretty funny moments in this play, and I'm sure some people will find the characters charming. Amy Staats' quirky betrayal of the fringe friend, Enid, is amusing. There is also a pretty outrageous scene between Matt and Celia where they meet and pleasure themselves under separate sheets.

One of the best components of the show is the awesome set design by Niluka Hotaling. She does an incredible job of designing a multi-functional set that makes the very small acting area of The Lion Theatre seem larger than it is. It adds a fun element of fantasy and whimsy to this off-beat comedy.

I think that the playwright had great intentions, but perhaps this story would have worked better as a one act play. The concept is good, but it feels a little long at nearly 2.5 hours. It’s a cute little play with a few problems, but honestly that might not matter in the end. This group of characters picks apart every little minutia of each day’s activity; if you have friends like that you'll find it totally relatable. It’s a clever commentary on how we define ourselves and our friends. However the play wants the audience to fall in love with it and its parade of yuppie characters, but falls a little short of this goal.

That being said, if you like seeing new work by a promising young playwright with some truly fine performances, What To Do When You Hate Your Friends, is worth a look. Don’t expect to be bowled over, but I definitely chuckled a few times and you can check out some talented actors who have the chops to go on to bigger and better things. One final reason to see this show is a promotion with the Celtic Bar where you can get a free cocktail at the bar after the show when you present your ticket stub from the show. Live theatre AND free alcohol...and for only slightly more that a movie can’t really go wrong with that!

(What to Do When You Hate All Your Friends plays through August 23th at The Lion Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd (Between Ninth and Tenth Ave.) Shows times are Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $ 212.279.4200 or visit