Monday, September 28, 2009

New Theasy!

The new Theasy is up and running!
Please visit
theasy.com
for NYC theatre reviews and info.
Thanks for visiting the site!

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Steady Rain (Schoenfeld Theatre)

By Dan

5 POINTS OR LESS
the hot ticket of the season • Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman • pulpy cop drama-not for kids • almost every show will be sold out • don’t feel bad if you miss it

BOTTOM LINE: Contrary to all the hype, you don't need to see this; it is fine, but you’ve probably seen it before.

Every so often there seems to be a Broadway play that quickly becomes “event theatre”- a show that sells out every show, draws huge crowds, and soon becomes the hot ticket of the season. Julia Roberts in Three Days of Rain, the pairing of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Odd Couple - these shows had no trouble selling tickets, even though the productions themselves weren't really all that great.

And now we have A Steady Rain, with Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. In its first full week of previews, it grossed more money than any straight play in Broadway history. It is likely it's mostly sold out for its entire 12-week run. Seats in the rear orchestra are being sold for premium prices ($276-$376 per ticket) and once it opens on September 29th, tickets may be extremely hard to come by, at any price. At this point, it appears as if spending $125 on a ticket (which is already expensive for most people) won’t even get you a good seat, it will just get you in the theatre. So…is it worth it? Should you pay premium prices to see this play? No. And if your dates are flexible, or you are a student, or you’re willing to stand, you may not need to. More on that in a bit. First, the play.

In A Steady Rain, Craig and Jackman are Chicago beat cops. The play opens with the men sitting in chairs on a bare stage with two lights hanging over them, as if they are in an interrogation room. They tell a story that begins innocuously enough: the two men are partners and best friends. But the tale quickly turns dark and violent. You may have heard that the play is a series of monologues, or that each cop tells their own (different) perspective of what happened. Neither is exactly true; the two men share the storytelling, as if they are both in the same room telling a listener/interrogator what happened. They occasionally interact with each other, but for the most part, each contributes to the joint story.

Throughout the story, the two men deal with various elements of the Chicago underworld. The tone of A Steady Rain recalls movies like Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. As with these movies, in which the turns of plot are so integral to one’s experience, it is best to see the A Steady Rain knowing as little as possible about the story.

The writing is decent, and certainly evokes the intended atmosphere. Whenever the cops venture out into the seedier areas of the city, a backdrop appears. While these backdrops look great, they aren’t necessary; I couldn’t help thinking that their main purpose was to fill the large stage and justify the high ticket prices. Jackman and Craig are both good. I didn’t love either performance, because I think both characters have the potential to be more complex and layered.

A Steady Rain was produced in Chicago last year, with no stars and in a much smaller theatre. Frankly, I wish I had seen that production. Broadway is a business, and this production of A Steady Rain will make pots of money for everyone involved. But let’s not kid ourselves: Craig and Jackman are both fine, but there are many actors in New York who could play these roles just as well, if not better. To be fair, my seat was in the rear mezzanine, so I missed the more subtle aspects of their performances. So if you can easily afford spending $125 and can find a decent orchestra ticket, it might be worth it. With only two actors on stage, this play is really all about intimate storytelling, something that you won’t get by sitting in the last row of the Schoenfeld Theatre.

But unless money is no object, don’t get swept up by all the hype and feel the need to drop $300 on a ticket. If you’re a student, there are $31.50 student rush tickets available at the box office (see below). I’ve heard that $29.50 standing room tickets will also be available once the show opens (technically, standing room is only sold when the show is sold out, but that won’t be an issue here). Just know that lots of other non-students will also be angling for these standing room tickets, so the competition may be fierce. But at 90 minutes, it isn’t a bad show to stand for. And both student tickets and standing room are sold the day of the show, which means there will always be a few tickets to be had.

Just don’t feel too bad if you miss the show. A Steady Rain is a decent night of theatre, but it isn’t “must see” theatre. While I was never bored, I also wasn’t excited. This is a pretty standard cop drama: pulpy, seedy, dark, and violent. You’ve seen it before. Maybe not with Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman live on stage, but trust me, you’ve seen it before.

(A Steady Rain plays a limited engagement at the Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St, through December 6th. Performances are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Regular price tickets are $66.50- $140, and premium tickets are $276.50- $376.50. $29.50 standing room tickets are available at the box office if the performance is sold out (it will be)- they will probably go on sale a few hours before the performance, but lines will form earlier. Student rush tickets (generally last row of the mezzanine) are $31.50; these are either 1 or 2 per ID (depending on availability), and are available the day of the show when the box office opens. IMPORTANT: the box office will sell you a student ticket, but will hold it until 30 minutes before the show, and you will need to show your student ID to pick it up then. Visit telecharge.com to buy tickets and asteadyrainonbroadway.com for more information.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fathers and Sons

By Steve

5 POINTS OR LESS
exploration of male roles and relationships • “traditional” and “non-traditional” father/son issues • good discussion material for parents of adolescent males • play within a play • strong performances

BOTTOM LINE: Two actors, one older and one younger, perform six connected scenes exploring various contemporary male relationships including father/son. Fathers & Sons is an earnest attempt to promote mutual understanding between men of different backgrounds, sexual orientations, classes, and generations.

Richard Hoehler has a lot to say about male relationships in his play Fathers & Sons, and he says it with gusto. The play is ambitious and passionate, and has an earnestness that to my mind makes it ideal for family audiences, especially those with adolescent males. Hoehler is an educator who conducts writing and acting workshops for NYC high school students, and you can sense his affinity for teaching in every moment of Fathers & Sons. Parents who are looking for theater that is both entertaining and instructive will find that this play raises tantalizing questions about what it means to be a father, a son, and a man in 21st century America.

Two actors (Hoehler and Edwin Matos, Jr.) portray six pairs of men, each a variation of father/son. Scene by scene, they explore the dynamics of male relationships: power, control, responsibility, abandonment – and love. The scenes are presented as rehearsals for a play called "Fathers & Sons," and the actors seem to be playing versions of themselves. “Richard” is an actor/writer/teacher who has agreed to coach “Edwin,” a talented but undisciplined young man. When Richard gets the chance to present the play to a representative of the Public Theater, the stakes are raised. This is his big chance for recognition in the professional theater. But is Edwin up to the task?

The scenes they perform, while often peppered with humor, take on serious issues of contemporary male identity: a stepfather and stepson compete for primacy in a poor household; a Latino son preparing for college must tell his proud but illiterate father that his presence at an important interview could damage his chance for a scholarship; an acting teacher and his student become sexually intimate only to face unexpected consequences the next morning; a loving but overwhelmed uncle must insist that his learning-disabled nephew move out of his apartment and into a group home; a father who has spent years in prison and who is now dying appeals for forgiveness from his embittered son. The connective tissue is the relationship between Richard and Edwin, fraught with similar tensions. Mutual need forces each to grapple with his understanding of the other man—and himself.

The production is tightly directed by Chris Dolman and both actors give strong performances. Ironically, Hoehler the playwright gives Matos the better roles and material. Richard confesses in the play that he has always been afraid of success and that it’s “easier saving souls in the South Bronx than competing in the Big League” of the New York theater. I was particularly struck by his jaundiced take on the actor’s life, which includes auditions for “don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss me parts on Law & Order Special Bullshit Unit.” Hoehler is believable in his roles. Matos is truly compelling.

The theme of Fathers & Sons is ageless: how do men learn to express love for each other in a world that seems to demand competitive toughness above all else? These characters struggle to choose love and forgiveness over anger and blame, and for that they--and Hoehler--deserve our praise.

(Fathers & Sons will perform through October 4, Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 8pm and Sunday matinees at 3pm, at the Lion Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street. Tickets are $25 through Ticket Central online at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212-279-4200. For more info visit FathersandSonsOnstage.com)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Hole (The Layre/Theatre at St. Clements)

By Le-Anne

FIVE POINTS OR LESS:
Full frontal male nudity and shirtless guysA bunch of sex stuffs (You even get to see a good number of the sex positions you know and love acted out in the background during a sentimental song. Ahh...how romantic...)A musical comedy for adults onlyDefinitely not PC

BOTTOM LINE: If you like musicals, drag shows, and some good ol' gratuitous silliness then you’ll like this show.

Kaitlin Monte, Joey Murray & Scott Martin in The Hole.

Eager to see The Hole, I entered the lobby of The Theatre at St. Clements and was greeted by a beautiful body in a tiny black Speedo. Immediately, I knew what I was getting myself into. “Must be a family show,” I nodded to myself, “a big, gay, drug-filled, prostitute-loving, naked-man-baring, innuendo-laden, melodramatic, family show.” More or less, I was right. By more, I mean there was much more chiseled man-body to be seen. And by less, I mean less than a teeny, tiny Speedo was worn. Oh! And, I almost forgot, there’s singing, lots and lots of singing. The Hole, filled with many mostly-naked men, one crazy little lesbian, and a bitchy drag queen, is not incredibly deep but it’s a good time.

Glam rock Nicky, (Joey Murray), is a struggling actor living in the city. His best friend, Nadia, (Kaitlin Monte), is a prostitute, enabler, and isn't going to win mother of the year anytime soon. They get wasted and pop on down to their favorite East Village club of debauchery, The Hole, where Didi (Stephanie Spano), who is crazy-mad-in-horny-love with Nadia, is spinning. Nicky’s arch nemesis, Phil, (Alex Michaels), aka “Queen LaQueefa,” is performing that night. From there, things get a little absurd. Well, actually, things got absurd long before that when Nadia “forgot” she had a baby (no one even noticed that she was pregnant in the first place). The absurdity continues when they check the baby (Xavier Rice) at the door with the Tourette Syndrome coat check boy (Ari Gold) then, after they watch LaQueefa’s drag show, they spill an 8-ball of coke on the bathroom floor, on which various people proceed to have various forms of sex in various positions, then some people die and go to gold lamay heaven. The end.

Murray (who also wrote the book) is a solid performer. Charming with great comedic timing, he knows how to run with a campy joke. My favorite moments were the glimpses of sincerity that slipped into his performance. Spano simply steals the show with her earnest, heart wrenching, rendition of the song “One Heart, One Bitch.” The girl’s got pipes and acting chops to boot. I mean, she made the question, “Can I land on your landing strip?” sound like the most romantic proposal in the world, come on! Michaels as Phil/Queen LaQueefa is superb. Like the recently late, always great, Patrick Swayze as Vida in “To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,” Michaels plays LaQueefa as a woman, not a man playing a woman. (And, girl, his make-up is flawless!)

The music, by Robert Baumgartner Jr., (additional lyrics by Heidi Heilig), is fun with some tight composition and a handful of damned good songs, especially the group numbers, “Ready to Go,” “Fucking Disaster,” Phil’s “Guttersnipe, Nightlife” and the aforementioned, “One Heart, One Bitch.” This show isn’t going to change anyone’s life but I don’t think it’s meant to. The performances are great, the story is nonsensical fun, and the music is good (great band, by the way including Justin Hosek on bass, Kurt Gellersted on guitar, Andrew Potenza on drums, and Baumgartner on keyboard).

In this play, no one is safe and nothing is sacred. It’s a ridiculous musical comedy that sometimes, even though it’s done well, borders on a little too much camp, (much like LaQueefa advises Nicky about his eyeliner, less is more, darling). Nevertheless, in the end, The Hole is one hell of a fun time. (I know, I know. I couldn’t resist!)

(The Hole is no longer running.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

LAUNCH PARTY TONIGHT!

Later today we will launch the brand new re-designed Theatre Is Easy! And we're having a party to celebrate! Join us at Wharf Bar and Grill, 587 Third Avenue between 38th and 39th Street, NYC, from 8-midnight. And check back to theatreiseasy.com or theasy.com soon to see the new site!

World Premiere of EN by dance troupe COBU (Theater for the New City)

By Le-Anne

5 POINTS OR LESS:
rhythmic dance show • jaw-dropping talent • limited engagement! (But they tour throughout the country so check out their website.) • fun for the whole family (There was even a toddler sitting in front of me and she was loving it!) • insanely talented (Did I say that already?)

BOTTOM LINE: A truly unique style - a fusion of funk, hip hop, tap, and traditional Japanese taiko drums. If you like shows like STOMP, Fuerzabruta, Cirque Du Soleil, etc., though it's quite different from them, you'll like this. Outstanding talent, it is apparent that the word “mediocre” is not in COBU’s dictionary.

Last night, I watched some of New York City’s top athletes perform. No, it was not the Yankees. Not the Mets. It did not happen on a field, on a court, or in a ring but on a stage. Armed with sticks, drums, and taps on their feet, COBU tore it up in their world premiere of EN. COBU, (which means “Dance like drumming. Drum like dancing” in Japanese), combine traditional taiko drums, tap dancing, and martial arts with hip hop flavor to create an experience like no other. The energy they create is electrifying. If you think of traditional Japanese performance as slowly moving people in silk robes and white make-up and if you think of tap dance as cheesy smiles and 42nd Street, then you best think again and let the ladies of COBU show you how it's done. An impressive set, lighting design and costumes, together with stellar choreography and explosive talent, EN is a show not to be missed.

The mood is set immediately upon entering the theatre. Something strangely East meets West, old meets new, refined yet raw is suggested by Yukinobu Okazaki’s striking set design. A towering white circle with Japanese symbols painted in black, flanked by angular archways made of wood ripped from the Old West, and surrounded by perfect, shiny, taiko drums lays the foundation for what is about to take place.

The theatre goes pitch black, then slowly a glimmer of light. Is it the reflection of water or could it be the glint of a fire growing? The light dances, slowly intensifying, as does the sound of a single drum pounding. The silhouette of five dark figures can barely be seen. They seem to come from nowhere, or everywhere, as does the sound of the lone drum. Then in a flash of light and sound a sixth figure appears as a symphony of beats begin. The lighting designs of Ayumu “Poe” Saegusa highlight the sounds and the dance beautifully, as if the light is another dancer on the stage. The dancers are adorned in a various costumes that are a mix of traditional fabrics and robes, with New York T-shirts, bits of fur, and funky hair styles. The look of the show mirrors the sounds of the performance: hip, fun, sexy, fresh, rooted in strength and tradition.

Using the taiko drums, tap, body clap, shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed instrument, similar to a guitar), voice, and even sign language, twenty different songs are shared throughout the evening. COBU creates something magical. With passion and soul they hoof, stomping their feet, and cut and thrust through the air with their drumsticks. In the song titled “Combat,” martial arts stick fighting adds another element to the beating of the drums and taps. One song, titled “Dorcus,” (where the taiko drums are placed horizontally), even managed to draw a tear or two from my eye. The beat of the drum reaches deep within, reverberating within the body, deep in the chest cavity, the taps race the heartbeat, the sticks hit the air. Then, without warning, during the briefest moment of silence I felt something wet on my cheek. I have no idea why. But, as Yako Miyamoto, (creator of COBU and performer/choreographer of EN), told me in a recent interview it’s not about knowing, it’s about feeling. And there is no right or wrong way to feel.

I wish COBU had a permanent home in NYC. EN is exactly the type of show that could easily become an NYC staple, the show that one brings out-of-town guests to see for a real “New York” experience. Working seamlessly together, the ensemble consists of Miyamoto, Hana Ogata, Yuki Yamamori, Micro Fukuyama, Haruna Hisada, Nozomi Gunji and supporting member Yoko Ogawa. Each member brings a unique individuality to the show yet the group clearly shares the beat of one heart. They are ridiculously strong (seriously, one of the most physically demanding shows I have ever seen), body and soul. A wonderful collaboration of spirit and fun, this COBU makes EN a show not to miss.

(EN plays September 19th at 8pm and September 20th at 3pm and 7pm. They will return to New York to play the Madison Avenue Festival on December 6th. Performances are at Theatre for the New City, 155 First Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets. The show runs 80 minutes. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at theatremania.com or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information on COBU, visit www.COBU.us.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

MilkMilkLemonade (The Management, Horse Trade Theater)

By Kitty

BOTTOM LINE: Gross childhood song. Delicious adult play.

Jennifer Harder and Nikole Beckwith in MilkMilkLemonade. Photo by John Alexander.

Glittery dance numbers. Talking chickens. A creepy, wheezing grandmother and a thugged-out spider who lives under the porch. This is my kind of show. Watching MilkMilkLemonade is like taking in an episode of Sesame Street hosted by the guy from Blue's Clues singing Schoolhouse Rock tunes while tripping on LSD. Bizarre and beautiful and as poignant as it is silly-hilarious, Joshua Conkel's literary journey through farmhouse frustration en route to gorgeous, glitzy go-getting is both heartfelt and humorous.

Our hero, Emory (the lovable Andy Phelan), is a young man struggling to survive as a sparkling. showbiz-obsessed homosexual in No-where-ville, USA, under the poor and misguided tutelage of his emphysema-suffering Nanna (the disturbingly convincing Michael Cyril Creighton). No one understands Emory's desire to abandon the confines of rural life in pursuit of his dream to become the ultimate song and dance man in the neighboring city of Mall Town. No one, that is, except Linda the chicken (the engaging Jennifer Harder), who also entertains her own dreams of escaping the chicken shredder to become the Andrew Dice Clay of comedic poultry.

As fantastical as some of the script-based elements of MilkMilkLemonade may be, it is the strength and talent of the cast that brings the sparkle and pizazz to this piece. From the narrator, Lady in a Leotard (the wide-eyed and whimsical Nikole Beckwith) to nasty next door neighbor Elliot (the absolutely incredible Jess Barbagallo), the cast commits to each moment and makes each one so real, that as an audience member, one is reminded that those feelings of awkward pre-teen alienation are not so deeply hidden as just below the surface of one's protective adult veneer.

(The Management and Horse Trade Theater Group Present MilkMilkLemonade by Joshua Conkel through September 26th, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm at UNDER St. Mark's, 94 St. Mark's between 1st Ave and Avenue A. Tickets are $18 and are available at www.smarttix.com.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Groovaloo (Joyce Theatre)

By Molly
5 POINTS OR LESS
freestyle hip hop • based on the real life stories of the dancers involved • a dance show with a spoken word backdrop • incredibly athletic • the best hip hop dancers around

BOTTOM LINE: A really incredible dance show unlike anything you've seen before.

The Groovaloos are are a dance company from LA. They are hip hop dancers with diverse backgrounds who came together a while back as a community of freestyle dancers who liked to jam with one another. They are perhaps the most talented group of hip hop dancers out there, at least as far as I'm aware. You've probably seen them on TV in one way or another, as they've been featured on several of those reality talent shows over the past couple of years. Their autobiographical show, Groovaloo, has grown and changed since its inception in 2003, and it now comes to New York to play at the Joyce Theater after a successful run in LA. After it's brief stay in New York (it only plays though September 27th), Groovaloo will tour the country beginning January 10, 2010.

Performance-wise, Groovaloo is an athletic, energy packed ninety minutes that gets the audience's attention and doesn't let go. Each of the 14 dancers is better than the next and with men and women of all cultural backgrounds, the cast is totally captivating. Each dancer gets a solo moment and as the show reveals itself, the audience learns each dancer's story and how they got to where they are now. Although there are many featured moments for each dancer where they can break and freestyle and do their own thing, there are also many synchronized and choreographed moments where some or all of the dancers perform the same steps or tricks in smaller groups or as bigger production numbers. The variety keeps the production moving along at a nice pace.

The highlights of Groovaloo are pretty consistently the amazing dance moves pulled off by the cast. You may have seen someone spin on their head, but have you ever seen someone spin on their head for 10 rotations, no hands, and then go right into another cool move? Back handsprings are pretty average, but you've probably never seen someone do six in a row, in place, right into a back flip after performing several minutes of strenuous choreography. It's like gymnastics on speed, with lots of funk and rhythm. And of course, the dancing is cool too. Both the choreography and the tricks make these performances hard to believe.

Groovaloo is a heartfelt show. It's easy to see how much love these dancers have for one another, as well as for their art. They are passionate and their energy radiates through the audience. You are on their side as you witness their struggle to achieve the dreams. Toward the end, the story gets a little tragic, and then the camaraderie truly becomes palpable. After all, it's a true story about the people you are watching (well, most of them anyway, some of the original cast are no longer in the show).

For a dance show and an inspirational production, Groovaloo is a tremendous experience. As a theatrical production, it's a little obvious thematically speaking. Basically, it's A Chorus Line, except with hip hop. It's formulaic to be sure, but it's also true and sincere. For a first production, Groovaloo is a hit. I have to be honest though, I am really excited to see another show from this company, maybe something with fictional content that uses storytelling with dance in a theatrical way, something that pushes the limits of a narrative on stage. I think with the artistic vision of these performers and the storytelling potential, they could create a tremendous show. I don't believe Groovaloo is the peak for this company and I am excited to see what projects lay ahead. They certainly have the ambition and the talent to take them anywhere. But for now, do yourself a favor and check out Groovaloo. It's an incredible dance production with some of the hottest dancers around.

(Groovaloo plays at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street. Performances are through September 27th, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $10-$59 and are available at joyce.org or by phone at 212.242.0800. For more show info visit groovaloo.com.)

And Sophie Comes Too (SoHo Playhouse)

By Scott

BOTTOM LINE: You should go with Sophie.


And Sophie Comes Too
, a sell-out hit at this year’s Fringe Festival, has just moved to the SoHo Playhouse for a well deserved post-Fringe extended run as part of the Fringe Encore series. Sophie boasts a sharp script by Meryl Cohn, crisp direction by Mark Finley and a top notch cast, refreshingly all on the same page. Sophie tells a delightful story investigating, among other things, the complexity of familial relationships, the disparity between our internal and external lives, the search for self, and near-death experiences. The play navigates itself quite well through scenes that alternate between funny and ridiculous to touching and thought provoking. My only criticism is that the play ran out of steam about ten minutes before it actually ended and the last few “fade to blacks” were wrongly assumed to be the end. But when the play actually did end, I was glad I went along for the ride…and I was glad Sophie came too!

(And Sophie Comes Too plays as part of the Fringe Encore Series at SoHo Playhouse, 15 VanDam Street between 6th Avenue and Varick. Remaining performances are Monday, September 21 at 7pm, Wednesday, September 23 at 8pm and Saturday September 26 at 10:30pm. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc-encoreseries.com or by calling 866.468.7619. For more show info visit tosos2.org.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Theasy Interview with COBU founder Yako Miyamoto

By Le-Anne

After speaking with Yako Miyamoto, the artistic director, founder, and creator of rhythmic dance company, COBU, I can’t tell you how excited I am to see COBU’s newest show, EN. Miyamoto is not only the creator of COBU but she is also a current cast member of the off-Broadway hit Stomp. It’s been said of COBU’s previous shows that one does not need to understand English nor Japanese to understand the show. Miyamoto’s zest for life and ability to communicate through nonverbal expression is a testament to that. It is clear that this talented artist has a great passion for life and her work, and she shares that with the world through COBU.

How did you come up with the name COBU?
Cobu has two words. “Co” means “drumming” and “Bu” means “dancing.” My combination means, “Dance like drumming. Drum like dancing.” The two words together express my style. “Cobu” has a different meaning too. [It means] “cheer up the people.” In Japanese one word has one meaning but two words [put] together has [sic] a different meaning. So, [just] like [with] drumming and dancing, [when you put them] together [you] cheer up everyone!

What inspired you to form COBU?
I started to play the tradition Japanese taiko drums since I was eight years old in Japan and I went to New Zealand to play taiko at ten years old. I want to express Japanese soul and Japanese culture. Young people [think] Japanese culture is so old. It’s not cool. But I feel Japanese tradition is kind of hot! And American culture is so cool. Traditional is traditional [but] it’s not my style. Hip hop is hip hop [but] it’s not my style. I want to combine all of them. Hip hop culture together [with] the traditional culture.

Kind of bridge the gap between the different cultures?
Yeah. [Everyone has] different feelings but [we all] feel the same beat.

East meets West?
Yes, but it starts with West.

What made you want to form your own company?
I just performed by myself. And after a show, a girl, (now fellow COBU ensemble member, Hana Ogata), saw me and she said, “I want to perform with you” and I was like, “OK, we can play together and do competition.” I didn’t say, “OK I want to come to America and make an artistic, rhythmic, group.” Not like that.

Why did you come to America?
At university I started tap dancing. But I couldn’t find a teacher so I came to New York City to take a class from Savion Glover. And I was like, “OK, this is great!” Before I met tap dance I was just dancing with music but [now that I know] tap dance I can dance with my [own] music. That was a great experience.

Did you meet your company members in Japan?
No, everybody asks me. But we met in New York City.

How many company members are there?
Six.

All women?
Yep, all women.

Is it always women?
About five years ago we had a boy but now it’s all women.

Is that on purpose or is it just how it happened?
It just happened. But the last four years we’ve been all women. It’s a great feeling.

Do you hold open auditions? How do you acquire new company members?
Sometimes, once a year, we have an audition. But I don’t announce a lot. I just announce at the preview of my own show. So if they see my show and they really want to do it, just call to get an audition.

How many years has COBU been together as a company?
Ten years. Since, January 1st, 2000...wow, that’s a long time!

So you formed COBU before you were in the cast of Stomp?
That’s right.

Did somebody see COBU and ask you to be in Stomp?
Somebody sent me an e-mail. He saw a COBU show and [said], “You should be in the stomp.” I got the audition information from him. Then I took an audition. Finally, after the audition [I found out] he was just an audience [member]. He is not on the Stomp staff or crew.

Are you still performing in shows with Stomp while you are working on COBU shows?
Yes, I’m doing both of them.

Now, did you learn hip hop in the States or in Japan?
I was at Keio University in Japan, actually my major was chemistry. [That is when] I realized that I loved hip hop dancing. From age 18 to 22 I was a hip-hop dancer. I danced in music videos. Hip hop music has a “psch psch psch psch” beat that sounds for [sic] me like taiko drumming. That, “bosch chka bosch chka bosch” sound. I love taiko drumming. I love taiko drum beats but I didn’t feel exactly like “oh, this is it [for me].” [I wanted to use] taiko drumming [with] that hip hop beat with tap dance. Tap beat is like, “...” (ummm...insane beat-boxing that this interviewer can’t even begin to figure out how to type phonetically!)

(I’m left speechless, clearly in awe of this incredible display of rhythmic talent. We both simply laugh together.)
I’m not good at explain [sic] my work, even in Japanese. I [have difficulty] explaining with words. I just beat to explain something.

The form of expression that you use to tell a story is through sounds and not words. Do you find it difficult to express what you do in words?
Yes. I can hear [the] drum. To explain something, I express through my feeling and I choose my beat. My beat can feel something. So, I choose to make a beat. Make a rhythm. That’s easier for me.

Speaking of stories, you have the world premiere of you show, EN, coming up soon. What is EN about?
It is a story but not like, “I went to the park....” Not like that. I have a fixed performance with my group, it’s the same cast, same beat, same rhythm but every night is a little different, their feeling is [sic] different. It’s alive. And after [each] show each audience [member] has a different feeling. People send me emails [telling me what they took from the show]. I’m one part of the dance but each audience [member] have [sic] their own part of the dance and each performer has one part of the dance. I choreographed the show but I can’t control [the story].

There is no set story because the story is different for everyone?
Yes. After the show, we have a question and answer sheet. The audience write what [they] feel. Sometimes [they are] in [the] same theatre [at the] same show but they feel exact different feelings. Just listen, “poh chk poh chk chk chk poh chk poh.” [Some people hear that and] they feel [like] crying, [for other people] something inside [them] is smiling, some of them feel it’s like a bird in the sky, and some of them feel like I am crying. Everybody’s got a different way and a different feeling and they can have it all from [watching] my show. It’s such a good experience for me. Every time [I perform], the audience shows me a lot of things.

By the way, did you finish your chemistry degree?
No. Not yet.

Well, it seems like you’re doing OK without it!

(EN plays September 17th at 8pm, September 18th at 3pm and 8pm, September 19th at 8pm and September 20th at 3pm and 7pm. Performances are at Theatre for the New City, 155 First Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets. The show runs 80 minutes. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at theatremania.com or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information on COBU, visit www.COBU.us. Check back to Theasy soon for a review of the show.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lizzie Borden-The Rock Musical (The Living Theatre)

by Julie

5 POINTS OR LESS
impressive powerhouse vocals • high energy rocking • a well-blended mix of headbanging punk, flowing-folk and rock ballads, but all played very loudly • one hour and forty minutes with one intermission

BOTTOM LINE: Lizzie Borden’s insane rock vocals and infectious energy will blow you away (if the volume doesn’t first). I seriously enjoyed this one, a cult classic in the making.

This rock musical takes you back to 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts, when a young Lizzie Borden was accused of brutally killing her father and stepmother. You know, “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks, When she saw what she had done, gave her father forty-one.” The musical dives deeper into the story with a full rock band, explaining her older sister's similar motives, exposing Lizzie’s unexpected relationship with her neighbor, and providing a cheeky punked-out maid who takes care of the two young girls in place of their seemingly careless parents.

Jenny Fellner plays the young Lizzie Borden, a fragile girl who likes to talk to pigeons and fool around with her neighbor in the attic. Throughout the play, she flawlessly transitions from the innocent slow-on-the-uptake Lizzie, to the psycho, dark, getting-away-with-murder Lizzie. This chick rocks. She is way fierce. She belts notes that will make your hair stand on end. The chemistry between Fellner and the neighbor, played by Marie-France Arcilla, is great; I loved their relationship. There was none of that “yea, we’re lesbians and it’s hard” crap that you might expect between two chicks. Instead, Arcilla delivers an unapologetic and haunting love song, “Will You Stay,” the most outstanding of the show’s many highlights.

Things really get stirred up in the Borden house when Lizzie’s older sister Emma, played by Lisa Birnbaum, decides to skip town for a few days after planting some “killer” ideas into Lizzie’s head. Emma and Lizzie aren’t too fond of their abusive father and money-grubbing stepmother. This part of the story could be a little meatier. I didn’t really understand if he was sexually abusive, or if the Borden girls just wanted all of Daddy’s money for themselves, or why they hated the stepmother so much. They might have sucked, but enough to deserve 40-41 whacks? But, for all intents and purposes, I don’t care. I mean, it’s a rock musical, it’s not Chekov, and you know they’re going down, the question is how. And how they died…well it’s pretty much the COOLEST DEATH SCENE EVER. It’s the perfect combination of driving rock music, blood, and wailing dissonant vocals from Carrie Cimma. Totally awesome.

The actors / script had a hard time finding the pace in the beginning of the show, but by the forth number Lizzie Borden takes off and doesn’t stop. You’ll headbang along with “Why Are All The Heads Off!?” and become entranced by “Shattercane and Velvet Glass.” There are some very Spring Awakening-esque moments: actors standing behind mikes to deliver lines and songs, very organic choreography, full rock band onstage, mixing period and postmodernism blah blah… and aside from some “Emma, where’s your skirt?” moments, I thought Lizzie Borden achieved these concepts better then Spring Awakening. It works really well in the cozy Living Theater setting.

Lizzie Borden is a really good time. The costumes are fierce, the vocals from all four ladies are fierce, the visuals are fierce and the rock music is fierce as long as you are prepared for rock concert volume (as my date pointed out “freaking drummers, man”). They had free peanut M&Ms at the bar in the theater, and it’s two acts with an intermission in one hour and forty minutes, what's not to love?

(Lizzie Borden is playing at the Living Theatre, 21 Clinton street in the Lower East Side through October 17th. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, and Fridays & Saturdays at 10:30. Tickets are 25$ and can be purchased at www.theatermania.com. For more information, go to www.lizziebordentheshow.com).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Psych (Tongue In Cheek Theater)

By Molly

BOTTOM LINE: A respectable production of a deceptive story that will keep you questioning reality.

Psych, by Evan Smith, was first produced by Playwrights Horizons in 2001. Although it was well-received and published after its run, it's not necessarily on the spectrum of shows that are often revived. Although the script isn't perfect (some plot points don't line up very well), it's a captivating story with interesting characters. Smith's tale of a girl who just can't please people despite tirelessly trying keeps the audience guessing who is manipulating whom.

This production, by Tongue in Cheek Theater, is a respectable re-interpretation of the script. With just one act and no intermission, the tension builds in a steady climb and keeps the audience's attention throughout. The ending doesn't give closure (as you learn to expect from the play's opening narration), but it does bring the story together in a satisfying way.

Sunny (Jake Lipman) is a twenty-something New Yorker who works as a dominatrix and wants to go to grad school for psychology. Her good friend from college, Molly (Brynne Kraynak), comes to stay with her while she looks for jobs in the city. Sunny seems doomed from the minute she starts applying to grad school: it seems everyone is out to get her despite her sweet demeanor and ambitious personality. As the story unfolds and her relationships become more tumultuous, the audience is left to wonder who is a victim and who is really, well, psychotic.

Tongue in Cheek Theater does a great job bringing the characters to life with ample conflict, especially between Sunny and Molly as their friendship goes sour. Lipman is the people-pleasing girl next door who occasionally tries way too hard; she finds the balance between kind and creepy and lets her character waver uncomfortably between the two. Kraynak creates the most believable character in the story and the audience is immediately on Molly's side as she navigates the frustrations of a dissipating friendship.

The Theatre 54 performance space at Shetler Studios is a tiny blackbox that provides an intimate experience. It's tough to produce a show that truly rings truthful though, when the audience is basically up the actors' noses. And as Psych is a conversation-driven piece (not much action) with word manipulation and misunderstandings being the basis for the conflict in the first place, all that talking and reflecting can provide a pretty inactive play. In such a tiny space, the only two things that could really transport the audience to another world are really bold directing choices or consistently incredible acting. This production, although solid, doesn't have either of the two aforementioned qualities. As a result, the play feels more like a really polished staged reading (with costumes and tech) than a full-blown production. And don't misunderstand, that's not a bad thing at all, it's just something to know before going to the theatre. You might not be able to lose yourself in the story, but you will enjoy the production regardless.

Psych is a well-written play and a really fun tale to experience. Tongue in Cheek does a commendable job presenting the story in an intriguing way that leaves the audience guessing. Director Jason Bohon keeps the pacing tight so there is always something happening to push the story further (and also muddy the details the audience once thought they knew as fact). With entrances and exits in three of the four corners of the playing space, the movement flows on stage and off and you can sort of get swept up in the back and forth of the action altogether. And as the drama unfolds, it makes it all the more fun to play along and guess what will happen next.

(Psych plays at Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios through September 19. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door and are available at smarttix.com or by calling 212-868-4444. For more show information visit tictheater.com.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Bereaved (Partial Comfort)

By Molly

5 POINTS OR LESS
super funny • great dialogue • modern family drama stretched beyond any normal realm • nudity and lots of it • only 70 minutes, no intermission

BOTTOM LINE: Effing funny and freakishly relatable (at first anyway). This play is a prime example that high-quality downtown theatre does still exist.

If one were to see a play called The Bereaved, written by a playwright named Thomas Bradshaw, one might expect a solemn tale, perhaps a depressing story about death or coping with loss. One could not be more wrong. The Bereaved is indeed a story about death, a broken family, and coping with tragedy. But it's also hysterically funny in an "I can't believe that just happened" kind of way. The audience laughs in spite of itself, and very quickly the humor trumps anything intrinsically sad.

The premise is really quite depressing. Carol (McKenna Kerrigan) is a high-powered Manhattan attorney slash wife and mother. She suffers a heart attack and spends the subsequent weeks in the hospital. During that time, she makes sure to finalize plans for her family so that when she dies (she's not optimistic about her recovery) her part-time professor husband Michael (Andrew Garman) and 15-year old son Teddy (Vincent Madero) will be cared for. As Carol anticipates the end, her family and best friend Katy (KK Moggie) try to cope with the situation. And it's perhaps in those coping mechanisms that they lose sight of any responsible decision.

The Bereaved is an appreciated theatrical mindfuck that keeps the audience's attention-you think you're seeing one play and it turns out to be another. As the characters disengage from reality you wonder if they were always bat shit extremists or if their situation is a result of their trauma. The tale Bradshaw weaves builds geniusly: at the beginning the story is relatable, albeit on an extreme level. But as it unfolds, the characters unhinge and their antics, once quirky, exaggerate to the unpredictable. This provides for tremendously fun storytelling as the absurdity escalates and the audience wonders what could possibly happen next.

Although Bradshaw's script is worthy of accolades on its own, the biggest reason The Bereaved is so successful is because the cast is all-around fantastic. The actors deftly develop characters that are all too real and then ride the wave as story progresses. They all have excellent comic chops and the comedy is intentionally played through an understated demeanor. And most importantly, the entire cast remains committed, whether they are naked or not (and there is a lot of nudity). These actors can no doubt justify everything their characters do in this play and as a result, the audience believes them wholeheartedly.

It's to Bradshaw's credit that the audience is kept laughing, but May Adrales deftly directs the play, bringing everything together and keeping it grounded despite the growing ridiculousness. Adralas gives everyone in the cast a time to shine and with every character weighted equally, she creates a truly ensemble piece of theatre.

I don't usually gush about plays I see, especially about new plays off-off-Broadway. But Partial Comfort does good work and The Wild Project is quality downtown venue, and most importantly, The Bereaved is a really well-done production. It's not perfect yet (the ending is a little abrupt) but I sincerely hope it gets the acknowledgement it deserves, and hopefully another run in the future.

(The Bereaved plays at The Wild Project, through September 26. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and are available by calling 212.352.3101 or at ovationtix.com. Wednesdays are pay what you can. For more info visit partialcomfort.org.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Credeaux Canvas (The Bridge Theatre)

BOTTTOM LINE: A beautiful play by an exciting new theatre company.

The newly formed The Seeing Place Theatre Company’s mission statement proclaims they "want to produce theatre we all want to believe in,” and they fully succeed with their inaugural production of Keith Bunin’s The Credeaux Canvas. It tells the tale of a group of twentysomethigs who are striving to fulfill their dreams while struggling to pay the rent in a dumpy lower east side apartment. It seems like a classic New York Story: struggling artists, a fledgling singer, and a floundering real estate agent trying to find himself wax over what it means to be happy in this often brutal city. From written tests to get menial food service jobs to surviving on ramen noodles prepared in dishes washed in the bathtub these three are getting by fine until one of them is left out of his extremely wealthy father’s will and hits rock bottom. His plan is to have his extremely talented roommate paint a forged nude portrait of his girlfriend to try to pawn off for millions to a wealthy, seemingly clueless, socialite and the results will test the boundaries of their relationships and drastically alter their lives forever.

This is a great play. Anyone who is paying the bills by doing a job that they might hate a little or knows someone who is in a similar situation will find more than enough to relate to in this production. And let’s face it, that is pretty much anyone in New York City. The discoveries about what it means to be in your late twenties facing a future that might not, in fact, be full of the endless possibilities that we hopes for as children are poignant are handled very well under the direction of Lillian Wright, who also does double duty as scenic designer creating a very efficient and inventive set for the intimate stage at the Bridge Theatre. The performances are terrific as well. Brandon Walker and Anna Marie Sell fearlessly tackle their challenging roles; Joseph Mancuso is heartbreaking in his portrayal of a man desperate to have a family and be successful; but the unexpected star of the production is Jerilyn Wright who steals the one scene she appears in by creating moments of such truth and heartache with perfect ease and grace.

This is what off-off Broadway theatre is about. A great play. A good cast. A small intimate venue. The work is good and the message meaningful. The Seeing Place Theatre succeeded with their mission to produce theatre that this writer wants to believe. They are definitely a company to watch and I’m excited to see what this company has in store for the future. If you are looking for a moving night at the theatre, check out The Credeaux Canvas. I warn you, it is definitely a drama, so don’t go if you are looking for a light-hearted romp. But if you are just looking for a damn good play this is for you. It has love, angst, greed, art, cool music, and a little bit of tasteful nudity. What’s not to love?

(The Credeaux Canvas performs September 11th at 8pm, September 12th 2pm and 8pm, and September 13th at 3pm at The Bridge Theatre, 244 W 54th Street, 12th floor. Tickets are $18, available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com. For more info: http://www.seeingplacetheater.com/.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Pride of Parnell Street

By Steve

5 POINTS OR LESS
poignant story told in monologues to the audience • authentic Irish dialects • brilliant, seamless acting • heartbreak laced with humor • disturbing and moving

BOTTOM LINE: A contemporary Dublin couple relates a harrowing story in alternating monologues. This is theatrical storytelling at its best. You won’t believe that 100 minutes could go by so fast and move you so deeply.

No one does despair like the Irish. Luckily, no one does humor quite like the Irish, either. From Samuel Beckett to Frank McCourt, the great Irish writers deftly express the dual nature of life, mingling tears and laughter almost in the same breath. And their famous “gift of gab” makes them superb storytellers. Sebastian Barry’s new play The Pride of Parnell Street is a compelling addition to the canon.

A man (Joe) lies on a bed as the audience take their seats. Lights come up on a woman (Janet) who begins speaking. Within moments we are spellbound. For this woman is telling us her story. And even if her accent is sometimes hard to understand and her vocabulary full of strange words (the program includes a glossary of Dublin slang) we listen as if our lives depend on it. Because hers seems to. The elements are familiar: poverty; drunkenness; the death of a child; sudden, shocking violence. Despair pervades everything, like the relentlessly falling rain outside the window in the back wall of the set. Yet we find ourselves laughing, listening to this litany of sorrow. We are laughing because, like these characters, we have to. We must laugh or die. Even optimistic, “anything-is-possible” Americans know what it is to dance on the edge of the abyss.

The simple, tragic story unfolds in alternating monologues told by Janet and Joe, a married couple who haven’t seen each other in 9 years. Physically and emotionally separate, each recounts the nightmarish events that tore them apart. Joe has been through drug abuse and prison. Now he lies in a charity hospital, wracked with guilt and regret. Janet is outwardly unscarred. But even she admits, “My heart has never mended neither. I’ve been going about with a broken heart, the whole time.”

Ultimately this play is several love stories. There is the love between Janet and Joe, tested beyond normal human endurance. There is their shared love of Dublin: “We didn’t have much of a life maybe but it was a Dublin life, and every Dublin life is a life worth living, let me tell you.” Finally there is the love of life itself, even when it’s been disfigured by pain and disappointment. In the face of death, Joe rails against the dying of the light: “It’s not like I don’t care, I do care about it. I can’t see how any living breathing person wouldn’t. Because I want to fucking live…I want to fucking live.”

The production is skillfully directed by Jim Culleton, Artistic Director of Dublin’s Fishamble Theatre Company. Except for a few visual flourishes (water figures prominently) he keeps the production simple and focused on the actors. And what actors they are. Mary Murray and Aidan Kelly inhabit their roles so completely that we don’t see acting at all. We see—and hear—life.
Thankfully, Barry finds an authentic way to temper the suffering of Janet and Joe with tenderness, grace and forgiveness. The Irish understand better than anyone that every loving act is a miracle. So is this show.

(The Pride of Parnell Street plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Madison & Park. The show plays through October 4: Tuesday at 7:15pm, Wednesday through Friday at 8:15pm, Saturday at 2:15pm and 8:15pm and Sunday at 3:15pm and 7:15pm.The show runs 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $35. For tickets call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.ticketcentral.com. For more information visit www.59E59.org.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Spinning the Times (59E59)

By Nancy

5 POINTS OR LESS
five solo character studies written by five Irish women playwrights • each story is inspired by the news • great opportunity to get to know multiple playwrights • well-acted and directed • unique concept that works

BOTTOM LINE: Insightful and poignant monologues inspired by the New York Press. Each one is a separate character study, distinct but tied together by the show’s concept. Simply staged and well acted, the show proves that the Irish live up to their reputation for spinning a good yarn out of any material, including the Post.


Spinning the Times, an Origin Theater Production that is part of the First Irish Festival, is an opportunity to taste the work of five women playwrights from Ireland. A world premiere, each of the five writers was tasked with creating a monologue specifically for this show, based on a story plucked out of the New York news media. As is often the case with theater inspired by news headlines, each piece has political overtones, some more subtle than others. However, issues never overshadowed the individuals portrayed on stage. Instead, each piece is a window into the way character is shaped by context.

Rosemary Jenkinson’s The Lemon Tree, explores a day in the life of Kenny, a protestant teenager in Belfast who usually spends his time drinking in the park with his buddies and picking fights with Catholics. When Kenny is cajoled into attending a church benefit with his mother, held on behalf of struggling Palestinians, he begins to gain insight into the futility of ethnic conflict, only to come home to find that his house has been set on fire by rival Catholics.

The Luthier, written by Lucy Caldwell, is a quiet and moving piece about a young Palestinian man who has lost his family and closest friends in the conflicts with Israel. Though he has lived through mind-numbing tragedy, he connects to all of humanity, including Jews, through their music, and finds peace in the craft of instrument repair.

Miracle Conway, by Geraldine Aron, is a comedic piece that deconstructs the desperation of celebrity obsession. The piece follows the psychological unraveling of a would-be murderess who becomes convinced that her famous employer should be liberated from his marriage.

The most intriguing monologue of the evening, Gin in a Teacup, is the portrait of a Persian American woman who finds meaning, history and identity in vintage clothes. The piece is a lovely exploration of the depth of meaning behind seemingly frivolous pursuits, as well as the limits of personal and collective reinvention.

Finally, the evening comes full circle with Fugue by Belinda McKeon, about another young Irishman affected by the ongoing ethnic conflict in Belfast. Forced to flee Ireland to protect his family, he lands in New York City only to be displaced again—this time by a greedy landlord who sets his apartment building on fire to collect the insurance money.

Across the board, the five monologues in Spinning the Times are interesting, well-written and insightful. Director M. Burke Walker keeps the staging simple, placing the emphasis on the internal life of the characters rather than external trappings and stagecraft. If you like solo performance and if you are interested in getting to know Irish playwrights of the moment, this is the show for you.

(Spinning the Times plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Madison & Park. The show plays through September 20th, Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8:30pm, and Sunday 3:30pm. The show runs 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $25 (members $17.50). For tickets, visit www.ticketcentral.com. For more information visit www.59e59.org.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Lifetime Burning (Primary Stages)

By Le-Anne

FIVE POINTS OR LESS
great ensemble • furniture and architecture is another character • a fictional story based on a true story about a woman who fictionalizes her “true” story • more important than the plot, it’s an interesting study in relationships and truth • flashbacks

Jennifer Westfeldt, left, and Christina Kirk in A Lifetime Burning. Photo by Sara Krulwich.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting, well-told story of relationships, life, and the truth therein. A woman makes up her own story in an attempt to salvage her life.

Have you ever wished you could reinvent yourself? Have you contemplated what your life would be like if only this or that had or hadn’t happened to you? A fruitless wonder...that is of course...unless you succeed. Cusi Cram’s A Lifetime Burning stars Jennifer Westfeldt as Emma, a young, spoiled but troubled woman who decides to reinvent her life and call it a memoir, and Christina Kirk as Tess, her older sister, who calls her out on it. The play opens in a gorgeous, modern, newly decorated loft (thanks to a hefty advance from a book publisher) with a stunned, stuttering Tess berating Emma for her bold-faced lies. From there we learn that truth is stranger than fiction. Loyalty, truth and the questions of normalcy in life are all included in Cram’s compelling story. With excellent performances and expert direction, A Lifetime Burning is a play to ponder.

The plot is loosely based on the real-life scandal of Margaret Seltzer, a woman who wrote a critically acclaimed memoir of her life as a mixed ethnicity gang member in South Central L.A., raised by foster families and gang-bangers. Shortly after its release, Seltzer’s sister contacted the publisher and revealed the entire memoir as fiction. In A Lifetime Burning, Emma is a trust-fund baby who volunteers as a tutor for underprivileged youths. When Emma takes their truths and makes them her own, Tess is outraged, asking Emma what she thinks will happen when everyone discovers the truth? Emma retorts with “What is truth?” An existential conundrum that sends Tess reeling.

Cram’s dialogue quips along and is loaded with observational and social humor as well as depth. For example, at one moment Emma proclaims she is an “alcorexic,” a modern woman who spends her caloric intake drinking alcohol rather than eating, then later she shares the disheartening realization that she can’t even make up a happy ending for herself. Another example is when one character poignantly points out that memoirs became more popular than novels when the American imagination failed. It is Cram’s naturalistic dialogue and keen awareness of not only social modes but human psychology, the ups and downs, that make her characters so well-rounded.

Bringing those characters to life beautifully are the four stellar actors that make up the ensemble. Kirk and Westfeldt are yin and yang in flaxen hair and designer duds. A perfect balance, bouncing off one another, matching but never overpowering until one of them goes in for the win. When Kirk is on fire, Westfeldt is cool. When Westfeldt is teetering, Kirk is as steady as a sniper. While they exhibit anger toward each other, there is a sisterly love that both fuels and quenches the fire of their rivalry.

Rounding out the story are Raul Castillo as Alejandro and Isabel Keating as Lydia Freemantle. Castillo grounds the cast in something more somber and simple. While his character’s upbringing is untamed and represents something the opposite of trust-funds and refined living, Castillo is quiet, solid, and strong. This is a stark contrast to the sisters who although they are as cultivated as can be, yell at each other, have unstable lives, and are fragile even though they hide it quite well from each other. Keating, on the other hand, is as cool as a cucumber. The modern, self-sufficient, epitome of success, she is everything the two sisters wish they were and nothing that they are. Waltzing in like the Queen of England and meaning it, Keating owned the stage with a such a commanding presence that even the designer Zeisel coffee table bowed to her. Her comedic timing is flawless and she brings an underplayed humor to lighten weighty moments.

Director Pam MacKinnon seamlessly weaves between the present and flashbacks within the story. Details such as which wine bottle exists in the present and which wine bottle is a figment of the past are so specific that the dreamlike state of flashback and memory moments are as clean as a dissolve on film, (aided by a beautiful lighting design by David Weiner). MacKinnon’s decision to have the characters remain on stage as they watch the memories unfold is powerful and surreal, while still being grounded in realism. Her pacing is to be applauded. She handles this script with such ease that you forget that there was a director shaping it all because everything was so clean and never seemed premeditated.

A quality production, A Lifetime Burning is a play told by a collaborative team of great storytellers. We all acquire a million stories in each of our pasts that create the memories of life. A life of truth in lies and lies in truth, “half love, half hope, half true” (lyrics from One Less Reason’s, A Lifetime Burning). Each story of the past gives way to the next, creating the moments, maybe even the memoirs, of a person’s life. “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle,” - but until then, as Cram testifies, it remains a lifetime burning.

(A Lifetime Burning plays at Primary Stages, 59E59 Theaters, Theatre A, 59 East 59th Street between Madison & Park. The show plays through September 5, Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, also Wednesday & Saturday at 2pm. The show runs 1 hour 15 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $60. For tickets and more info visit www.primarystages.org).

Monday, August 31, 2009

FringeNYC Encore Series

Fringe fans rejoice! All of those sold-out shows you couldn't fit in your schedule are back for a second go-around, as part of the FringeNYC Encore Series.

From September 10 through September 26, you can see 19 of the top selling Fringe shows at 2 venues: Soho Playhouse at 15 Vandam and The Actors' Playhouse at 100 Seventh Avenue South. Visit fringenyc-encoreseries.com for the full schedule and see below for the list of shows in the series. All tickets to Encore shows are $18.

Viral
The Boys Upstairs
Contemporary American's Guide to a Successful Marriage
His Greatness
And Sophie Comes Too
Complete
Sex and the Holy Land
Notes on the Land of Earthquake and Fire (a Theasy favorite)
Devil Boys From Beyond
I Can Has Cheezburger, the MusicaLOL (a Theasy favorite)
MoM
Powerhouse (a Theasy favorite)
Zipperface
Terranova
Tales From the Tunnel
Willy Nilly
Muffin Man
The K of D
Jesus Ride
Dolls

Friday, August 28, 2009

Burn the Floor (Longacre Theatre)

By Molly

5 POINTS OR LESS
sultry • sparkly • sweaty • ballroom dance


BOTTOM LINE: Just like Dancing With the Stars. With more dancing. And fewer C-Listers.

Let's say you're a major celebrity like oh, Elton John. And let's say it's your 50th birthday and you've recently become a big fan of contemporary ballroom dancing. Maybe you like the sparkly costumes. So your peeps decide to honor your special day by hiring amazing dancers to create a show for you to be performed at your soiree. Now let's say you're a power-player with money who happens to be a guest at Sir Elton's birthday party. And you see this show and you think "this is both awesome and potentially lucrative." You put your monacle back in your eye, take out your checkbook and adapt the show into a worldwide hit called Burn the Floor.

I'm not totally positive that's how it all went down, but suffice to say this show got its roots in 1997 in Sir Elton's honor. After a decade of developing and re-working, it has played in England and pretty much traveled the rest of the world on various tours. Burn the Floor has now set up shop at Broadway's Longacre Theatre for a limited engagement through January 2010.

Twenty smokin' dancers perform ballroom and latin dance routines, supported by two vocalists and a five piece band. Although the numbers don't follow a specific pattern or theme, the playbill does a nice job of introducing what ballroom dance actually is and clarifying what each type of dance is, technically speaking. Through the production you see the cha cha, the waltz, the rumba, the samba, the salsa, the tango, the paso doble, the quickstep, the lindy and swing. Each dancer is paired with another and the duos perform together through most of the show. Actually, each pair has danced together for quite a while and existed as a ballroom team before being cast in this production. The comfort and chemistry between partners is evident. And each team is from a different country so there is a certain variety between performances.

As the lights came up for intermission, my friend asked "so where's the buffet?" Although maybe a little harsh, I think the cruise ship analogy is pretty accurate for this show. Don't get me wrong, the performances in Burn the Floor are outstanding, but the depth of the production is somewhat lacking. Burn the Floor is about entertaining its audience, and maybe a little about educating the public about ballroom dance. But that's pretty much it. There isn't a story. There isn't a larger message. There isn't a visceral connection between stage and house on any emotional level. The dancers perform kick-ass choreography at 110% commitment and the audience has a good time watching it. (And my fellow audience members definitely enjoyed themselves). Not that there's anything wrong with theatre for the purpose of mindless entertainment, but just don't go in expecting something more. It's a fun, sexy dance show.

And that brings me to the adult portion of this review. Burn the Floor isn't scandalous, but it's definitely sexified. From little costumes to gyrating hips to smoldering bedroom eyes to sweat flying from one oiled up body to another, this show is full of flesh. One really can't complain about watching twenty toned bodies for two hours, but I feel I should at least mention it. And actually, it has a "mature" advisory. I personally think it's appropriate for anyone, but if you're sensitive about that sort of thing, better you should know in advance.

I had a good time at Burn the Floor. It's not groundbreaking theatre and it doesn't have much original production value, but it's a solid dance show with really phenomenal talent. Ballroom dance doesn't get much attention on a commercial level, so modern ballroom with an emphasis on creative nuances in choreography is a pretty exciting genre to experience, and one that is relatively hard to come by for an audience member. If you are looking for an easily accessible, upbeat Broadway experience, Burn the Floor is a great option. And if you are a dancer or are interested in dance, it's a good opportunity to see some exciting choreography.

(Burn the Floor plays at the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street. Performances are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday at 2pm and 8pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. The show runs 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $59.59-$111.50. For tickets and more show info visit burnthefloor.com.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party (FringeNYC)

By Dan

BOTTOM LINE: Really good for the Fringe with some great moments, although it is a bit long, a bit uneven, and potentially a bit over-rated.

Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party is the paradigmatic Fringe title. You have the feeling that it could be a silly, gimmicky mess, or else it could be surprisingly interesting. It veers much more to the latter is an incredibly thoughtful show. But there are gimmicky elements as well, and I think these prevent Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party from being the theatrical achievement it aims to be.

Since Abe is known for being honest - let’s be real, the title Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party is about as accurate as the phrase “Holy Roman Empire”- the show is not a dance party, or really any kind of party, it isn’t really about Abraham Lincoln, and it isn’t even particularly gay (yes, there some brief moments of dancing Abes, but this is a minor diversion). The play is centered around the trial of a schoolteacher in Illinois, arrested for presenting a pageant in which she had her young students tell that Abraham Lincoln was homosexual. Except Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party isn’t really about this trial, nor is it about whether or not Abe was gay. Rather, it is about how different people experience these events. After a brief prologue, there are three acts, told from the points of view of three people: the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the famous journalist who comes into town to cover the story.

As one might expect, we learn more about the events with each act and missing information in one act is filled in with the next one. However, by the third act, much of the material starts becoming old. Because an audience member decides the order of the three acts, they need to work in any order. While this seems interesting in theory, I think the play would have been more successful if playwright Aaron Loeb decided the order for us, allowing him to determine what was revealed when. As it is, we have heard enough about certain events in the first two acts to make watching them unfold in the third act less interesting than they should be. (I suspect this is the case no matter the order one sees). Also, I noticed a few inconsistencies from one act to the other that might be avoided if the order were pre-determined.

I’m also not sure about the choice of the three main characters. I would have liked a story about the journalist, the prosecutor, and the teacher. The inclusion of the defense attorney turned this into a story of political maneuvering (both she and the prosecutor are scheming to become governor). And while I appreciate that this wasn’t a didactic tale about “an issue,” I would have liked more of the play that I saw in the part about Anton, the journalist (played by the superb Mark Anderson Phillips). His scene in the cornfield with Jerry (an equally superb Michael Phillis) was the best scene in the play, extraordinarily touching and intimate without being at all preachy. In fact, this scene was so surprising to me because much of what had come before had been a bit campy, especially Anton’s sidekick Esmerelda (played by Velina Brown, who also plays the defense attorney).

I think one of the biggest problems with this play was the uneven tone. It didn’t seem to know if it wanted to be campy, silly fun, or else a serious, thought-provoking piece. Certainly, something can have aspects of both, but I sensed a certain identity-crisis here. Whereas a silly campy Fringe show might demand a convoluted plot filled with shocking twists and turns, a multi-faceted character piece that aims to show several points of view would do better to simplify, simplify, simplify.

There is a lot worth seeing here, even if it is a bit long at two and a half hours. Among other things, Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party has a great set design. Bill English’s set consists of three panels in which the different set pieces are hidden. Along with a cornfield curtain, this set is the savviest I have ever seen in the Fringe (a festival that severely limits design elements). Not only does English’s set work well, it also looks good, and even has a few surprises.

Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party was sold out even before the first performance, so tickets to the remaining show will certainly be hard to come by. I’d bet given its success, it will reappear at the Fringe Encores series. I’m not sure that Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party lives up to the hype implied by its early sell out, but it is a solid piece of theatre that I’m glad I saw.

(Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party plays at the HERE Arts Center- Mainstage Theater, 145 6th Avenue- enter on Dominick, one block south of Spring. The show is approximately 2 hours 30 minutes long, with two brief intermissions. The final performance is Saturday 8/29 at 7:15 pm. For tickets and show info visit www.abrahamlincolnsbiggaydanceparty.com and for more FringeNYC info visit fringenyc.org.)

The Boys Upstairs (FringeNYC)

by Dan

BOTTOM LINE: A fairly standard gay play (which means light and superficial). It's good for a laugh or two, but all the more disappointing because it tries (and fails) to be so much more.

As a 31-year old gay man living in Hell’s Kitchen, I would seem to be the ideal target for The Boys Upstairs (a play about a group of gay guys, all in their mid 20s to early 30s, living in Hell’s Kitchen). And while it isn’t fair to expect that a light gay comedy will portray life as it is, I still wish that The Boys Upstairs had shown me, in some way, a bit more of the heart and soul of the life I know. Because while the writing is often funny, the play as a whole left me cold.

The Boys Upstairs takes place in the midtown apartment of two roommates, Josh and Seth. Their good friend Ashley basically lives there as well, since his real apartment is so far uptown he often crashes on the couch, along with whatever trick he has found for the evening. At the beginning of the play a new guy, Eric, has moved in downstairs (thus the title). He’s attractive, and appears to be straight, so all three guys instantly fall in lust with him. Throughout the play Josh (ostensibly the main character) tries to deal with Seth’s boyfriend (who he doesn’t like), with Ashley’s parade of men, and with his own insecurities and relationship hang-ups. And of course, since this is a gay living room comedy, all of this takes place amidst a plethora of cocktails and morning-after stories.

I’m all for fabulousity - I love a great cocktail and a night out with the boys. The trouble is, as much as this team claims (in their production notes) that this play is about something serious and meaningful, it really isn’t. I didn’t care about any of the characters. Any 20 or 30-something living in Manhattan will tell you that finances are a huge concern. So how could I care about Josh, a trust fund kid who can afford to let his friend live with him for a tiny portion of the rent? Why didn’t playwright Jason Mitchell write about two guys who couldn’t go out every night, and couldn’t order in breakfast, or takes cabs to go shopping, or jet off to some Caribbean island? Wouldn’t this struggle have been more interesting?

This critique aside, The Boys Upstairs aims to be a play about friendship. But I didn’t see any friendship on stage. I saw people who had fun together, but that isn’t friendship. Friendship may occur amidst cocktails and quips, but it isn’t limited to them. Since I didn’t buy the friendship of Josh, Seth, and Ashley, everything they did ultimately seemed shallow. Late in the play, Ashley does something upsetting to Josh. But this “event” (I’m being vague on purpose) is all resolved way too quickly. Another thing that really bothered me was the series of questions Josh twitters during the scene changes, which seem to be Mitchell’s way of telling the audience what he wants them to take away from his play. This device is so obvious and heavy-handed that I cringed every time a scene ended, in preparation for what was to come.

There are many good things about The Boys Upstairs (a show that has a good chance of getting in the Fringe Encores series, which may be the only way to see it, as the two remaining shows are sold out). The five guys in the cast are all attractive (an important thing in this kind of play), and all are good actors. I especially liked Kristen-Alexzander Griffith as Ashley, the most outlandish of the three friends. Ashley could have easily been a clich├ęd, one-note character; to Griffith’s credit, Ashley was actually the deepest character in the play. He’s much more Emmett from Queer as Folk than Jack from Will and Grace, even though Ashley is the most flamboyant, has the funniest lines, and does the most outlandish things, there is actually a real person there. Also good is David A. Rudd, who plays all of the boyfriends, dates, and tricks; my favorite was a Don’t Tell Mama employee who hilariously speaks in showtune-ese for his entire scene. Josh Segarra was cute, likeable, and fairly believable as the somewhat unbelievably hard-to-read Eric. Less appealing were Nic Cory as Josh and Joel T. Bauer as Seth. It isn’t that they were bad, they just didn’t compensate for the superficialities of the script the way that Griffith did.

It may be that ironically, I am actually not the appropriate audience for this kind of show: many audience members seemed to be twenty years older than the boys onstage, and there were certainly lots of laughs. To be fair, there were more than a few lines that made me laugh out loud, and I was never bored. Certainly, this seems to be a crowd-pleasing show, and although I wasn’t satisfied, I can certainly see how many others will laugh a lot and enjoy their time with The Boys Upstairs.

(The Boys Upstairs plays at the Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street between Varick and 6th Avenue. The show is approximately 1 hour 35 minutes long. Performances are Thursday 8/27 at 5 pm and Friday 8/28 at 7 pm. For tickets and show info visit TheBoysUpstairs.info and for more FringeNYC info visit fringenyc.org.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Citizen Ruth (FringeNYC)

By Dan

BOTTOM LINE: The kind of musical I expect from the Fringe: Citizen Ruth shows some promise, and features a strong cast, but it’s a bit long, and doesn’t let the audience invest emotionally.

If you must see a 2009 Fringe musical based on or inspired by a film directed by Alexander Payne, then see Citizen Ruth. Not because Citizen Ruth is a terrific work of art, but because Vote! (the Fringe musical that tries to be the movie Election) is really pretty bad. While Citizen Ruth is a bit too long, and lacks a truly sympathetic character necessary for a musical, its positives ultimately balance out its negatives. If this sounds like faint praise, it is - I didn’t love Citizen Ruth, and there were times that I didn’t even like it. But I understand that creating a new musical is difficult; given the potential complexity of this material, Citizen Ruth is a decent first attempt.

Ruth Stoops is a homeless drug addict who is arrested (again); when the judge finds out that she is pregnant (again), he tells her he’ll go easier on her if she has an abortion. A particularly passionate group of Pro-lifers pays her bail, and brings her home, so they can persuade her to keep the baby. Eventually a pro-choice group gets their hands on her, and the battle begins.

From what I can tell, the musical follows the plot of the movie (which I haven’t seen) fairly closely. Both sides come off as fairly selfish, and it is clear that everyone seems to care more about the debate than they care about Ruth. But my main trouble with this musical is that I didn’t care much about Ruth either. This is not the fault of Garrett Long, who does an excellent job as the confused, used and abused Ruth. Long perfectly captures the way Ruth is pulled back and forth throughout the show, without ever once letting us forget that Ruth is, in her own way, an incredibly strong woman. Rather, the problem is in the way that Ruth is written - she doesn’t tell us, or anyone else, much about herself. She has two solos, “God Help Me” and “What About What I Want,” but they are unmelodic, unrhymed, whiny, and annoying (as opposed to the rest of the score, which is not this at all). In a musical, the audience often gets to know a main character through her songs. But these two solos are so obnoxious that I quickly tuned out, so Citizen Ruth became less about a troubled woman (an interesting subject for a musical) and more about an overly familiar debate (not so interesting for a musical).

From the laughter and applause in the almost sold-out theatre, it seems that many people did not mind this. The supporting cast (all of whom play several characters) is great; my favorites included Zack Collona as the way-too-sunny kid Matthew Stoney, Marya Grandy as the crazily intense Nurse Pat, Dennis Stowe as the hilariously annoyed Larry Jarvik, and the always dependable Annie Golden as the (admittedly random) chick rock star Jesse Dove. The costumes also deserve a mention. Unlike many Fringe shows (which tend to have merely suitable costumes that seem to have come from the actors’ closets), Clint Ramos’s costumes really help with character development. While there were some unnecessary projections, and the ever-present headset mics (which never work properly in Fringe shows - when will people learn?), these are minor flaws in an otherwise well-staged production.

And other than a few of Ruth’s songs, much of the score is worth a listen. Citizen Ruth remains light-hearted throughout, especially for a musical about abortion. While I didn’t laugh as hard as those around me, there were some funny moments, and I was never confused. My main problem was that I wanted to be more emotionally involved in the story (because I wasn’t, the second act began to get monotonous, and the ending was extremely sudden and unsatisfying). These critiques aside, if you are interested in politically-engaged new musicals that will also make you laugh, you might want to visit Citizen Ruth.

(Citizen Ruth plays at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, between 6th Avenue and MacDougal Street. The show is approximately 2 hours long, with one brief intermission. Performances are Sunday 8/23 at 10:30 pm and Monday 8/24 at 7:30 pm. For tickets and show info visit citizenruth.info and for more FringeNYC info visit fringenyc.org.)