Saturday, February 28, 2009

Frigid Festival

The Frigid Festival is underway...check out new works off-off-Broadway with the festival's 2009 offerings. Summer theatre festivals abound in this city, but Frigid proffers their line-up months earlier. And why not check out some new plays now? With recession-friendly pricing and the weather still feeling...well...frigid...take yourself downtown for some entertainment. Le-Anne is! She will provide coverage of the 2009 Frigid Festival for Theatre Is Easy. Performances run through March 8th so check back for her reviews. And for the full Frigid Festival schedule visit

Here's what Le-Anne has to say about the Frigid Festival...

BOTTOM LINE: The Frigid festival is a great grassroots, minimalist, no-restrictions, freedom-for-the-artist event. It's not mainstream or commercial.

If you get the chance, you should definitely check out the Frigid Festival. Make an all-day excursion out of it, or just catch a quick show, (every show in the festival is an hour or shorter). Whatever you choose to do, show your support and have some fun in a uniquely, downtown, New York kind of way.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Coming, Aphrodite!

By Le-Anne
nice set • cool shadow puppets • revealing silhouette–probably not best for the kiddies • fun music
Liz Kimball and Greg Hentis in Coming, Aprodite! Photo by Steven Schreiber.

BOTTOM LINE: A cute show with entertaining songs and a great set. If you're big into musicals give it a shot.

Nude yoga brings together an unlikely pair in Mary Fulham’s Coming, Aphrodite!. Fulham puts a modern spin on this Willa Cather short story of the same name from the 1920s, (also published at “Coming, Eden Bower”) by placing it in present day (well, the ‘80s to present-day). She also modernizes it by switching out a struggling opera singer for an ambitious musical theatre actress, replacing Paris for LA, and by adapting it into a musical theatre piece. This production has some fun music, a beautiful set and a talented cast.

The play opens with a rousing song called “In Here” in which we are introduced to each of the characters. We learn that in here, Don Hedger (Greg Henits) has a fear of his own possibilities. Eden Bower (Liz Kimball) has dreams to fulfill, in here. The landlady, Mrs. Foley, (Anne Gaynor), has many tenants that come and go, in here. Finally, the loyal pet dog Caesar (Clayton Dean Smith donning a pair of dress pants, a dress shirt, a vest, and a tie–complete with pink socks–a clever hint by costume designer Ramona Ponce, suggesting the pink skin of a dog showing through mangy fur) sings quite contentedly that the food is good, in here.

Don Hedger is a wandering painter living in the artist heavy lower east side of Manhattan, Eden Bower is a Midwestern girl ready to hit the big city running, and Caesar is Hedger’s loyal, loving Boston Terrier, and best friend ... that is until Bower comes to town. At first Hedger is annoyed by this new uppity neighbor who bothers him with her loud vocal exercises, obnoxious show tunes, and music. Until one day, in his frustration he cleans out his closet and notices he can see into the next room through a keyhole in the back of his closet. He spies on his neighbor, only to discover that she is practicing yoga in the buff. This is cleverly created by showing a larger-than-life, rather revealing silhouette of Kimball as her shadow gracefully moves from one pose to the next. Hedger tries to look away but he can’t. To no surprise, he somehow finds it in his heart to warm up to this new neighbor. Shock of shocks.

The only problem is the closer he gets to the girl, the further he gets from his dog. Before the two lovebirds are smitten with each other, Caesar sings, “He’s My Man.” Smith’s interpretation is endearing and cute to boot, without being sappy. He delivers the matter of fact loyalty of a dog and sings in earnest, which makes it all the more humorous and entertaining. I should also mention that Smith, later in the play, doubles as a fair barker at Coney Island. He shows great versatility not only in character but in vocal range with these two completely opposite end of the spectrum characters. If it weren’t for his telltale red hair, you might not even notice it was the same actor playing both parts.

The set design by Jim Boutin is impressive. With a Dr. Seuss meets Nightmare Before Christmas vibe, he uses all sorts of levels. From hanging walls, crown moldings, stairs, stages, and rotating doorways to bright colors and curved lines he creates a fun, dreamlike world. Lighting designer Alex Bartenieff is responsible for even more ambiance. Besides the suggestive silhouette of the ingenue, he creates intoxicating atmosphere through silhouettes of the city, building rooftops, coney island, dancing moths, and rapidly dispatching birds. Most intriguing is the use of shadow puppets throughout the play, in particular when telling the tale of an Aztec Queen.

Coming, Aphrodite!, a new musical, is a solid production and entertaining. It has fun music, a beautiful set, and brings a little something out of the ordinary to the table with its use of puppets and lights. If you like musicals, naked yoga, shadow puppets, and people playing pups head on down to La Mama and check it out.

(Coming, Aphrodite! runs February 20th through March 8th. Performance times are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm with Sunday matinees at 2:30pm. No intermission. La MaMa E.T.C. is located at 74 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery. Tickets are $18, available at 212-475-7710 or

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blanche Survives Katrina in a Streetcar Named Desire (Soho Playhouse)

By Kitty

Mark Sam Rosenthal as Blanche DuBois in Blanche Survives Katrina

BOTTOM LINE: relies on the kindness of strangers who are familiar with A Streetcar Named Desire

As I took my seat to see Blanche Survives Katrina in a Streetcar Named Desire, the man sitting next to me explained that he wished to see the show because he had heard that it was “a little off-the-wall." Off-the-wall, indeed.

Inspired by the classic Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Survives Katrina imagines how Blanche DuBois might have coped with the devastation in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. This is achieved after a man discovers a magical valise containing an enchanted blonde wig. When he places the wig on his head, he is no longer a guy sifting through the debris left by the storm. Instead, he is Blanche herself, one of dramatic literature’s most prolific characters, attempting to rebuild her life following the devastation.

Although the premise may appear dark–neither Blanche DuBois nor Hurricane Katrina are necessarily known for their levityBlanche Survives Katrina can be considered a comedy. Writer and performer Mark Sam Rosenthal swans around the stage, punctuating each line with Vivian Leigh’s trademark eyebrow lifts (Leigh won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Blanche in the movie version in 1951). He also allows each word to seep out of his mouth with syrupy Southern sweetness, bestowing upon Blanche a naivete and an innocence that is not necessarily explored in the original A Streetcar Named Desire.

It is in her artlessness where Rosenthal finds the bulk of the humor. The cultural confusion Blanche encounters while lodging in the Superdome, for example, provides the initial gag which reoccurs throughout the play. Not only must Blanche adjust to life in a predominantly African American community, but she must also familiarize herself with life in the new millennium.

Even though the comical bits are more than satisfying (Blanche taking a hit from a crack pipe is one for the books), I found the most enjoyment in Blanche’s more reflective moments. Her monologues recounting the day the levees broke and washed away Stanley, Stella and their newborn child are exceptionally poignant. Blanche’s assertion that “the story is prettier than the truth” is also quite evocative and even more so when she adds that “once the truth is washed away, all that is left is poetry”.

Judging from the puzzled patron seated behind me who after the final curtain call asked her friend, “now explain to me who Blanche is again,” it's possible that only fans of the original A Streetcar Named Desire will truly be able to follow and appreciate this reincarnation. It is a love letter to Blanche DuBois and a reminder that New Orleans is only a Mardi Gras beads’ throw away from restored greatness.

(Blanche Survives Katrina in a Fema Trailer Named Desire is playing at the Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, through March 15th with performances Thrusdays and Fridays at 9pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 9pm and Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are $20-$30 and can be purchased at For more info visit the show's website at

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Distracted (Roundabout Theater Company)

By Ben

BOTTOM LINE: If you loved Sex and The City, see this. If you hated Sex and the City...see this anyway. It’s poignant, funny, engaging and one of the best pieces of theater I’ve seen in a while.

Cynthia Nixon headlines Distracted, a compelling and entertaining play with a strong cast and smart production. This play asks the question: what the heck is going on today with all this technology, these so-called experts and how we are living our lives?

We take in so much information, but how do you know what information is accurate? What if an expert tells you that your child has behavioral problems? Should you drug your child? Is your child really just being a child? Whose advice matters and where is it coming from anyway? What does it all really mean to who we are as people? Does all this information really help us connect to what’s going on around us? These are the kinds of questions that come up in Distracted.

The acting is fantastic. The set is brilliant and something I’ve never seen before on stage. The writing is smart and funny. It seems that the cast enjoys the show and the audience does too. Ultimately though, it's the material and experience you have in the theater that is worth the price of admission. And that is something you can’t always say about theater these days. This show is made for the theater; it isn’t some movie on stage or play that also works on the screen. It's a brilliant new play that's worth unplugging for.

(Distracted plays through May 10th at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th Street between 6th & 7th Avenues. Performance times are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. The show runs 2 hrs. 15 min. with one intermission. Tickets are $70...or $20 if you are under 35 and a member of to join for free. For tickets visit

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fresh Kills (59E59)

By Scott
great acting • intimate setting • effective and evocative staging • predictable story

BOTTOM LINE: What happens in the truck stays in the truck.

Fresh Kills, now playing at 59E59 Theaters, is an interesting theatrical experience. While the 90 minutes or so are very efficiently used and the play is quite dramatic, it offers no real thematic surprises. So, while I did enjoy it, I must confess that I was left wanting more. I was hoping that the story would take an unpredictable turn or that a character would reveal or confess something I didn't see coming and would thus shake up the narrative. That did not happen. Fresh Kills does not necessarily offer anything new in terms of narrative or structure, but what it does offer is an enormously effective production I challenge even the most cynical theatergoer not to be seduced by.

Staten Island couple Eddie and Marie are participants in a life and marriage that, where joy may have once existed, is now primarily filled with stress and frustration. The attempts they each make to keep the other interested and interesting are usually usurped by the exigencies of suburban family life. Feeling empty, alone, conflicted, and - quite obviously - confused, Eddie starts chatting with a young boy online. They agree to meet, Eddie claims he doesn't want sex, the boy clearly does want attention, Eddie tries to cut it off, the boy shows up at Eddie's house, Marie takes a liking to the boy she thinks Eddie has taken on as a big brother, the boy (Arnold) threatens to out him, Eddie doesn't want to lose his family...etc, etc, and so the story goes. There is nothing new here. But what makes Fresh Kills compelling theatre are two key elements essential to any good play: a fantastic staging concept that puts the audience in the middle (almost literally) of the action, and, of course, great acting.

Fresh Kills plays in a tiny black box theatre that can't have more than 50 seats. The playing area is small and in the center (taking up virtually all the space) is a large pickup truck. From the minute you walk into the theatre a sense of confinement and restriction is palpable. The seats are close together, there is not a lot of leg room - it’s as if Eddie's internal emotional experience is made physical for the audience by virtue of the space. Director Isaac Byrne takes an enormous risk by keeping his actors in a stationary vehicle for a large portion of the play, and forcing them to maneuver around the vehicle when they are not in it, but it pays incredible dividends. Most of the action takes place in the truck, and the scenes out of the truck usually involve Eddie trying to cover up what has gone on in the truck, so the ever-present truck becomes the elephant in the room. Like the truth you refuse to acknowledge, it is always there. Waiting to be dealt with. Or not. During a brief period when the truck was moved off stage, its absence was absolutely deafening. I bet these actors never thought they'd have to worry about being upstaged by a truck.

Luckily they weren’t. The cast of Fresh Kills is in absolute fine form. Characterizations aside, it is never easy to perform in a small space, with the front row of the audience literally at your toes, and to have to maneuver around a large inanimate object. That the cast does this effortlessly is a testament to the artistry of each of them individually and to them collectively as a company. Robert Funary successfully finds all the nuances of Eddie's internal struggle. I was at once frustrated by him, yet sympathetic towards him. I understood the struggle he was trying to resolve and I was on the edge of my seat hoping the delicate balance of his life would not upend. Therese Plummer brings a feisty sexiness to Marie that makes her imminently likable. Plummer never allows her character's frustrations and disappointments to overshadow her optimism and that is what makes her truly alluring. You are really mad at Eddie for any pain he may cause her. Todd Flaherty plays the hustler Arnold with a perfect snarl. His disdain for all things civilized only partially masks his deep desire for love and acceptance. And Jared Culverhouse is excellent as the brother-in-law cop that everyone has met a thousand times. He is the guy you want around to protect you when danger arrives, but not the guy you want to cross.

Fresh Kills is an enormously satisfying theatrical experience. Great acting with actors so close you can reach out and touch them (but don't) will always be a worthwhile outing. I highly recommend you check it out during its short run at 59E59 so long as you don't suffer from claustrophobia. Or even if you do. You will probably have an even more intense experience than I did!

(Fresh Kills plays at 59E59, 59 East 59th Street between Lexington and Park, through March 1 only. Performance times are Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday through Friday at 8:30pm, Saturday at 2:30pm and 8:30pm, and Sunday at 3:30pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $18, to purchase call 212-279-4200 or visit For more information, visit

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used To It) (The Flea)

By Le-Anne
good laughs • good drama • good direction • good playwriting • good acting
Michael Micalizzi & Maren Langdon in Love/Stories. Photo by Joan Marcus.

BOTTOM LINE: intriguing stories that explore the everlasting conundrums of love and relationships in a theatrically creative way.

Nazareth said it best in their hit single, “Love Hurts.” That it does boys, that it does (and yes, for you musicphiles out there, I realize the Everly Brothers said it first but let’s face it Nazareth said it best). Playwright Itamar Moses cleverly explores similar sentiments through laughs and tears in his play Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used To It), a smart collection of five separate short plays tied together by their different takes on love. Moses says theatre is “much closer to music than it is to fiction” and likens writing a full-length play to writing an entire concept album. He continues “a short play is like a single,” but, unlike in the music world, it is difficult to give these mini-overtures a respectful home in the theatre. Thankfully he found a home for these compelling tales at The Flea Theatre, and with the help of expert direction by Michelle Tattenbaum, turned out a winning collection of singles.

The performance opens with a deliciously sarcastic recorded curtain speech by the playwright, asking the audience to “please leave your cell phones on and if it rings answer it and tell the person on the other end where you are,” and to “unwrap any tightly wrapped candies during long silences;” before the show began, it had already begun. The play is facilitated by one actor, the Reader (John Russo), who transitions from story to story by speaking aloud things like stage directions, technical cues, and narration. For example he opens the show by saying the title “Love/Stories,” with a slashing motion to indicate the slash. He continues, “Lights up on a man, in a room, auditioning for a play...” He goes on to link each short play in a similar manner.

Another interesting thing about Moses’ work is his fascinating use of modern (and foreign) language. Littered with incomplete and partial thoughts, his characters reflect a modern sense of uncertainty. With some playwrights, this attempt at “naturalistic” dialogue comes across as scripted, cliche, and anything but natural. Not only does Moses have a real ear for the unfinished thought but he deliberately creates a type of musical speech pattern. Tattenbaum’s attention to detail here is evident, orchestrating the actors like a Maestro, giving the skilled cast a chance to really play with each line and never allowing an unfinished thought to be empty. Not only is she specific with her direction of words, but she also creates a great flow and fluid use of the physical space. Fabricating depth out of the narrow playing space, she stages actors at a desk right up against the audience, uses every doorway, and plays every plane. With the help of great light (Joe Chapman) and set design (Jerad Schomer), she manages to isolate focus to certain areas of the stage one moment at a time, as if we the audience are flipping through the pages of a book of short stories and choose to stop at this one, or that one, because a word pops out at us.

In one short play entitled “Szinhaz,” Marie, (Maren Langdon) interviews and translates for, Istvan ( Felipe Bonilla), a famous Eastern European director, in an "Inside the Actors Studio" fashion. Moses plays with the humor of being lost in translation when Marie boasts of a production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Garbage Bird,” which garnered many laughs, and then on a dime Moses uses a lack of translation in a moment of total clarity. Even before his foreign words were translated, Bonilla captured the audience and caused a stillness to blanket the crowd. A tour de force, Langdon and Bonilla had the audience laughing out loud one minute and, in a dramatic turn of events, speechless the next.

Though each of the short plays in Love/Stories can stand alone, together they create an interesting comparison and contrast when it comes to the ideas of love, relationships, what is real or unreal, and the power of communication. Love/Stories (Or But You Will Get Used To It) is a dynamic production and proves that Itamar Moses is a playwright on the rise.

Love/Stories (Or But You Will Get Used To It) runs through March 9. It runs approximately 1 hour 30 min with no intermission. Performance times vary. (See calendar on website for details.) The Flea is located at 41 White Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks south of Canal. Tickets are $20 and are available by calling 212.352.3101 or online at

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

White People

By Leah
• well acted • suffers from writing flaws • not terribly surprising

BOTTOM LINE: Interesting but not necessarily moving.

So I'm trying to figure out why I didn't have a stronger reaction to this show, why I didn't come out of the theater viscerally affected.

White People
, written by J. T. Rogers, explores the minds and hearts of three, well, white people through a series of intertwining monologues. First there's Alan Harris, a New York history professor, played by Michael Schulman. The character is earnest and likable, brimming with liberalism, and Schulman brings that to the table in spades. The climax of his character's arc, however, a recounting of an assault and his subsequent reaction, falls a little flat. When you hear him tell his story, yeah, it's disturbing, but it's also really easy to tell that that's what it's supposed to be. It feels sort of like a big neon sign asking, "Isn't this awful and complicated and thought-provoking?" But the truth is, I've seen those complications before, and the character, as he's written, doesn't really illuminate any new bit of humanity in them.

Next we meet Mara-Lynn Doddson, the former homecoming queen turned nobody. The character is a bit of a stereotype - working class girl, missing her former glory, but Rebecca Brooksher plays her with sincere and grounded vulnerability. Though there are some moments which seem pushed, Mara-Lynn's life (which revolves around a rather deadbeat husband and a mentally handicapped son) escapes the maudlin and generally lives in an organic and sypathetic place. The character is perhaps a little too well-spoken for her station in life, an interesting note for a play where one of the primary focuses is how language colors our perception of one another.

The most surprising character is probably Martin Bahmueller (played by John Dossett), the Brooklyn-born lawyer now living in St. Louis. His unapologetic adherence to rules of dress,
conduct, and grammar is something straight out of 1987's "Wall Street." But when his carefully controlled racism is picked up by his 15 year old son, the cracks in the dam let loose truly fresh and surprising emotions.

White People has its flaws, but it manages to steer pretty clear of preachy, which, to me, is a major trap that plays which are specifically "about race" tend to fall into. While it isn't exploring a whole lot that, say, "Crash" didn't go into 5 years ago, it's still a solid piece of theater that'll make you think.

(White People runs through Feb. 22 at the Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street, Chelsea. Tickets are $45, to purchase call 212.279.4200 or visit

Reasons to Be Neil (92Y Tribeca)

If you still don't have plans for this evening, you do now! Go downtown to 92Y Tribeca to hear an in depth presentation with Neil Labute. Labute is one of the brightest voices in contemporary American drama. He has written some of my favorite plays including: The Shape of Things and Mercy Seat. His newest play, reasons to be pretty goes into the previews at The Lyceum Theatre on March 2 and is sure to have the city buzzing.

Mr. Labute is not only a kick-ass playwright. His screenwriting credits include the darkly comic Nurse Betty, In The Company of Men, and my personal favorite, Your Friends and Neighbors which stars Aaron Eckhart, Ben Stiller, and Catherine Keener.

Labute deals with issues that might make the average theatre-goer slightly uncomfortable. With themes ranging from a bet between coworkers concerning who can have sex with a physically impaired girl first; to a man's controversial relationship with an over weight woman; and even an extramarital affair which comes to blows in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, Labute pushes the boundaries of social convention in a way that many playwrights have to gut to do. I'm so excited about this tonight. He is going to be reading from some of his new works and talking about his upcoming Broadway endeavor. This is a rare opportunity to see a playwright that is destined to become an American legend. Don't kick yourself ten years from now, go and see him tonight!

Tickets are only $15. The fun begins at 7:30
92Y Tribeca
200 Hudson Street
For tickets and more info go to or call 212-415-5500

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wonderland in Alice: The Uncertainty Principle (eXit Productions)

By Le-Anne
• adult content: not for the kiddies • pretty experimental • way outside the box • well executed • very different from traditional or mainstream theatre

BOTTOM LINE: The script is raunchy and racy. The approach is a theatre of the absurd assault on the senses. Definitely worth seeing if you are interested in something different.

You gotta love a theatre company that looks at a bizarro-land new work, grabs it by the balls, and says, “Let’s do this! (...harder and a little to the left).” And if that's graphic, it’s only a taste of the type of things you will witness when you see Wonderland in Alice: The Uncertainty Principle produced by, new-to-New York company eXit productions. I imagine that the producers' discussion went something like that when they decided to do this crazy script by Margie Pignataro. Dedicated to producing new works by new playwrights, directing and producing duo Ben Gougeon and Doug Spagnola take on the New York premiere of Wonderland in Alice with a no-holds-barred approach that is well directed, with a solid ensemble and innovative use of set and costume.

I am not usually one for gratuitous sex or obscene language but somehow Gougeon and Spagnola manage to override the vulgar writing, and get to the heart of what is being said, ironically, through vulgar actions. Like a Family Guy joke, Gougeon and Spagnola push the vulgarity to the extremes. One scene includes a giant orgy, complete with dildos, penis masks, and breasts for eyes. While watching this perverted party not three-feet away, at first it was slightly off-putting, then it bordered on disgusting, then I felt a little uncomfortable, then just when I was wondering if I was going to need take a shower after all this, I found myself exploding with laughter! It’s as if I had been pushed into that next dimension with Alice, and all I could do was laugh–loudly, very loudly. The direction is not masturbatory. They do not indulge in the “fantasy” of a sexual act, but rather treat it “as is” – and in doing so, take the “sex” away and just leave the energy of that action behind, creating a powerful, shared experience between both audience and performers. We the audience, I assume, are not willing to orgasm collectively at a play (good grief, I do believe that is something entirely different...and only legal in Nevada). But we sure can laugh out loud together, and that’s not such a bad thing. Gougeon and Spagnola force the audience to realize how insane it is that, as an audience member, you might actually feel assaulted or insulted by a play. It’s fiction people, it ain’t that serious.

Props to the entire ensemble. Daring and fearless, they commit one-hundred percent to every out-there line and action. They masterfully transition between multiple masks, using specific physicality, and creating an organic soundtrack, using their voices, body parts, floors, walls, and musical instruments to underscore the action. Many of them wear masks which are not only used as costume pieces but also act as dressing for the set, a beautiful, innovative, and practical use for these tools. Christa Hinckley provides an even-canvassed Miley Cyrus-esque innocence to her Alice, Joe Jung takes over with unmatched energy and charisma as Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll, James Redfern harnesses a sensual disturbance in his portrayal of the Devil, and Miles Warner, with deep, sad eyes plays the lost and confused Wolf and also lends his comedic timing to the Syphilitic Worm.

Every inch of the tiny theatre space is used. Stadium style seating, moving platforms, and curtains turned into royal garments are just some ways that Gougeon, Spagnola, and the cast manage to make the small stage grow to ten times its size through the magic of theatre.

Several moments in this play, loosely inspired by the “Alice in Wonderland” stories and gleaning much philosophy from the ideas of quantum mechanics, seem simply ridiculous, nonsensical and, dare I say, meaningless, but I have a feeling that may just be the point. Maybe Pignataro is trying to tell us that not everything we think about, or dream about, needs to hold so much weight? Maybe some things in life just happen and there is no explanation or justification? Maybe there is an impromptu horse-race, or a talking slice of last night’s Toro on stage because–well, no because. No cause. No effect. There is no metaphor. There is no thinking. There is no thing. Nothing. Could that be it? Like Alice and her Wolf, maybe it’s time to just let it all go. If this all seems strange or confusing, then I suggest you go see Wonderland in Alice: The Uncertainty Principle. Laugh, cry, gasp, do whatever it is you are willing to do. Then when the show is over, clap and walk away...uncertain. Go ahead, it’s okay.

(Performances run through February 28th at the Dionysus Theatre Complex's L'il Peach Theatre at 270 W. 36th St., at 8th Ave. Performance times are Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $18, available online at, by phone at 718-715-0599, or at the door. The show runs approx 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. For more info visit

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Stage with August: Osage County featuring Estelle Parsons at the 92Y Tribecca

Tomorrow afternoon the 92Y Tribeca is offering a one-of-a-kind discussion. They will host “On Stage with August: Osage County featuring Estelle Parsons” at noon. The discussion will be monitored by theatre critic Peter Filichia, (check out his column, “Peter Filichia’s Diary,” at

In the theatre world, Parsons is currently known for playing matriarch Violet in August: Osage County. Though she did not originate the role, Parsons has garnered rave reviews for her portrayal of the venerable character. The New York Times calls her performance “superb,” and continues to say she “forges her own path into the tortured darkness of Violet’s drug-addled psyche,” likening her presence to that of a “snapping turtle” with “childlike delight.” The website, City Guide Magazine, touts Parsons as a good reason to go see August: Osage County. I personally agree with every glowing review that I came across and, might I mention, also concur with City Guide that Parsons is “looking far younger and more energetic than her 80 years.” New York Magazine even devoted an article on Parson’s physical agility and endurance and how it has a positive affect her August performance.

Parsons is an Oscar-winning actress for her supporting role in 1967's “Bonnie and Clyde” (starring Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway). She has also received multiple Tony Award nominations and was the Artistic Director at the Actor’s Studio for five years until 2003. Pop-culturites may recognize Parsons from her portrayal as the opinionated, meddling mother to Roseanne and Jackie on the popular '90s sitcom “Roseanne.”

Other August: Osage County cast members that will take part in the discussion are Frank Wood, Brian Kerwin and Madeleine Martin. Theatre is Easy is excited to cover this side of the theatre world for our readers. Check out this event and let us know what you think!

Date & Time: Thursday, Feb 12, 2009, 12:00pm, at the 92YTribeca Mainstage, 200 Hudson Street. Tickets are $16.00. call 212-415-5500 or go to for more info.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Wendigo

By Rachael
good production elements • really short • narration took me out of action

BOTTOM LINE: You know that friend that liked X-Files a lot? This is his show.

So part of me has wondered for a while why there's so little theater around whose purpose is to scare the pants off you. I mean, think about it - the musical genre has crossed over into film, shouldn't there be a two-way street happening somewhere there? Enter the Vagabond Theater Ensemble's The Wendigo, adapted by Eric Sanders from the story by Algernon Blackwood.

The show really does have a lot of good things going for it. The story of "a hunting trip gone awry" (as director Matthew Hancock puts it) paired up with supernatural forces at work in the woods, is a classic set-up for creep-out, and the set and sound design support it really well. Nicholas Vaughn makes good use of limited space, weaving the architecture of the theater into a minimalist set design. And, though there are moments when the horror movie underscoring is a bit heavy-handed, sound designer M.L. Dogg should really be recognized for the bit of genius that is the Wendigo's voice.

Now, staging a hunting trip that spans the long miles of 19th century Canadian wilderness is no easy task, and there were some moments when I found myself watching an actor walk in circles rather than watching a character hike through the forest. There are, however, some subtler moments of really effective staging - a man being drawn slowly toward his doom, his brief and tortured return - and those images will creep you out well into the night.

I think the thing that keeps the show from being as successful as it could be is this first person narrator thing they have going on. To me, being scared by a story is predicated on the idea that you're there with the protagonist, and that the events could have happened or could still happen to you. So, y'know, in literature, a first person narrator totally works. In this play, however, the action keeps getting interrupted by a narrative explanation of what happens next, so the suspense never really gets a chance to build. It also reminds you that the play is unfolding in the protagonist's past, not his present, which again undercuts a lot of the suspense.

I will say that despite that shortcoming, the story is pretty well developed for an incredibly quick run time (under an hour, I think). The actors handle the language without sounding stilted and make clear character choices from the get-go which is a blessing in a short show. All in all, the show's not quite as creepy as it could be, but you'll still probably need a buddy there to take the edge off.

(The Wendigo plays February 5 through 28 at the Medicine Show Theater, 549 West 52nd Street, 3rd Floor. Show times are Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, Sunday February 22rd at 3pm and Wednesday February 25th at 8pm. Tickets are $10; to purchase visit

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Speed-the-Plow (Barrymore Theatre)

By Molly
amazing acting • all-star cast • laugh-out-loud funny • only until February 22nd
Raul Esparza and William H. Macy in Speed-the-Plow.

BOTTOM LINE: Dare I say the perfect Broadway play?

Sometimes the perfect Broadway cast is assembled: they command the stage with such presence and work together with such ease that you lose yourself completely in what’s unfolding before you. Part of the reason live theatre is so amazing is because when talent presents itself right there in front of you, you can’t help but feel the energy radiate through the theatre. For both of these reasons, along with a fantasticly edgy script, Speed-the-Plow is one of the best shows on Broadway this year.

Written by David Mamet, a mogul among American playwrights, Speed-the-Plow chronicles 36 hours in the lives of 3 characters: a recently promoted movie executive at the top of his game (Bobby Gould, played by William H. Macy), his co-worker and long time friend (Charlie Fox, played by Raul Esparza), and the temporary secretary working at Gould’s office that particular day (Karen, played by Elisabeth Moss). The banter, scheming and power exchanges that subsequently occur are the result of everyone’s desire to move ahead professionally in a cut-throat industry. None of these people are inherently bad, they just embrace a dog-eat-dog work environment. Charlie explains to Karen, “Life in the movie business is like the beginning of a new love affair: it's full of surprises, and you're constantly getting fucked.”

Although Plow takes place in the 1980s, it’s in no way outdated now. It was originally staged on Broadway in 1988 (fun fact: Madonna played Karen, in her only Broadway credit to date). This revival feels perfectly at home in 2009; really, costumes and use of technology are the only aspects that date it.

Macy, Esparza and Moss are a fantastic threesome. Although Plow has been running for months now, the night I saw the show all three actors brought it with the utmost professionalism, energy and attention. This production saw its share of drama with an out-of-the-blue cast change in December. If you were anywhere near a pop-culture resource then, you no doubt saw that Jeremy Piven, the original Bobby Gould in this revival, dropped out of the role without warning after he reportedly got mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi. The press had a field day with that one, labeling Piven a divo and a pain to work with. Esparza was outspoken about his joy that Piven was out of the cast, saying that it was a much more pleasurable experience without him sharing the stage. I didn’t see Piven’s portrayal but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that there must’ve been a reason he was cast. Luckily though, his replacement is nearly perfect; you couldn’t possibly miss Piven because Macy does such a supurb job, adding such panache and deftness to a script that you know he totally gets.

Mamet’s plays are usually biting and witty, and his characters know their way around a conversation. Speed-the-Plow is no exception; one-liners are thrown across the room and the enthusiasm remains high throughout the intermissionless ninety minutes. These characters are high strung and the urgency is reflected in the pace of the play, kept pumping by director Neil Pepe.

Speed-the-Plow is expertly executed both on stage by the cast and off-stage by the production team. It’s a joy to see such talented actors play together in a production they clearly love being a part of. And Mamet’s script is funny, sincere, charming, and full of surprises. Speed-the-Plow closes February 22nd so there isn’t much time to check it out. But if you can, I recommend it. It’s what a night at the theatre should be.

(Speed-the-Plow plays at the Ethel Barrymore theatre, 243 West 47th Street. Show times are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $49.50–$116.50. For tickets visit and for more info visit

Friday, February 6, 2009

Five Days in March

By Le-Anne
you’ll laugh out loud when you recognize yourself in these characters • innovative, creative, and refreshing • in Japanese with English subtitles • only two performances left in NYC! • it’s pretty awesome

BOTTOM LINE: This is cutting-edge theatre on an international level. Anyone who has an interest in the cultural nuance of a changing world is totally gonna dig this. Also, anyone who would say “totally gonna dig this” is, most likely, totally gonna dig this.

A single generation is summed up in a one night stand, well, a one-night-turned-five-night-stand, in cheltfitsch Theater Company's Five Days in March presented by the Japan Society. Increasingly known as a generation of multi-taskers, it’s easy to see why Generation Y may be the most misunderstood generation since the anthropological phenomenon of labeling “generations” became a cultural norm. How can one peg a generation that won’t stand still long enough to get a good look at them? A generation that types on a Blackberry while making a money transfer at the ATM, in the middle of a conversation with their best friend, as the two are on their way to pick up their lunch, which they ordered on-line from their laptops while they were downloading their favorite MP3. Oh yes, and Gen Y is also known for using a lot of words, asking a lot of questions, and having difficulty getting to the point. Generation Y is a generation of excess. The fact that playwright Toshiki Okada’s characters take five days to complete a one night stand perfectly captures the essence of this peculiar generation.

The story takes place in March 2003, when the U.S. declared war on Iraq. Two twenty-somethings, Minobe and Yukki, meet up by chance at a somewhat lame rock concert and find themselves in bed together in a Japanese love hotel. Minobe is only at the concert because his friend Azuma is intentionally trying to “bump into” a spacey girl named Miffy, (who, by the way, does not go to the concert). Meanwhile two more twenty-somethings, Yasui and Ishihara, half-heartedly attend an anti-war protest. Randomly, one more friend, Suzuki, contributes to the telling of the tale although he is the only character, as one of the other characters so deftly points out, that is not introduced like “and here is Suzuki.” In a Pulp-Fiction-esque style, seven different points of view interweave as each character takes turns telling the other character’s tale.

The play is in Japanese with English subtitles but in no way is it exclusive to the young people of Japan. Five Days in March crosses all cultural and language barriers and is about the youth of “Any-City, USA” just as much as it is about Japan. Okada, as director, combines exaggerated gestures and repetitious fidgeting to create a modern choreography that underscores a stream of consciousness dialogue. It may sound very “ultra-modern” or “experimental,” which technically speaking I suppose it is, but amazingly this funky approach is more naturalistic than most “realistic” plays. The characters do things like pull on their trousers, twist their ankles, stretch out their arms, and cross and uncross their legs all in an unconscious manor. It may seem random, but I guarantee you will recognize every single gesture. If you don’t, just stand on a busy street corner for about 30 seconds and observe the nonverbal communication around you.

Okada also examines the verbal side of Gen Y. The structure of the play itself is rambling and full of tangents, much like the quality of storytelling of any given member of aforementioned generation. Another interesting aspect of this piece is it’s ability to literally tell a story. Using uber-colloquial language, the characters narrate the story, popping seamlessly in and out of the action as they speak directly to the audience. Again, this may sound like a theatrical device that would make a play less “real”--but, once more, it does the opposite. Rather than performers who pretend to be other people and act out “pretend” events in “pretend” real-time, it’s more like you are having coffee with a friend and you watch as they re-tell, (and act out), the tale of “the crazy thing that happened to me last week.”

Redefining observational humor, Five Days in March is a modern masterpiece. Creative direction, innovative story-telling, and superb performances by the entire ensemble make for a fulfilling night of theatre. Like the generation that it is about, it combines older more conventional techniques with a contemporary approach to create a brand that is uniquely “now.”

(cheltfitsch Theater Company: Five Days in March is part of a seven-city North American tour & plays in NYC Thurs., Feb. 5 - Sat., Feb. 7. All performances are at 7:30pm at Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street (between 1st & 2nd Ave.) Tickets are $35 ($32 for Japan Society members). Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office 212.715.1258 or in person at Japan Society. For more info. call 212.832.1155 or visit

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cornbury: The Queen's Governor (Theatre Askew)

By Dan
David Greenspan! • Ridiculous theatre • historical drag • a bit slow at times, but fun overall • David Greenspan!
BOTTOM LINE: Go if you’re in the mood for some “ridiculous” theatre, or if you have never seen David Greenspan.

Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor tells the story of Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, an English Governor of New York in the early 1700s, who is rumored to have often dressed as his cousin, Queen Anne. As played by the always terrific David Greenspan, Lord Cornbury is both the “queen’s governor” and a governor-queen, strutting back and forth across the stage in glamorous gowns and a five o’clock shadow. To be sure, while Greenspan is not the only reason to catch Cornbury, he is the main reason to go, especially if you have never seen him perform. Greenspan often plays characters who stand out from everyone else onstage–I last saw him as a proud drag queen in a covert '60s gay bar in Second Stage’s Some Men. Greenspan’s genius is that he embraces the hilarity and silliness, relishing any opportunity for innuendo and sexual flirtation, while at the same time reminding us that these characters are deeply human. As Lord Cornbury, Greenspan commands the stage and everyone around him, perhaps most memorably in a sword-fight (of sorts) with the attractive young son of one of Lord Cornbury’s Dutch rivals.

Along with Greenspan, several other cast members liven up the evening. Everett Quinton (longtime member of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company) plays Pastor Cornelius Van Dam, and has an unforgettable scene in Act 2. As Lord Cornbury’s rival Margareta de Peyster, Bianca Leigh does her best to out-diva Greenspan. And Ashley Bryant is hysterical as Africa, a slave and former African princess who is given to random bits of wailing. In a smaller role, Jenne Vath plays Anna Maria Bayard, a randy Dutch lady who has a short but hilarious scene with the handsome Rip Van Dam (Christian Pedersen).

The rest of the cast is unfortunately less interesting; indeed, when Greenspan leaves the stage the evening tends to drag (pun intended). For example, while a duet between two barmaids apparently refers to the “notorious love affair between Queen Anne and the Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill”, this is not apparent without reading the script, and so the song only slows the show down. Ultimately, my biggest complaint about Cornbury is that although it is only a bit over two hours, it feels long, and needs some judicious edits.

Presented in the style of the Theatre of the Ridiculous, Cornbury aims to tell a history of New York from a queer perspective (this is apparently the first installment in Theatre Askew’s three-part series). Telling a historical story in this Ridiculous style is at times a tough line to walk, since it can be difficult to be both silly and historically accurate. While the only cross-dressing on stage is Lord Cornbury’s, and everyone wears costumes appropriate to the period, the “ridiculousness” comes out in the set and prop design. Large two-dimensional drops are raised and lowered by huge pieces of rope, and the furniture and props are little more than flat pieces of wood painted to resemble chairs and teacups. For the most part, this design is effective–it helps provide Cornbury with a levity not often found in historical plays. But the scene changes soon lose their charm, as do some of the superfluous bits, like the “performance” that ends Act 1. Ultimately, Cornbury is most enjoyable, and most effective, when it is the most basic–that is, when Greenspan, Leigh, and Quinton are given the chance to hold court (even if in a prison) and fully realize the comedic potential of William M. Hoffman and Anthony Holland’s intelligent and well-researched script.

(Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor plays at The Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 West 26th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. Show times are Monday and Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm, Sunday at 5pm. No performance Feb 3rd. Cornbury runs through February 8th. Tickets are $18. For tickets visit or call 212.352.3101.)