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

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