Tuesday, September 28, 2010


"Orlando" at Classic Stage Company, September 21, 2010

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Virginia Woolf's tale of an Elizabethan nobleman, who lives as a man until age 30, then wakes from a 6 month coma to find he has become a woman who lives another 370 years without aging comes to Classic Stage Company care of Sarah Ruhl.  It's an aggressive challenge to take on a work that Ms. Ruhl herself describes as "...language...so exquisite it would have seemed like a terrible bastardization to just leave the narration behind and make up dialog."  Despite the over theatricality of the novel's premise, that quality doesn't guarantee great theatre.  Ms. Ruhl, in apparent deference to Ms. Woolf's erudition, gives us an evening that is part acting, part exposition where the characters recite their activities in third person more often that portraying a role.  In the end, it feels more like a writing exercise than a play.

The performers are, however, committed fully and this eclectic cast does their best to rise to the challenge.  Francesca Faridany gives a true image of Orlando as a callow youth, carrying the discomfort through the transformation from man to woman, though the full nudity that ends Act 1 seemed completely gratuitous when a mere revelation of the curve of her breast and hip could have communicated the transformation equally.  The three-man ensemble of David Greenspan, Tom Nelis and Howard Overshown ebb and flow in their effectiveness portraying the various characters both male and female including Queen Elizabeth (Mr. Greenspan) and the man Orlando eventually marries (Mr. Nelis).

Visually, the production is excellent.  Allen Moyer's lush green lawn platform, accented with gilt chairs and an oversized ceiling mirror reflects Christopher Akerlind's thoughtful lighting.  I particularly liked Anita Yavich's costume concept which suggested the various periods of history in a timeless white palette, accented by simple add-ons (or not so simple for Queen Elizabeth).

Director Rebecca Taichman, a frequent collaborator with Ms. Ruhl tries to play along, bringing in some clumsily executed choreography from Annie Parsons, but the results are less than successful.

"Orlando" runs through October 17, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

American Idiot

"American Idiot" at the St. James Theatre, September 12, 2010

Green Day comes to Broadway with this staging based on their 2004 album of the same title, broadening the original concept into a story of three friends, Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.), Will (Michael Esper) and Tunny (Start Sands) who plan to abandon their small-town, suburban upbringing for the bright lights of the big city.  Will gets shot down before the trip begins when he learns his girlfriend is pregnant.  Johnny and Tunny make the trek, but Tunny joins the military in the aftermath of September 11 and ends up in Iraq.  Johnny falls victim to the lure of drugs under the spell of his dealer, St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent).

Each in their own way become the American Idiot they so much long to avoid, by the poor choices they make in their lives.  Will's marriage disintegrates before his eyes as he refuses to grow up and accept the responsibility he's put upon himself to raise a family.  Tunny, severely wounded in a roadside bombing, falls for a military nurse.  An aerial effect works nicely to convey the drug-induced dream sequence as he recovers from his injury.  Johnny falls in love with the oddly described Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones) only to fall more seriously under his own drug addiction.

In the end, all three end up back in their small town to heal their wounds and try to figure out how to grow up.

Mr. Gallagher gives his role much more than the script does, a testament to his talent.  Mr. Esper's Will has the least to do of the three, other than sit on the couch and crack open another beer.  Mr. Sands finds a nice humanity in his character's conflicted spirit.  Mr. Vincent's St. Jimmy, a cross between the devil and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang slinks about and vamps it up for everything he's worth - a relative highlight of the evening.

Director Michael Mayer, well-acquainted with the rock musical concept keeps things moving, but has little to work with from his own thinly drafted book.  Steven Hoggett's "choreography" looks more like a suburban "broadway bound" beginner dance class.

The band is terrific, however, and the voices and visuals are good.  It's anything but a traditional musical, but it could stand a few more characteristics of one to strengthen the storytelling.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cabfare for the Common Man

"Cabfare for the Common Man" at The Crowne Theatre at The Producer Club, September 16-18, 2010

I'll be appearing in the last act of the first half, a piece called "Passed Hordes" with the lovely and talented Sandy Trullinger, directed by the lovely and talented Brad Caswell, courtesy of Sweet & Tart Productions.  Tickets available at www.theatermania.com.

Bring your friends and neighbors!

Friday, September 03, 2010

NY International Fringe Festival, 2010

New York International Fringe Festival, August 2010

I managed to get to three offerings in this year's Fringe, Rites of Privacy, 3boys,  and Open Heart.

True to Fringe form, they were all very different, both in premise and quality.

Rites of Privacy, at the Here Arts Center, August 28, 2010

Written and performed by David Rhodes, this one-act series of confessions patches together a range of tales, personal to Mr. Rhodes and a number of seemingly created characters.  One isn't sure if the various tales are people Mr. Rhodes knew or not.  Among them are a Jew who escaped the Holocaust, a southern matron who allows her abusive husband to die and a particularly upsetting doctor who performs an abortion on herself.  Mr. Rhodes slides into each character easily enough and masters sufficient mannerisms to keep them from running together, but his own confession at the end didn't feel particularly revelatory.  I find his title misleading in that there were no tales of secret habits or practices.  All were tales of past events - - confessions.

Director Charles Loffredo keeps the pace up, but seems as unsure of the point as I was.  Greg Emetaz' projections add a bit of cinematic atmosphere, but it's not enough to carry the show.

3boys, at the 4th Street Theatre, August 28, 2010

I didn't really realize that this show was about dogs I arrived to find two of the actors tumbling about the stage like puppies.  Or at least one was tumbling about.  The other was more like a bored babysitter.  Zip (Patrick Horn) is the newest addition to the household, joining Lee (Alex Engquist and Comet (Matt Brown).  Who knew that creatures of the emotional equivalent of a 4 year old knew such worry?  Comet is sad and angry though I was never really clear as to why.  Maybe it was having been put out for stud.  Lee wants Comet to be happy again.  Zip just wants to play with the ball.

Becca Schollberg's script plumbs the depths of canine angst, going well beyond any anthropomorphizing ever attempted by Disney.  These are woeful pups.  Mr. Engquist comes off the strongest of the three, but it's a fairly low threshold.  Director Madeleine Rose M. Parsigan pulls emotion from the three on occasion, but it comes across like an acting exercise a la Viola Spolin.

Open Heart at LAMAMA, August 29, 2010

Crediting Anna Deveare Smith, playwright Joe Salvatore has continued his work in "the verbatim interview theatre process" with Open Heart, an exploration of monogamy among gay male couples.  This verbatim process, similar to the work of Moises Kaufman in The Laramie Project, and Doug Wright in I Am My Own Wife, pulls the text directly from recorded interviews.  The stories from these interviews get woven into an interesting picture of how gay men from small towns and big cities deal with the issue of monogamy in a committed relationship.  With all the political furor surrounding same sex marriage of late, Mr. Salvatore manages to present multiple perspectives without showing favor for any one.

Mr. Salvatore directs his work and has assembled quite the capable cast of five to create  the fifteen men sharing their views and experiences, including Chris Bresky, Stephen Donovan, Daryl Embry, Nick Lewis and Karl O'Brian Williams.  Mr. Bresky was excellent, moving smoothly from a 50ish man from Queens to a stammering Irishman.  Pace was brisk and the staging very clever, making excellent use of Blake McCarty's projections.

Of the three plays above, Open Heart was the one to have seen.  Mr. Salvatore would do well to contact David Drake about producing a run in Provincetown next summer.