del Rosso review: The Bellagio Fountain

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The most inventive, wondrous sets in Manhattan are being created by Concrete Temple Theatre at the HERE Arts Center in the Village. Water is integral to the production of “The Bellagio Fountain has been known to make me cry,” and Water takes two agile performers to bring into existence nightly: Brianna Seagraves and the ingenious Carlo Adinolfi, who is also the Designer of the set. The first sound the audience hears is ocean waves; I thought it was a recording, until I saw Adinolfi, literally cutting paper as he crossed the stage, fold over fold, creating not only shapes but also sounds.  His work is extraordinary.

Unfortunately, the script, by Renee Philippi, who also directs,  does not live up to the sets, though the actors are very fine.  Set in Florida, land of heat, humidity and hurricanes, Curtis (Heinley Gaspard) a plumber, used to love water until his wife drowned; now he hates water and his job. Nevertheless, a leak brings him in contact with Dixie (Melissa Hurst), a woman with a 5th grade education but who “reads a lot” and has a strained relationship with her daughter Maria (Lisa Kitchens), who lives in the house next to her.

In the first half of “Bellagio” there are allusions to ancient water reclaiming the earth, mourning and the longing for love.  That would have worked, and the longing for love in particular is what I thought the three had in common: lost love, love yet to be, love that has passed one by. But then, for no apparent reason, there is the Italian husband of Dixie’s who may have cheated and had another child so obviously they must separate and cause friction between her and Maria; and there are a few children of Maria’s from her divorce mentioned, but the children do not figure into her life at all.These subplots involve unseen characters, are confusing, and I didn’t believe any of it for a second.

What I did believe: Dixie on her own, in a trailer. Her daughter, divorced, also alone, in a trailer next to her. Curtis (who inexplicably drops out of the play completely), also alone. It is another thing that binds them together, along with various stages of love. Those elements plus Adinolfi’s stunning sets would have made an interesting play. No other characters necessary. Less sometimes yields more.

del Rosso Review: Cinderella

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I admit that initially I was skeptical about going to review an adults-only, “baroque-burlesque-ballet Cinderella,” presented by Company XIV and AMDM productions down in the Village at the Minetta Lane Theatre. In my head, I thought “Porn Cinderella” and that is what I expected.
Wrong. So wrong.
This is some serious shit: serious dancing, singing, gymnastic orgiastic permutations of every kind. Gender-bending, too. At two and a half hours with two intermissions for “cocktail breaks” (no rest for the performers, however, who burlesque their way through those as well) “Cinderella,” reimagined by impresario Austin McCormick, easily could have been twice as long, the audience twice as enthralled. We’d be there, still.
The familiar story unfolds with music, movement, and hardly any dialogue: the orphaned Cinderella (the astonishing classically-trained dancer Allison Ulrich) is severely mistreated by her diva-demon Step-mother (the outrageously flamboyant Damon Rainey) and operatically-inclined, conjoined Step-Sisters (Marcy Richardson and Brett Umlauf). But the lonely Prince (Steven Truman-Gray, an equally astonishing dancer, singer and a match for Ullrich) needs a companion, and so throws a Ball, inviting everyone in the kingdom. Cinderella is locked in a cage on the eve of the Ball, so she will be going nowhere, until a Fairy arrives (Katrina Cunningham, sultry and silky-voiced), freeing her, granting her wishes and giving her the right shoes.
You know the rest, right?
But not the way Company XIV does it. The visuals here are sumptuous: the audience is first greeted with a mist of red haze and gliding bodies in white; the costumes begin with shreds of Louis the XIV, corsets and wigs, and extend to contemporary pasties, glitter and codpieces. The music runs the gamut from classical “None But the Lonely Heart” in French to contemporary ballads, depending on the scene, and the mix works. I dare you not to be moved when Cinderella and the Prince first meet, by both music and dance plus chemistry. Or not to be wowed at the Prince’s bathtub entrance. Or not to want that Step-Mother to get her comeuppance.
The choreography is first-rate, and the performers in this company – whose backgrounds including Juilliard training, Cirque du Soleil, The Martha Graham School – are just incredible. It is a testament to Director/Choreographer Austin McCormick that he chooses not only multi-talented people, but also different shapes and sizes, rather the way Mark Morris does.
And the show is sexy. How could it not be? These bodies in motion are glorious. What those bodies do is impressive – in heels, in spikes, in toe shoes – and occasionally, in this show, breathtaking.

This is not Disney’s “Cinderella.” Do not bring children. Do bring a wide-open mind.

del Rosso Review: Schooled

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Lisa Lewis’s smart, funny “Schooled” begins with a charismatic, world-weary professor and film maker, Andrew (Quentin Mare, smooth, swaggering, terrific) past his prime addressing a class of students (in reality, us, the audience). “I’ve sat right where you are now. Back when real people could afford this place. No offense. If you’re here, you got money or talent, hopefully both. Money, mostly.”
Andrew teaches at one of those fancy New York City film schools while he works on screenplays and drinks heavily at The White Horse Tavern. His last big hit was ten years and an ex-wife ago. Enter Claire (Lilli Stein, a great mix of naive and canny), a 22 year-old impressionable, impoverished film student with an encyclopedic knowledge of Andrew’s work, and a hunger to succeed. She asks Andrew for help, and they begin meeting regularly, to write and drink (that would be mostly Andrew), at the White Horse. Claire could be nominated for a scholarship that would change her life, but she has competition: her brilliant, moneyed boyfriend and fellow film student, Jake (Stephen Friedrich, perfectly puppy-doggish, with a bite).
Claire wants the scholarship but she might also want the attention of Andrew; Andrew wants a hit film and eventually, wants Claire; while Jake wants Claire, the scholarship, success and Andrew to disappear.
The older professor/younger protege trope has been done to death, but Lewis makes it entirely fresh and surprising. The characters are three-dimensional, human. There is no black or white in this play; Lewis colors everything gray, shifting our sympathies and loyalties. At 90 minutes and no intermission, this play moves, and moves fast. Lewis has the humor to match that speed. Witness the exchange between Andrew and Claire:
ANDREW
: Oh god, the collective ego in this class, it’s inspiring.
Make a B movie. You don’t have to do it forever. The money’s in franchises. I’d love to do some quirky little relationship drama like you guys, there’s just not the time.
CLAIRE
: Everyone in class would love to have your career.
ANDREW: 
Everyone in class is twenty. They would also love a popsicle and a nap.

“Schooled” at the Soho Playhouse, and presented by The All Americans, is part of the Fringe Encore Series, which highlights the best of the NYC and Edinburgh International Fringe Festivals, extending their run. The night we attended, the house was not full. It should be.

del Rosso Review: The Quare Land

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“It takes a clever man to play the fool, Robber,” says 90 year-old Hugh Pugh (Peter Maloney) from the relative comfort of his bathtub to Rob (Rufus Collins), the man who wants to buy his land.
Isn’t that the truth? It also takes an outstanding actor to make Hugh come alive from a stationary position for 80 minutes every night, and that is exactly what Maloney does in The Irish Repertory Theatre’s terrific production of John McManus’s “The Quare Land,” now playing at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square.
As part of Origin’s 1st Irish Festival, “The Quare Land” has already won accolades before officially opening on October the 1st: Best Director for Ciaran O’Reilly, Best Playwright for John McManus, Special Jury Prize for Peter Maloney, and Best Design shared by the entire design team. That design team comprises: Charlie Corcoran (Set) Michael Gottlieb (Lighting), David Toser (Costumes), Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab (Sound) and their collective work is spectacular.
Rob, or “Robber” (Collins, a patient foil, at first) as Hugh likes to call him, a man of about 45 and owner of a construction company, comes to Hugh’s farmhouse on a hill in County Cavan, checkbook in hand, on a mission to buy the field necessary to complete a golf course for his upscale resort. But Hugh has other things on his mind: he obfuscates, digresses, tells a few stories from his long life. Hugh really doesn’t have time to listen, but listen he must if he wants Hugh’s field. And even then, he may not get what he wants.
This is a story of two generations of Irish: the old, cantankerous rural land owner who has enough to get by, lives his life entirely his own way, has a sense of his own history and is satisfied; and the younger man who is under immense pressure to succeed and has no use for history unless he can bulldoze over it. Witness the shaming Hugh does to Rob as Hugh relieves him of his watch:
“I can’t stand under your generation’s attachment to worldly goods. Big jeeps and huge houses and foreign trips and fake tits. (sermonizing) You don’t own the things you buy, the things you buy end up owning you.”

Except that, Hugh’s dreams of what he can buy in the future end up owning him as well, to his detriment. Generational differences not withstanding, it turns out that greed is ageless.

del Rosso: Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival 2015

David Kaplan, Co-founder and Curator of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival

The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts, is now in its 10th year (Year TENN Ptown Sept 24-27). Co-founder and curator David Kaplan has said, “What we are about ultimately is to change the way that Williams is spoken about and thought about in the world.”
I had never been to the Tennessee Williams Festival, and was introduced to plays I had never seen or heard of before. When I ran into David Kaplan and told him my mind had been both blown and expanded, my appreciation for Williams deepened, he said, “I love it when people come to the festival for the first time, because they have no idea what they are getting into.”
He is right. This year’s productions of Williams’ plays come from South Africa, London, Boston, Mexico City, New York City, and Mississippi, as well as right here in Provincetown.
One could call the TENN Festival (mostly) a reassessment of Williams’ later work. Why?
Kaplan says, “The proposition that Williams stopped writing what was called lyric realism because he was alcohol-impaired was overturned by Festival performances of Williams’ dialogue in which broken sentences and aching pauses demonstrated virtuosic control and mature musicality. Late autobiographical plays such as The Traveling Companion and Something Cloudy, Something Clear were not marginal after all, but essential.”

The TENN Festival is essential viewing. But you don’t have to believe Kaplan. Or me. Let the plays speak for themselves.
1. The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore: by Abrahamse & Meyers Productions from Cape Town, South Africa at The Provincetown Theater. Directed by Fred Abrahamse. Cast: Jennifer Steyn (Sissy Goforth), Marcel Meyer (Christopher Flanders), Nicholas Dallas (Stage Assistant One/Witch of Capri/Rudy/Giulio, Daniel Richards (Stage Assistant Two/Blackie).
At intermission, an older, bearded man stopped me en route to the bar and said, “You’re reviewing this, aren’t you? Who do you write for?” And I explained. Then he said, “And I don’t suppose you can tell me whether you liked it or not, can you? Well, I suppose I shouldn’t ask, it’s not…”
“It’s phenomenal,” I said. Okay, maybe a reviewer isn’t supposed to tell, but too bad.
“It is, isn’t it?” said the man, delighted. “Tallulah Bankhead did this play on Broadway and it ran for five days then closed.”
‘Really?” I said.
“Yes,” he said, “but isn’t Jennifer Steyn stunning?”
Yes, yes, and more yes.
Steyn is Sissy Goforth, an aging, terminally ill showgirl living on the Italian Riviera and “writing her memoirs.” Enter the beautiful Christopher Flanders, a penniless poet and “angel of death” played by Marcel Meyer.
There are references to Kabuki in the text, and this particular production has Kabuki gently incorporated in landscape, movement, costume. It is stylized, beautiful to look at, the music is gorgeous and everything just works. The relationships work: servant to servant, servant to master, master to would-be lover. Everyone wants something in this play and no one quite gets it. The aging showgirl wants to be well and not die. She does not want to be lonely, but she wants to give nothing in return for companionship. The opportunist Flanders wants food and drink; instead, he starves. And he waits. The servant wants peace and will have none. But because it is stylized does not mean it isn’t devastating: Sissy eventually has to face the end of her life, but she does not go gentle. She isn’t good at accepting help. And though she makes a big deal of the jewels she wears and of being “robbed blind” by her servants these are distractions. She can’t take those jewels with her, and she knows it.
2. The Day on Which a Man Dies, by Abrahamse & Meyers Productions from Cape Town, South Africa. Designed and directed by David Kaplan. Cast: Jennifer Steyn (Woman), Marcel Meyer (Man), Daniel Richards (The Oriental), Nicholas Dallas (Second Stage Assistant).
A meditation on the life and death of Jackson Pollack, and what happens when the artistic spirit and motivation dies, this is another first-rate, beautifully acted, visually stunning production of a play that was unknown to me before stepping into the theater. Jennifer Steyn is unrecognizable from “Milk Train..” and Meyer captures the artist’s agony. Williams depicts the conflict between devotion to personal life and devotion to one’s art; and then what happens when there are no more ideas. When there is nothing more to give, or to say.

3. Suddenly Last Summer, by Tennessee Williams Tribute, Columbus, Mississippi. Directed by Augustin J. Corrrero. Cast: Brenda Currin ( Mrs. Venable), Drew Stark (Dr. Cukrowicz), Beth Bartley, (Catharine Holly), Laura Beth Berry (Mrs. Foxhill), Vicki Hill (Mrs. Holly), Shane Tubbs (George Holly), Cherri Golden (Sister Felicity).
A Williams classic. Yes, it is a camp film. But that camp film boasts indelible performances by Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and above all, Katharine Hepburn. It is not so much about what is remembered about Mrs. Venable’s son Sebastian, it is rather the image his mother wants to retain of him even if it means lobotomizing the truth out of the only other woman who knows the truth: his cousin Catharine. Mrs. Venable can’t very well set up a Sebastian fund and proclaim he was chaste all his life if someone out there is saying otherwise, now can she?
This production was a bit of a disappointment, and as I said, that film does loom in the mind. But Brenda Currin did not seem entirely comfortable in the part (in contrast to when I saw her at TENN @ Town Hall, where she was fabulous), and neither did the Stark’s doctor escape from “acting” the part, nor did Hill’s Mrs Holly and Tubbs’s George escape greedy Southern stereotypes. The lack of a cohesive whole seemed a directorial problem. The breakout performance was Beth Bartley’s, whose magnificent, wrenching Catharine riveted me throughout.
4.The Parade, by Peregrine Theater Ensemble, Provincetown, MA. Directed by Jef Hall-Flavin. Cast: Ben Berry (Don), Nash Hightower (Dick), Ruby Wolf (Miriam), Bronwyn Whittle (Wanda), Ian Leahy (Postman).
The Parade or Approaching the End of a Summer is the play that put this festival on the map. First done ten years ago as a world premier, it was published after Tennessee Williams’ death. This time round, when I saw it, a small grey platform was set up on the beach at low tide between the breakwater and the Provincetown Inn. So the set was Mother Nature at her best: a spectacular afternoon, blue skies, bright sun, a blue sea, and this previously unknown play.
Don, a stand-in for a young Tennessee, is in Provincetown, writing plays, on the brink of success and in love with an Adonis named Dick (or, as Don’s friend Miriam calls him, a “gorgeous, graceful moron”) who cares nothing for him and claims to be “asexual.” No one believes this. Don and Dick are on a mail-drop platform in the dunes (because that was how it was done before email had its way) and while Dick practices his dance moves, Don suffers, fumes, they bicker, and then Don storms off. Enter Miriam. Then Dick storms off and Don returns. He and Miriam confide in each other; they would, they are close friends. Perhaps too close.
Don’s work does not bring him the happiness, the love and passion he craves. Miriam believes he should concentrate on his writing instead of Dick. But she also may have ulterior motives.
The characters in “The Parade” love the wrong people, people who can’t or won’t love them back, causing immense heartache. But it is also about the conflict with the artistic spirit and how much fulfillment that spirit can and cannot bring.
This production, compared to the others, was spare. Minimal. And for me the most affecting. The cast, as I said to the director (that’s the lovely thing about the Festival being in Provincetown; one can run into people one admires everywhere), was stunning, and they broke my heart, in particular Ben Berry’s Don, a dead-ringer for young Tennessee, and Ruby Wolf’s Miriam. Their scenes together were affecting. Astonishing. Heartbreaking.
5. The Remarkable Rooming House of MME. Lemonde and Aimez-Vous Ionesco? by Beau Jest Moving Theater, Boston, Ma. Directed by Davis Robinson.
Cast for The Remarkable Rooming House… Mint (Jordan Harrison), Son (Nick Ronan), Hall (Larry Coen), Madame Le Monde (Lisa Tucker).
Cast for Aimez-Vous… Francine (Lisa Tucker), Marlene (Robin Javonne Smith), Delphine (Larry Coen), Mr. Coppitt (Nick Ronan & Jordan Harrison).

Hilarious. Sad. Absurd. A put-upon cripple. A bit of buggery. A visit from an old friend. A spot of tea. A fertile landlady. Director’s notes: “Tennessee planned for the play to be part of an evening of ‘Williams’ Guignol’ that was never produced.” That description is apt. To say more would give away too much, I think. But The Remarkable Rooming House of MME. Lemonde boasts a first-rate ensemble cast, filthy humor and pathos. That’s a lot for a short play that segues beautifully into Aimez-vous Ionesco? Two female friends meet for tea, and a ballet dancer, one Mr. Coppitt, stops by. They are preoccupied with him, he is preoccupied with himself, pisses, preens and leaves. Is there anything left to talk about? Is there anything left? Is there…anything?
6. TENN @ Town Hall consists of excerpts from eleven world-premier productions of Tennessee Williams. The show was compiled and directed by Jef Hall-Flavin.
The plays of Williams were: The Parade, The Pronoun ‘I’, Sunburst, Green Eyes, The Remarkable Rooming House of MME. Lemonde, The Dog Enchanted by the Divine View, The Enemy: Time, American Gothic, Once in a Lifetime, Curtains for the Gentleman, Aimez-Vous Ionesco?
There were also excerpts of plays inspired by Williams, from Greg Barrios (Rancho Pancho), Charlene A. Donaghy (Gift of an Orange), and Wendy Kesselman (The Shell Collection).
While there were roughly 30 performers, it could have been a cast of thousands, such was the staggering amount of talent on one stage. This was a high-energy, happy event that left me wanting to run out and buy every, single Williams’ play I did not know. I am working on it. Truly.

I did not get to see every play at the festival, but I wish I had. I wish I had a clone, because then we could have gone out each night, late, and discussed what we missed.
It takes a special kind of talent to recognize genius; this is what David Kaplan has accomplished with his astonishing tribute to Tennessee Williams, year after year for a decade. But this far-reaching Festival is also a tribute to Kaplan himself: his knowledge, breadth, and devotion to changing the Williams landscape. The next generation has geniuses, to be sure; but that is not enough. There has to be someone to rediscover, to redefine, to keep that flame burning.
What happens every year at the Provincetown Theater Festival is historic. And ephemeral. So many people from around the world contribute to this memorable experience. David Kaplan, again, “When what’s admirable is gone, it’s worth recalling, like a splendid summer day recalled in September, or Williams’ visions recalled by performances in Provincetown for the last ten Septembers. Loss sometimes prompts an imperative to recall.”
As I said, this year, 2015, is the first year I attended The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival.
It won’t be the last.

David Kaplan, Co-founder and Curator of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival

del Rosso Interview: Pat Shortt

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As I strolled down 50th Street in Hell’s Kitchen, on a bright, warm mid-September day, I approached the crosswalk and there was a man standing in front of me, already waiting for the light to change.
I knew this was Pat Shortt. I just knew it.
He was the right height, about 5’7”, and the right build, with slim legs and a broad torso. Even though he was wearing entirely different clothing from his onstage garb: dark blue denim shirt, navy stove-pipe jeans, sneakers and bright blue eyeglasses, there was something about the shape of his head, his hair and the back of his neck.
It was him.
So when he turned towards 51st, I followed him. We both stopped for the light to cross 10th Avenue, along with some other people. When we reached the other side, he was kind enough to let a few women go in front of him, me among them.
I reached the Irish Arts Center about one minute before he did. I stepped into the empty, refreshingly cool foyer and looked around.
And in walked Pat.
I said, “I knew it was you. I knew it was you from the back of your neck.”
Then I introduced myself. He laughed, shook my hand and said, ‘I’m glad the back of my neck is so distinctive.”
He asked if I would like a coffee, and I followed him to the bar while he poured.
“Looks like someone made a fresh pot. If not, I’ll make more. Try it. See if it’s all right.”
The coffee was good. He asked, “Have you seen the show yet?”
That would be “Selfie” his sold-out one-man show at IAC, and part of Origin’s 1st Irish Festival.
I said, “You don’t read your reviews? You wait until the run is over?”
He laughed and said, ‘No, no, I’ve read one or two.”
I said, “Well, I forwarded your PR person, who I thought was also your minder, the review. The show was wonderful. You’re an incredible performer.”
He said, “That’s a relief; I’m glad to hear it.”

We both sat down, and I took out my pen and notebook.

I had had several back and forths with Pat’s PR person, who seemed to regard me as some sort of female journalistic assassin. So I wanted to put Pat’s mind at ease, and in fact, referred to his PR person throughout the interview as his “minder.” And every time I did that, Pat laughed.
I told him I wrote reviews for “One” because I loved theater but I was not a reviewer per se; I was also a playwright, essayist and taught writing at NYU. I also told him that I was intensely curious from a writing perspective and also, forgive the pun (or not), believe that he should be exposing himself to a wider audience.
Pat visibly relaxed.
I asked him about the genre term “sketch comedy,” which is typically performed by a group and little to nothing is written down.
I said, “When I requested a script, your minder told me there was no script. But in the program it says ‘Written and Performed’ by you, and clearly directed by you as well. So if there is no script, and I came to see ‘Selfie’ on another night, would I see a different show?”
Pat said, “Of course there’s a script, of course there is. Otherwise, the lighting director would miss the cues, he’d never know where to…well, you know, you’ve done it.
I’m very please with the reception here, because you don’t know if the show will work until you perform it. There is no rehearsal. And the first night is excruciating, because it hangs on moving people around. The audience for me is more of a foil [rather than audience participation]. I don’t want them to talk back.”
I said, “Have they ever? I have to tell you, if you had chosen me, I would have hidden under my seat.”
Pat laughed and said, while tapping his index finger on the table, “It’s only ever happened here, in Manhattan.”
“Of course!” I said, laughing. “What happened?”
“Well, I tried to move a woman up to one of the funeral mourners, and she said, ‘I own this seat. I paid for this seat. This is my seat.’”
“Oh no!”
“Only in Manhattan! And thing is, I focus on them for the rest of the night. I don’t leave’em alone. I went back to the woman – she must have had her varicose veins done, didn’t want to move – I said, ‘Would you like a cuppa tea, dear?’ She said, ‘No, I don’t want a cup of tea.’ I said, ‘All right, I’ll get you a nice cuppa tea.” I came back later and said, “Would you like a nice sandwich, dear?’ She said, ‘No, I don’t want a sandwich.’ I said, ‘You will later, I’ll just get you one.”

I wasn’t writing anything down at that point because I was laughing too hard.
I asked, “You work in sketch comedy as a writer, as a creator, as a performer. How do you create those characters?
Pat said, “It’s very clinical, really. I wanted to do something about a photographer, because you see them, the press photographers, they always go into a crowd and snap a picture and they want to do it fast and then fuck off somewhere else. So I wanted a character that went into the crowd, and uses, I use, every day language. I was using the wig but it was too much of…it stood out too much, you know? My costumer, who’s been with me from the beginning, suggested the hat.”
I said, “The hat is…so naff. It’s great!”
Pat said, “It is great, isn’t it? And do you know, people said to me, they knew a photographer who looked just like that; they said, yeah, we know that stock photographer who wore that hat all the time, in the rain like, and never took the filthy thing off!”

I said, “I think it’s wonderful you transformed audience members into pallbearers. I said to Mary, my editor, ‘That is the best end of act one I have ever seen. Ever.’”
Pat laughed and said, “You know, I have an office in the BBC studio in Limerick, where I write, and there was a coffin up on a wall – must have been used for something – and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…?’ And I kept thinking it. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could…?’”
And he nodded. Laughing.

I said, “What about the singing funeral director?”

Pat said, “Ah, the singing…I was thinking about funeral directors, and someone unlikely plugging their own first album. And the song “Margaret” to be honest with you, that was written specifically because I wanted to get to the stage where I’m balling and crying at the end of a comedy show.”
I said, “You said you played saxophone, so did you also play guitar as well?”
Pat said, “Well no, I just picked up the guitar a few years ago for a character and…”
I said, “Oh, you’re one of those irritating people who can just pick up an instrument and play it, right?”
Pat just laughed.
I said, “I’m going to out that in the piece, you know. ‘Irritating people who can…’ because I can’t contain my jealousy.”
He said, “Yes, I’ve been playing it since then. Just a few years.”

I said, “What I like best about your comedy is that it’s not bitter. And it’s not self-reverential. For example, and I know it’s sacrilege to say anything negative about him, but…Ricky Gervais. And Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I’ve had enough of it, I think. And stand up… most of it is about what is going on in the world, and I already know what is going on in the world. And I am completely thrilled that off stage you look nothing like the characters you play onstage. I can see Louis CK at The Beacon and see him offstage and he’s the same, pretty much. Same persona. Observational comedy.”
Pat sat up, pointed at me and said, “I get exactly what you’re saying. I come from a theater background. I tell people, I do silly. I do funny. And the physical …a tradition of clowning. It’s proper theater, and it’s escapism.”
I said, “Exactly.”
Pat said, “Most of the stand up I see, 85% of it is angry. I don’t want to be shouted at.”
I said, “If I wanted to be shouted at, I’d get on the subway.”
Pat said,”If I wanted to be shouted at, I go down the pub.”
I said, “And I really think, with everything going on in the world, we need escapism, the kind that makes you laugh.”
Pat said, “Yeah, takes you away for a theatrical experience for a time.”
I said, “So what’s next?”
Now, that is a long list: he remains in NYC for a week after the show ends on 9/27; then goes on to Boston where the shows have already sold out; then he tours Ireland and northern Ireland; then Australia…
I said, “That’s too far away. Are you looking to expand to audiences here, in the US? It’s television, right now, that would give you that broad reach.”
Pat said, “Yes, right now, I’m writing a sitcom with two friends for the BBC, and it’s in-house for the BBC, which is very good. It’s in development and they seem to be pleased so far; I’m pleased. The BBC says it’s first on their list of projects.”
I said, “That’s fantastic. The key is getting it to translate to here without it losing something; because we’re really good at fucking British series up. But some we can do well, like the American version of ‘The Office.’”
Pat said, “‘The Office’ was better here. Good example.”
I said, “It was funnier.”
Pat agreed, “It was.”

After 40 minutes, the interview ended, but not before I took his photo (not a selfie). He brought our coffee cups to the sink and washed them out, and I said, “Aren’t you glad I didn’t photograph you doing dishes?”
He laughed. “Yes!”
When he was finished, I shook his hand and thanked him profusely. I wished him luck on the rest of his run.
Turning to leave, I said, “And tell your minder I did not assassinate you; I was a good girl.”
Pat just laughed and laughed.

del Rosso Review: Celebrity Autobiography

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“Celebrity Autobiography,” created by Eugene Pack and a Drama Desk winner for Unique Theatrical Experience in 2009, has been running on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City and touring across the United States ever since. The show is taking part in Origin’s 1st Irish Theater Festival, with good reason: if it can work here, it can work in Ireland. Why? Because this show relies on only two sources of material: celebrities who choose to write ( and I use this term loosely) their autobiographies when clearly they have no business being anywhere near a keyboard; as well as actors and comedians who will stand up in their street clothes and read directly from said autobiographies, with hilarious results.
In short, an abundance of riches.
The actors and comedians are different at every performance. The night I saw it: Tate Donovan, Geraldine Hughes, Michael Urie, Jackie Hoffman, Dayle Reyfel, Alan Zweibel, Maulik Pancholy, and Eugene Pack himself.
Some of the autobiographies they read from: “First Step, Two Forever” by Justin Bieber; “All Things Kardashian,” by Kris Jenner; two battling books, one by Donald Trump (all about him) and one by Ivana Trump (all about her children); one by rapper LL Cool J (all about sex); three different canines – Shirley MacLaine’s, Paris Hilton’s, and Sandy from the show “Annie”; one by Diana Ross (all about being a control freak).
You get the idea.
To a certain extent, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. But consider a sample of what was written and subsequently read:
LL Cool J, first time on tour: “We didn’t even bother taking off our clothes, I just bent her over the sink.”
Diana Ross, on playing Central Park when it began, unexpectedly, to rain: “The dream had changed without consulting me.”
Kris Kardashian, on visiting the Mona Lisa with her daughter, Kim: “Like the lady in the frame, to many we remain a mystery.”
Many of the readers now say they will never venture into this particular genre, out of fear. And after listening to the most amazing drivel for an hour and a quarter, I agree with comedian Rachel Dratch, when she says, in the trailer for “Celebrity Autobiography,” “Maybe don’t write one of these.”
Fat chance.

del Rosso Review: SELFIE

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I am trying to figure out the words to describe Pat Shortt, a unique performer I was unfamiliar with until I stepped foot into the Irish Arts Center on West 51st Street in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. One-man band comes to mind, but this would be doing him a disservice. Pat Shortt is more like an entire philharmonic conducted at a fever pitch: he can play all the instruments, all the parts, compel audience members to play a few if he so chooses and make them laugh to boot. And the conductor? Shortt does that, too.
“Selfie,” part of Origin’s 1st Irish, is a high-energy solo sketch comedy Pat Shortt wrote, directed and stars in. Appropriately, his first character is an aging press photographer, who talks a mile a minute in the heaviest of Irish accents, sporting a nifty Nikon and a bad haircut. He knows everyone, naturally, because when he speaks to audience members, which he does for about 20 minutes, he calls the man Seamus or the woman Sheila; they come from the same place, know the same people, and can talk about such disparate things as showers, the telly, haircuts and premarital sex.
Shortt’s next incarnation (and all of his characters are village-types, not sophisticates) is a singing undertaker in a shiny, black, ill-fitting suit, patent leather shoes and thick white socks, promoting his album,“I’ll Be the Last Man to Let You Down.” He dislikes the Irish attitude towards death, hates euphemisms. Because his father was also an undertaker, a man showed up at his door one day and said, “I’ve lost me mother.” Shortt said, “I’ll just get me coat.” Then the man said, “No, she passed.” Shortt goes on to say, Not by here, she expletive didn’t. We were at the door for an hour.
Shortt’s undertaker offers observations and anecdotes: a doctor whose facial ticks suggest he was “raised by a family of badgers” ; and his father a book snob. When he would tell his father that he had seen a great film, his father would look down at him and an extended “Oh” would escape his lips, followed by a lofty “I read the book.” He describes his father as loving the outdoors but hating traveling, so they camped out in the backyard for two weeks in a leaky tent because his dad was “tight as a duck’s arse” – too cheap to buy a new one.
Shortt got audience members to do the following: switch front row theatre seats for lesser seats in the back; actively participate in a funeral; fetch flowers; heavy coffin lifting. By the end of the first half of the show, it is quite possible he could have gotten the audience to do almost anything.
There is an intermission. I don’t recall many one-man shows having an intermission, but the lead up to this one was fantastic. Then again, I don’t know many performers, and no American equivalent, who does what Shortt does.
In the second part, Shortt comes out as a member of the Garda (national police of Ireland), complains about idiot parking, explains a few crimes in the village that need solving with a series of helpful diagrams and recites an award-winning poem called “You Can’t be Doing That.” This clever, funny poem is segmented into historical rhyming bits starring Hitler, Churchill, The Queen, Caesar, Kennedy, Khrushchev and the like, in costume.
Did I mention Shortt also plays a mean guitar? Composes his own songs and sings? That he is hands-down hilarious? That you won’t see anything like this anywhere else? That this review, though glowing, doesn’t come close to the hilarity this man inspires? Shortt needs a bigger stage, audience, country, continent. For now, he is at The Irish Arts, where you should be queuing up to buy tickets; the show closes 27th September.

Del Rosso Review: PONDLING

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Astonishing. That is the word that fits Genevieve Hulme-Beamen’s one-woman show, “Pondling,” which she wrote and stars in, presented by Guna Nua and Ramblinman as part of Origin’s 1st Irish Festival, and performed on the smallest of three stages in the 59E59 Theater complex in Manhattan.
Hulme-Beamen’s Madeleine is an Irish adolescent who lives in a rural world of men: on a cattle farm with her grandfather and brother, she is exempt from chores save for holding a torch during milking, though she knows this is a ruse for her “general uselessness.” She speaks with an exaggerated manner and her gestures are dramatic; she is an intense little girl and to escape from her dreary world, she has concocted a rich fantasy life, complete with a love interest, John O, “older now, 14,” who in real life only scorns her.
So far, seems familiar. But when Madeleine says she “killed the stray cat that frightened the chickens at night,” you get the feeling that something is amiss. In short, she has all the makings of a teen psychopath.
Hulme-Beamen’s script is full of sharply drawn images and her precise language is unique; she also gives a full-out, tour de force performance that left me breathless. She was frightening in her ferocity and simultaneously sympathetic, which is quite a feat when playing a seriously disturbed child I would personally run from. When Madeleine gets her “wish,” when she enters the sophisticated world of women, “lovely and glamorous,” she is intoxicated by all the beauty, all the femininity, all that she can borrow but is not hers. Hulme-Beamen lets us see and touch and feel what Madeline does. When it is all taken away, the heartbreak is palpable.
“Pondling” is astonishing.

Del Rosso Review: Stoopdreamer by Pat Fenton

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September in New York City ushers in a new theatrical season, and what better way to begin than with the annual Origin’s 1st Irish 2015? Now in its eighth year, this festival of Irish Theater, running from September 2-October 4, welcomes companies from Dublin, Limerick, Belfast and across NYC. Performed in different locations around the city, no two plays or venues are alike.

“Stoopdreamer,” by Pat Fenton, directed by Kira Simring and staged at The Cell in Chelsea on West 23rd Street, is a nostalgic triptych: three characters in search of a neighborhood that for the most part has disappeared.

Set in Farrell’s, one of the last Irish saloons in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, the amiable, elder bartender Jimmy (Jack O’Connell) begins by speaking to the audience about unwelcome changes in the neighborhood; and no villain was more great than Robert Moses, his Prospect Expressway bulldozing 400 homes, countless businesses and displacing 1,215 people. This is illustrated with projected visuals behind him (and throughout the play), to show exactly what kind of damage Moses wrought. Jimmy scoffs at the fancy bars setting up business in the neighborhood, with their “50 different kinds of craft beer. Here, we serve Budweiser. Cold.” As for the demise of old-style pubs, he says of Pete Hamill, when he was young, “There were so many Irish saloons with their doors wide open he could listen to the whole Brooklyn Dodgers game by just walking around.”

Billy Coffey (Bill Cwikowski), retired police officer, sits at the bar writing in his notebook. He is next to speak to the audience, with stories, anecdotes, and some nice phrases, like “Rockaway Beach – the Irish Riviera.” Frustrated in his ambitions to become a writer, he followed the “thin blue line”; now, instead of taking a job as a doorman on Park Avenue, he will write instead. And he never married (leading to…).

A lot of this talk is historical, with many names, dates, numbers. Because interaction between the characters comes late in the play, the format lends itself more to reading than listening. Until, that is, Janice Joyce (Robin Leslie Brown) walks into the bar.

Someone please write Ms. Brown a one-woman show. Please. It doesn’t hurt that Janice is the only three-dimensional character, with wants and needs, who is after something more than nostalgia. But Brown brings a lived-in, regretful, vibrant, authenticity to Janice, so she conversed with the audience, rather than talking to us.

And the faces! The faces of these wonderful actors are glorious: not Hollywood, not immobile, but real. Faces you would want to spend time with. Faces that have stories to tell, lives they have lived, adventures they have had. Got an hour? See “Stoop dreamers,” presented by nancy manocherian’s the cell collaborative. Then afterwards, find an Irish pub and get yourself a beer. You’ll want one. You will.

 

Del Rosso Review: VINEGAR TOM

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2015 is the 29th season for the PTP (Potomac Theater Project), and their 9th year in New York City. They are an exciting, adventurous company to watch for in future, currently running in rep Howard Barker’s play “Scenes from an Execution” (also reviewed in ONE Magazine) and an evening of two little-known and not often produced one-acts: Howard Barker’s“Judith: A Separation from the Body” and Caryl Churchill’s “Vinegar Tom.”

“Judith” is strange kettle of fish. The Book of Judith is not intended as factual history; it is more symbolic in the vein of David and Goliath. Judith (Pamela J. Gray) , a beautiful Jewish widow and The Servant (Patricia Buckley) pass through the enemy lines of the Assyrian Army and into the tent of the General, Holofernes (Alex Draper). There, with her cunning and feminine wiles, Judith seduces the general with lies and artifice but does not sleep with him; instead, he drinks too much, passes out and she beheads him, saving Israel from destruction.

But this is not what Barker had in mind, nor the story he tells, at all. A woman committing murder to save Israel is thrown out in lieu of a battle of the sexes, and is only mentioned at the very end of the play. Beginning on a spare set with Holofernes playing chess by himself (get it? He needs a worthy opponent?) Judith and her servant appear at his tent. Let the games begin.

The general claims he “cannot be loved.” Judith says, “Only politics keep us apart.” Ultimately, Judith comes to care for the general but still beheads him: we kill the things we love? And then in classic Barker fashion, Judith mounts the headless corpse, to frustrated effect. Men: can’t live with them, can’t live without them? And Judith exhibits the exact same cruelty to her servant that the general does when alive. She becomes him. So…women are just as bad as their counterparts?

Judith could have emerged morally compromised yet victorious, celebrated by her people, having to live out the rest of her life contemplating what her sacrifice cost. The sudden change to cruelty and her defiling of the corpse is cheap and too easy.

Holofernes’s “tent,” by Hallie Zieselman, is spare and contemporary, as are the costumes by Mira Veikley. They are almost sleek, with the diminutive general in gray trousers, shirt and black boots and tall, blonde Judith in a draped dress, then a black, sheer, long slip and thong. I am a huge fan of Alex Draper, perfectly cast as Holofernes (and unrecognizable from his role as the Doge of Venice in “Scenes from an Execution”) and Pamela J. Draper, mercurial as Judith. But the play as it stands discards the more interesting themes, and, written in 1992, seems anachronistic to this reviewer.

“Vinegar Tom,” by Caryl Churchill, is set in a small, northern England village in the 17th century. Between scenes, a female trio performs a sort of cabaret-type performance; those songs take place in the present.

Churchill wrote “Vinegar Tom” in 1976; she said in her research, she “discovered for the first time the extent of Christian teaching against women and saw the connections between medieval attitudes to witches and continuing attitudes to women in general.”

So there is slut-shamed Alice (Tara Giordano), who has sex out of wedlock and is a single mother. Next is Margery (Kathleen Wise) an abused farm wife, a workhorse, and in desperation to regain her husband’s love, she accuses Alice’s widowed mother, Joan (Nesba Crenshaw) of being a witch. Joan also owns a cat named Vinegar Tom, later accused as her “familiar.” There is young Betty (Caitlyn Meager) who bucks an arranged marriage and in turn is locked in her room, then bled and purged of her “illness.” Susan (Chelsea Melone) has three children and is pregnant with another; she is conflicted but takes a potion to rid herself of the child, and in later guilt, exposes Ellen (Lucy Faust), the herbalist (now one would call her a homeopath) to the charge of witchcraft.   The only ones who escape hanging are Margery, who is married, albeit unhappily; and Betty, who has no choice but to succumb to the arrangement of wedlock. This cast, including Bill Army as Jack, the brutish husband and Steven Dykes in various roles, was uniformly wonderful, with just a few slips of accent. This is a big play for a one act, and costumes, by Annie Ulrich, are evocative and spot-on for the period. The set looks more elaborate, and entirely different but that is clever camouflage by designer Hallie Zieselman.

You might think that the cabaret trio would add levity. Don’t. Churchill wrote the scathing lyrics to the songs, a nice contrast to the lilting melodies by Carol Christensen.

Churchill got it one act: as long as you are a woman who behaves and conforms within the confines of society, you will be fine. Has all that much changed?

 

If Barker had read “Vinegar Tom” before he had written “Judith…” perhaps Judith would have wowed Holofernes with her intellect, drank a few glasses of wine, had great sex, still beheaded the general, of course, to save Israel, and still emerged victorious but without the transformation and degradation.

If Churchill could have read “Judith,” before writing “Vinegar Tom…” I don’t think she would have changed a thing.

 

 

 

Del Rosso Review: THE WEIR – Irish Reperatory

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Bigger is not always better. Witness the current incarnation of “The Weir,” revived by The Irish Rep at their smaller, temporary location on E. 15th Street, off Union Square while their home theater on West 22nd Street undergoes renovations.

I confess this is my fourth time seeing “The Weir”: once on Broadway, twice at The Irish Rep’s old home, and now at the DR2 Theatre. read more —>

Del Rosso Review: SCENES FROM AND EXECUTION

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The great Jan Maxwell has said she is retiring from the theater, and if so, she has she chosen to revive a brilliant role in a brilliant play to go out on: Galactia in “Scenes From an Execution” by Howard Barker, presented by PTP/NYC at The Atlantic Stage 2 in Chelsea. But I hope she will be persuaded otherwise.

This is the 29th season for the PTP (Potomac Theater Project), and their 9th year in New York City. They are a fantastic company, and I mean that in every sense of the word: to enjoy the company of, and to be a company of performing artists. “Scenes From an Execution” is no ex-ception: the sets are minimal yet functional with no waste (by Hallie Zieselman), the costumes absolutely beautiful (original design by Jule Emerson, additional design by Mira Veikley) and it boasts a phenomenal ensemble, not least among them, Jan Maxell. Maxwell is Galactia, the best artist in 16th century Venice, a genius, who is commissioned to paint a 100 foot mural of a battle at sea; in effect, to paint war. Her married lover, Carpeta (David Barlow) is also a painter but not in the same league. He has made “peace with life,” which affects his rather dull style of painting Jesus repeatedly. Temperamentally, they are complete opposites; he loves Galactia, sleeps with Galactia, but does not understand her.

As it is a commission, Urgentino, the Doge of Venice (Alex Draper-superb), a Cardinal (Steven Dykes-officiously irritating) and the Venetian state want a depiction of glory and triumph, cele-bration and victory over the Turkish soldiers. Galactia wants no such thing: she will paint the truth, the guts and gore of war, literally, no matter what it may cost her. Arrogant, uncompromising, selfish, yet brilliant, she knows that once the mural is finished, there will be a price to pay, and pay it she will. Ironically, Galactia could have withstood being broken, tortured, plunged into eternal darkness. What she does not foresee is giving up part of her soul (largely due to, ahem, a critic, Rivera, played pitch-perfectly by Pamela J. Gray).

At one point, Galactia’s daughter says to her, “Give the people what they want.” Given that Maxwell (and I for one am an enormous fan, having seen her both on and off Broadway), in a recent Time Out New York interview, said her reasons for retirement had to do with loving off-Broadway but being “disappointed in the kind of theater that you can make a living doing,” the choice of “Scenes from an Execution” makes perfect sense. Maxwell says, “It’s probably my fa-vorite role…Galactia is a strong, unsympathetic woman, and you don’t see that very often in theater, although you’re starting to see it more.” I urge you to see Jan Maxwell in “Scenes…” and then imagine her, in, say, “Cats,” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Even if offered an obscene amount of money, for her it would be a soul-killer. Because Maxwell is Galactia, down to her bones. You can feel it in the performance; this is what she lives, who she is, and the truth of her art is what she believes in.

This is a clarion call to all notable playwrights! Write something of brilliance for Jan Maxwell. Don’t let her retire. Don’t…

FOR THE LAST TIME: Del Rosso Review ****

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For the Last Time.

There is a sublime jazz band center stage of the musical “For the Last Time,” playing on Theater Row, 42nd Street in Manhattan. I would not say this is the only reason to see the seductive new jazz musical by veteran (“Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” – 1960) jazz singer Nancy Harrow (music and lyrics) and Will Pomerantz (director and co-writer); I do say see it for the band, the cast, the music, the whole shebang. read more —>

del Rosso’s Reviews: The Belle of Belfast

There’s some fine acting in quite a good play, “The Belle of Belfast” at the DR2 Theatre, New York’s Irish Rep’s temporary home off Union Square. “The Belle of Belfast,” by Nate Rufus Edelman, takes place in 1985 Belfast, at the height of “the Troubles.” At the center is Anne Malloy (Kate Lydic, fantastic) a half-tortured, half-brat of a 17 year-old, whose parents were killed in a bomb blast when she was 10 years old, leaving her in the care of her nutty great-aunt Emma Malloy (Patricia Conolly, delightful first-rate), a situation she resents bitterly. Because of the way her parents died, they have been extolled as “heroes,” which Anne hates. If she had a choice between a united Ireland and her parents, she confides, she would take her parents. This dia-logue is relayed to her 35 year-old local parish priest Anne is in love with, Father Ben Reilly (Hamish Allan-Headley, stoic and droll); he is the only one she believes listens to her, it is late at night, in the rectory, and they are alone in a room together. read more —>

DA, revival: Del Rosso Review

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It is difficult to write a memory play, complete with ghosts and younger selves, without a shred of sentimentality. Yet that is exactly what Hugh Leonard achieved with his 1978 Drama Desk, New York Drama Critics’ Circle and Tony-award winning “Da,” presented in a beautiful revival by the Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre right off Union Square in Manhattan. read more —>

del Rosso review: Blessed Unrest’s LYING

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On 52nd Street in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, The Interart Theatre Development Series is presenting Blessed Unrest’s production of “Lying,” a stage adaptation by Matt Opatmy of Lauren Slater’s metaphorical memoir of the same title.  Going in, I knew Blessed Unrest to be an exuberant, adventurous company. I also knew Director Jessica Burr was a Lucille Lortel Award winner in 2011.

“Lying” is the coming-of-age of Lauren (Jessica Ranville)  – wait, the fourth wall is broken, so it’s really a meta-metaphorical adaptation of a metaphorical memoir.  Jessica the actress plays Lauren the writer though Matt did the adapting. Jessica playing Lauren’s coming of age is told through the prism of epilepsy – wait, but the real Lauren may not have had epilepsy; she may be “Lying.” Then again, the details about the auras and regarding the ground as a crash pad are spot-on, and I should know, because I have epilepsy, and I am not lying. So if the real Lauren did not have epilepsy, then she did an inordinate amount of research, including but not limited to what it feels like to be conscious during a brain operation.

My question is: Why?

Published in 2000, the book “Lying” was Lauren Slater’s fourth memoir; perhaps the words “fourth memoir” should give one pause.

Out of the mouth of Jesus, beautifully played by actor Nathan Richard Wagner, comes this: “Patients with Munchausen’s Syndrome use fake illness as a conduit for conveying real pain. They pretend or exaggerate not for money but for things beyond weight, beyond measure.

Many choose epilepsy.”

Near the end of the performance, Jessica the actress playing Lauren says, “I am not an epileptic. I am really really not an epileptic. I have had many serious psychiatric and neurological problems in my life, but epilepsy has not been one of them. I have a fitful, restless brain, I feel I have several selves. I have had auras all my life and I take anticonvulsant medication daily. The metaphorical world and the material world blend and blur, become each other; believe me, I have suffered seizures.

Jessica Burr is a fascinating director: endlessly inventive, visually exciting. She is an innovator when it comes to combining music and choreography, and the results can be transformative.

Why choose this material?

If Lauren’s truth as well as her journey is mercurial, Burr can go meta-crazy: she can break the fourth wall at will; she can tease as much humor and fun out of the script without sacrificing poignancy. She can cast brilliantly -Charise Green, Nathan Richard Wagner, Sonia Villani, Rich Brown- who play up to eleven roles each, including Lauren’s three-headed mother, her small father, nuns, Jesus, a neurosurgeon, a therapist, AA members, and a sexually-addicted famous writer. And that’s not even half. Jessica Ranville is equally adept at the various incarnations of Lauren. Burr can evoke emotions through the use of music and employ an industrial-sized fan in a witty, olfactory way. In short, she has a lot of room, and knows how to use every inch.

It’s interesting to like “Lying” yet find the source material for this devised work distasteful. Then again, that could be my epilepsy talking. I thought Act I was superb and Act II less successful. On the long but pleasant walk home from Hell’s Kitchen to the Upper West Side, I tried to figure out why. There was less humor. It seemed to be full of desperate people. Or maybe, instead of running out of ideas (not something Blessed Unrest could ever be accused of), it had too many all at once.

When Jessica the actress playing Lauren finally learns how to fall (in Act I), I was genuinely moved. That is a testament to Director Jessica Burr and her talented cast. “Lying” may actually be about a liar, a thief, a manipulator, a sociopath: Burr made me care about her. And that is no lie.

del Rosso Reviews: “Port Authority”

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In 2008, I saw “Port Authority” by Conor McPherson at The Atlantic Theater Company (it was first staged in London in 2001). The extraordinary cast comprised John Gallagher Jr., Brian D’Arcy James, and Jim Norton (a McPherson stalwart). Once again, (having seen “The Weir,” “Shining City” and “The Seafarer,” all on Broadway), I was mesmerized by McPherson’s language, the shimmering ordinariness and passivity of these three Dublin men, and their stories of lost loves. I thought the production peerless.

Now “Port Authority” is back in New York, this time staged by The Irish Repertory Company (at the DR2 Theatre off Union Square, while their main stage undergoes renovations) and directed by Ciaran O’Reilly.

The play’s protagonists represent the three ages of man: young Kevin (James Russell) has moved out of parents’ home for the first time into a dump shared with three other equally aimless youths. Dermot (Billy Carter) is a middle-aged, arrogant, deeply insecure man who has inexplicably been hired as a money manager for a glamorous firm. Joe (Peter Maloney) is in an old-age home run by nuns, where a trip to the shops for betting and beer is considered the height of rule breaking.

Ghosts loom large in McPherson’s plays, and “Port Authority” is no exception. Each man is haunted by the specter of regret: a love that could not be, a love squandered, a love deliberately denied. These seemingly ordinary men, who never acknowledge each other on Charlie Corcoran’s spare yet beautiful set, are imbued with sadness as they stand and deliver their own stories, in chapters, in succession. So though the construct is theatrical (the Author’s Note reads: “The play is set in the theatre.”) the regret is palpable, recognizable. Human. As Dermot says, “Don’t ever try to work anything out. Because you don’t know—and you never will.”

As Kevin, James Russell is all angles and angst, a totally believable young man head over heels without a clue. Billy Carter has all the swagger and bravado of Dermot, but I would have liked him a bit more hang-dog, a bit more embarrassed rather than comedic, so that when he comes back to his wife, his response to her is defeated, overwhelming need. And Peter Maloney is masterful as the conflicted Joe, wrapping his wife’s rosary beads, like honor and duty, around one hand, and his desire for an unknown woman, framed and clutched, in the other.

This ”Port Authority” is very fine, with all involved working at a very high level. You will suffer no regrets for the 90 minutes you are in their company.

del Rosso Review: MAN IN THE MOON

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Two people faced with the exact same circumstances – debt, depression, divorce – could react in completely different ways. One muddles through, and the other commits suicide. As for the latter, who knows why?

One of New York’s 7th annual Origin’s 1st Irish Festival Theatre offerings, “Man in the Moon” by Pearse Elliot, wisely does not try to answer that question. Instead, Elliot gives us one man, Sean Doran (Ciaran Nolan, brilliant), who recounts scraps of stories and bits of histories of people he has loved who have taken their own lives: two brothers, a local vagrant, a woman he admired from afar. He tells us his own story as well, from a bench by Half Moon Lake in Belfast, Northern Ireland: a favorite spot of suicides.

Reviewing “Man in the Moon” is a little bit tricky because come to find out, it was a full- length play complete with intermission, but was necessarily cut down by 45 minutes to fit the festival’s running schedule. However, as it stands, this play has some hilarious parts: there is an Edinburgh film premier mix up; a lion living it up in a forest, and at one point, Elvis is in the house. There are poignant moments of memory, and the selection and use of music is terrific. Tony Devlin has directed beautifully; he gets movement, fluidity and atmosphere just right.

But the star here is Ciaran Nolan’s Sean.

Nolan is truly extraordinary. Every emotion his character feels registers on Nolan’s face; from the moment he walks onto the stage, you know exactly what kind of man he is and where he’s at, which is the opposite of the cheerful song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys that ushers him in.  Energetic, funny, all rubbery limbs and crotch-grabs, he runs from sad sack to misogynist to lost in a world he no longer wants to be a part of but can’t escape. Or, chooses not to.

There are missteps. Sean needs a more credible job than street hawker of a questionable charity, particularly when there are solid ones like Oxfam around. That part reminded me of volunteers with clipboards on New York City sidewalks for any given cause, “volunteers” being the operative word. Sean may eschew the responsibilities of adulthood, but he lived with a woman and had a child: he had to support them somehow, albeit temporarily.

Also it is not necessary for Sean to tell us that he is lonely and has got nothing to go home to. Why? Because Nolan does such a good job showing this already: in his comportment, and in that expressive face.  The words are redundant.

I would have liked more stories about the people we don’t see – Joe, for example – in order for that connection to make more of an impact.

But please, for God’s sake, don’t let that stop you from seeing this terrific play with this performer. “Man in the Moon” deserves to go further than this festival, and reach a wider audience. And I hope it does.

 

del Rosso Review: Gertrude — The Cry

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Gertrude – The Cry

In the first scene of “Gertrude – The Cry” (a reworking of “Hamlet” focusing instead on the complex Queen Gertrude and her appetites) presented by the PTP/NYC Theater Project in their 28th season down at the Atlantic Stage II, Claudius poisons Polonius, Gertrude (Pamela J. Gray) strips naked so Claudius  (Robert Emmet Lunney) can see what he’s getting for killing his brother, read more —>

del Rosso Review: The Clearing, by Jake Jeppson

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Let me tell you about the very fine, courageous acting going on in a play called “The Clearing” by Jake Jeppson at St. Clements Church on 46th Street in mid-town Manhattan. Spoiler alert: if you do not want to know the BIG EVENT of the play and other secrets, stop reading now.

For everyone else, I will begin with the mother, Ella Ellis, played by Allison Daughtery. Think of her as Everymother. At one point in the play, read more —>

del Rosso review: Brendan at the Chelsea

The terrific Irish actor Adrian Dunbar is appearing off-Broadway on Theatre Row 42nd Street, with a very fine cast that he also directed, in “Brendan at the Chelsea.” The play has come in from the Lyric Belfast, and is working alongside Origin’s 1st Irish Festival. read more —>

“Ingenius” Bekah Brunstetter in ‘Welthy Holliday’

The usage of Buddy Holly’s music by playwright Bekah Brunstetter in Welthy Holliday Productions beautifully realized version of “Be A Good Little Widow” is ingenious. The music is lively, happy, yet the listener knows Holly was doomed to die in a plane crash. So too is Craig (Matt Bittner), who is married to Melody (Aamira Welthy); Melody is destined to become a widow, which will link her, for better or worse, to Craig’s widowed mother, Hope (Chris Holliday).

These two women are wildly different people, separated by class, age and mores. Hope is an uptight, rigid Connecticut type, who sticks to “rules” of widowhood: mourning is to be done in private, with no tears or tantrums. Mourning should not be messy. Melody, at 26, was still trying read more —>

review: Barker’s “The Castle”

Manhattan in summertime is humid, sweaty and gross. Did I mention smelly? It’s that, too. To make yourself feel better, and smarter, you could take in one of the annual summer theater festivals: The NYC International Fringe, Under the Radar at The Public, or, you could avail yourself to the 27th season of PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) at The Atlantic 2 in Chelsea, where Caryl Churchill’s “Serious Money” and Howard Barker’s “The Castle” are playing in rep. read more —>

review: RADIANCE • LAByrinth Theatre Co look into the mind of 1955

LAByrinth Theater is a company that has produced acclaimed productions and collaborations with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bob Glaudini (who are also the founders) as well as playwright Stephen Aldy Guirgis (“The Motherf**ker with the Hat). Since their move from The Public Theater across town to the new Bank Street location near the Hudson, LAByrinth’s mission has been to showcase new playwrights and new work, which in the current economic climate is both difficult and admirable.

“Radiance” an unwieldy play with good intentions, is set in 1955 in a wonderfully dilapidated bar (courtesy of scenic designer David Meyer) and begins with an unhappy, blowsy blonde, May (Ana Reeder ) an accountant who is having an affair with the proprietor, Artie (Kelly AuCoin). It takes a good thirty minutes for something to happen, and it does: a man named Rob (Kohl Sudduth) walks in. But he is not just any man. read more —>

‘The Exonerated’: Guilty as Charged ‘STUNNING’

If you did not see the multi-award-winning ‘The Exonerated’ ten years ago, now is your chance. Culture Project, on 45 Bleecker Street in the Village, celebrates the 10th anniversary of the play in special association with The Innocence Project. Written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, directed by Bob Balaban, ‘The Exonerated’ is a stunner.

To say the play is an epic is an understatement. Six characters, only connected by the fact that they were all wrongly convicted and sat on death row for years, and then exonerated. What they lost is irreplaceable. Irrevocable. Their youth, livelihood, family, husbands, brothers, children. And time. So much time.

But none of this epic is fictional; Blank and Jensen have used only the words, interviews, court transcripts of the people involved, and made up nothing. That is what makes this evening in the theater, listening to these stories, so compelling. The words. The truth of what happened.

This is not a re-enactment. The stage is bare, except for a row of chairs and black stands holding scripts. The words of the six are entrusted to a rotating cast of formidable actors: Stockard Channing, Brian Dennehy, Delroy Lindo, Chris Sarandon, JD Williams, Curtis McClarin.

The vagaries of the US judicial system are explained succinctly by Sarandon’s Kerry Max Cook, who spent twenty-two years on death row, was raped, sodomized and branded in prison, lost his brother and was then blamed for the death by his mother, and was not compensated (none of the exonerated in this play were) for any of Texas’s error: “I came from a good family. If it happened to me, it could happen to anyone.”

But perhaps the saddest story was Channing’s Sunny Jacobs, who was at the wrong place, wrong time, and only trying to protect her young children. Her husband, Jesse Joseph Tafero, also wrongly convicted, was executed in Florida, and made headlines because the electric chair malfunctioned and it took an inordinately long and painful time for him to die.

Exonerated? Yes. But the loss these people suffered is immeasurable.

The night I saw “The Exonerated” the real Sunny Jacobs was in the audience. After the performance, Channing brought her onstage, supported by a cane and walking unsteadily. Jacobs thanked the cast, thanked Channing, and thanked the audience for listening. She thanked the playwrights for “giving a voice to those who have none.” Then she cried.

Bravo.

Theatrespace Review: De-boning Miss Lily • ‘Miss Lily Gets Boned’

At the tail end of the fourth heat wave of this increasingly unbearable 2012 New York City summer, I was looking forward to a bit of relief at the 19th annual Ice Factory Festival down in the West Village. This is largely due to the talented Bekah Brunstetter’s new play, and the collaboration between Studio 42  (known for producing “unproducible” plays), Ice Factory and their new space, in the New Ohio Theatre.  With a juicy, provocative title like ‘Miss Lily Gets Boned’ how could one go wrong?

Well, the message of the play is, we’re all animals, and we are all doomed.

Which is a little bit passé, and if you have observed the climbing crime rate here in conjunction with the heat (hit and runs, shootings, stabbings, overloaded boats capsizing, with children the victims) you already knew we were doomed.

But back to the play. read more —>

TheatreSpace Review: Lisa del Rosso • Time to get CLOSER THAN EVER

CLOSER_THAN_EVER

I went into the recent off-Broadway revival of Maltby and Shire’s musical “Closer Than Ever,” presented by The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s on the East Side of Manhattan, blind, as it were. I had little knowledge of their music, and did not see the 1989 original New York production. So I was ready for anything.

It was opening night. The crowd was supportive. The cast, Jenn Colella, George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll, and Sal Viviano, were exceptional. Directed with assurance by Richard Maltby Jr., with musical direction by Andrew Gerle, they teased every bit of humor out of each and every Maltby and Shire song. Jenn channeled her inner feminist Dolly Parton for You Wanna Be My Friend; Christiane was moving and thoughtful for Life Story; Sal, a perfectly reasoned stalker in What Am I Doin’? and George, the picture of patience in I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning.

And yet… read more —>

TheatreSpace Review: Lisa del Rosso gets MASSACRE(d) by Jose Rivera & Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

If you take seven bloodied murderers, four male and three female, and put them in a room together right after they have plotted and killed the town “devil” – a man who was a murderer and worse himself – one would think this set-up would yield interesting results, at the very least.

Yet, at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater down in the Village, read more —>

THIS IS ‘IN’: TACT’S LOST IN YONKERS Theatre Review by Lisa Del Rosso’

I am not an enormous fan of Neil Simon, and this opinion is largely based on the recent, unsuccessful revivals he has had on Broadway and off. However, after watching the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lost in Yonkers,” in a beautifully rendered production presented by TACT (The Actors Company Theatre) on Theater Row 42nd Street, I am well on the way to changing my mind. read more —>

ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO – Theatrespace Review: Nina Raine’s TRIBES: Get your ticket! “You Might be Missing Something”

Tribes

“You’re not missing anything,” is repeated like a mantra throughout the first act of Nina Raine’s brilliant and provocative “Tribes” by various members of Billy’s upper-middle class British family. Born deaf into an intellectually rambunctious, argumentative hearing clan, Billy (Russell Harvard), was raised reading lips and not taught sign language on principle, “so he would not be part of a minority,” according to his stubborn, retired academic father Christopher (Jeff Perry). Also currently living under the same roof are Billy’s mother, Beth (Mare Winningham), a novelist; his college-age sister Ruth (Gayle Rankin), a singer; and the insecure, older brother Dan (Will Brill), who is not quite sure what he wants to be, other than a creative person like everyone else in the family. But in truth, the family argues at such a pace that it is impossible for Billy to keep up, leaving him in silence; until Billy falls for Sylvia (Susan Pourfar) who was born hearing into a deaf family, learned sign language and is going deaf herself. Sylvia introduces Billy to a new world where fits in. Now he wants to tell his own stories his way, and asks his family to learn how to sign, refusing to speak to them until they do. When they balk, he leaves them.

The North American premiere of “Tribes” is at the Barrow Street Theatre down in the Village in New York City; it has already had a successful run at The Royal Court in London, 2011, won an Offie Award and was nominated for both Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for best new play. “Tribes” is playing currently in Australia and productions in Germany and Hungary are in the works.

“Tribes” explores notions of conforming or not, of love and possession, and of belonging. The profanity, intellectual arguments, sibling rivalry and egotism are all completely believable in a high-octane, competitive household. There are pithy one-liners, like when Ruth asks why no one in her family can’t say a word without shouting, and Christopher replies, “Because we love each other.” Ruth replies, “Yes, like a straight jacket.”

The production of “Tribes” at the Barrow Street Theatre is impeccably directed by David Cromer and beautifully acted by a first-rate ensemble. Raine’s moving, funny and shattering play demonstrates the limits and benefits of the tribe one comes from, and also, finding a new one. After Billy leaves and Dan is reduced to a gibbering wreck, he finally asks, “What is the sign for love?” The answer is both an affirmation, and an enormous step forward.

ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO – Theatrespace Review: “imitation should be avoided at all costs”

Yosemite

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when it comes to the great, early plays of Sam Shepard,  read more —>

ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO – Theatrespace Review: The Picture Box “Needs Some Gray”

Picture Box

If “The Picture Box,” a new play by Cate Ryan presented by The Negro Ensemble Company (celebrating their 45th season) at the 42nd Street Beckett Theater, were instead a painting, it would be only in the colors black and white. What it needs are shades of gray. read more —>

ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO – Theatrespace Review: JAMES X: a BRAVE theatrical Experience!

 

How does society deal with a juvenile delinquent? An “abandoned boy?”

In the case of “James X,” written and performed by the astonishing Gerard Mannix Flynn, at the age of eleven he was sentenced into Ireland’s industrial school system, run by congregations of nuns and brothers. On his way to the first, St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Letterfrack, he was orally raped in the car by a brother, and sodomized by another once he arrived. From there, a succession of schools followed, then prison, and the abuse never stopped: physical, sexual, mental. No matter how many times James X complained, nothing was ever done.

The Culture Project, Gabriel Byrne (who also directed) and Liam Neeson are to be commended for bringing to New York a brave, wrenching theatrical experience. Byrne has been very candid about his own abuse at the hands of a priest, and how he tried to come to terms with it included a very public letter of apology written for TheIrish Times in the 1980’s, which was met with a thunderous silence.

Finally, times have changed, with hundreds of victims coming forward and telling their stories, blame being apportioned, and amends being made by the Catholic Church. These are small steps, but in the right direction.

“James X” is the pseudonym on his file, for confidentiality, when he testifies before the Report of the Commission to inquire into Child Abuse. Now a middle-aged man, James X sits outside the room waiting, nervous, jittery. For most of the 85 minute play, Flynn goes at a clip, and puts on quite a stream-of-consciousness, rolling on the ground, sometimes funny, animated song and dance account of his life. No sexual abuse is mentioned until, just before the end, Flynn confesses his “show” was a lie. The lie he “invented to make his life tolerable.”

Flynn reads his statement. He reads out the litany of his sexual abuse, the physical abuse that landed him in the hospital for an operation, his incarceration in the prison for the criminally insane. He was betrayed by the system, and tells the tribunal, “You said you would cherish us and take care of us. And you didn’t. This is your file, not mine. It is your shame. And I’m handing it back.”

© ONE Magazine 2011

ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO – Theatrespace Review DERBY DAY by Samuel Brett Williams

23 (L-R): Jared Culverhouse as Frank Ballard (sitting), Jake Silbermann as Johnny Ballard (standing), Beth Wittig as Becky and Malcolm Madera as Ned Ballard - photo: Paul Gagnon

Midway through world premier of “Derby Day” by Samuel Brett Williams in the 42nd Street Clurman Theater, I wrote in my notebook, “The waitress will get the winning ticket.” And she did.

The deserving waitress in question, Becky, played by the brilliant Beth Wittig, not only wins, she steals the show out from under the three volatile male characters. Becky is the only one not trapped, who knows who she is, who has any dignity. read more —>

ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO / MARY FOLLIET – Theatrespace Review & Panel Report – The Agony of The New Yorker: MIKE DAISEY TRIUMPHS!

Mike Daisey in The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, directed by Jean-Michele Gregory, running at The Public Theater NYC. photo: Joan Marcus

There has been much press about Mike Daisey’s one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” down at The Public Theater on Lafayette Street in the Village. Much of it is good (a rave in The NY Times, and a three-week extension); bad (a rather poisonous, anonymous blurb in The New Yorker); and unwanted (Daisey has received both hate mail and death threats, apparently for his unwillingness to participate in the post-mortem deification of Steve Jobs).

But the anonymous blurb in The New Yorker interests me most, not because the writer was too much of a coward to sign his or her name to the objection, read more —>

ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO – Theatrespace – review: “Kaddish” (or “The Key in the Window”) NY Theater Workshop

Kaddish

Less than halfway through “Kaddish” (or “The Key in the Window”), a version of Allen Ginsburg’s poem at The New York Theater Workshop in the East Village, I had to put my pen down, so mesmerized was I by Donnie Mather’s extraordinary performance. That “Kaddish,” which was not only performed but also adapted by Mather himself, coincided with the Jewish holiday of Roshashana was total luck, according to Director Kim Weild, and opening night ended September while ushering in the melancholy of autumn. A perfect backdrop for “Kaddish.” read more —>

ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO – Theatrespace – review: Tape

“Tape,” by Stephen Belber is playing at the June Havoc Theatre on 36th Street in mid-town Manhattan. “Tape” is a pitch-perfect study of the perpetual adolescence of the American male. I am not sure if there is a European male equivalent or even one a European will understand, other than the Scottish writer J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” and the “I won’t grow up” syndrome it inspired. read more —>

ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO – review: Territories, Splatters and Victories: Potomac Theatre Project 2011

At the Atlantic II, in New York”s Chelsea, three plays ran in rep this summer, produced by the 25 year-old company PTP (Potomac Theatre Project, from Middlebury College, Vt.)/NYC. Three playwrights: Steven Dykes, Neil Bell, both Americans, and Howard Barker, English. Running in rep, while usual for many theatre companies in the UK and regionally here in the US, it is not done so much in New York City. read more —>

ONE 10 • Prisons Inside and Out

On May 17, 2010, the justices of the US Supreme Court, in a miraculous decision, barred life terms for young offenders who haven’t committed murder. Miraculous because the current court leans decidedly to the right, and also because we in the US are very good at locking up and throwing away the key, rather than figuring out what to do with ex-convicts once they are released. In short, what we do is next to nothing, (apart from a train fare and a ride to the station) and “rehabilitation” has become a curse word, as well as perceived as a financial drain.


Prisons inside and out
— Lisa Del Rosso

read more —>

ONE 9 • Theatrespace

Samaritan
by Lisa del Rosso

ONE 9 • Why The Best is Off

Early 2010 is packing a theatre scene punch in, unlike the fall of 2009, which promised a bang and delivered a whimper. The best of the best right now is off-Broadway, and will leave you thinking and turning questions over in your mind long after the actors have taken their second bows (which they deserve, by the way). read more —>