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 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: 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 —>

“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

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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 —>

From the Editor: Hey Glassholes: ‘This American Life’ – IS DAISEY IS PROTECTING THE GIRL?

From the Editor:

In regards to the controversy surrounding MIKE DAISEY, I write to express my full support for THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS as a creative work.

Theatres are not courtrooms, no matter how the monsterous public relations companies, recently hired by the parties involved, will now attempt to make them appear. Daisey is not the ultimate target — theatre, the arts, free expression is. As-is creative license and our ability to communicate critical ideas in a public arena.

The New York Times, and BBC documented the lion’s share of agregious faults in our new culture of slavery-by-proxy, highlighted by Daisey’s monologue. Second, it’s not rocket science to connect the dots: FoxCOnn hires Burston Marstellar • Apple Launches iPad • Daisey sandbagged by the glassholes.

But in this real world of corporate espionage, coercion, conspiracy and fraud, I predict this: Mike Daisey might be protecting the safety of the girl in China. Just a creative hunch.

Martin Belk, editor, ONE Magazine

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 —>