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: 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.

Folliet Poetry: Pips & Quips

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DESIRING

we can’t govern our affections”

Washington Square-Henry James

hungry for the one thing everybody loses-

young loving”

Jazz-Toni Morrison

Which is it, Aphrodite?

What say you, John Keats?

Beauty & Truth?

Or

Beauty & Youth?

Just asking….

2

COPING

-for CAT-

a toke at 10 for one

a taste at 11 the other

cool libations at lunch for 2

together or alone

smart girls know what to do

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YEARNING

Youthful yearning?

Or

Yearning for youth?

Which years are more fun?

4

POETRY

Attack the didactic

All right & yet

Who better than the poets

To light the way

Toward elusive

Beauty, truth, peace?

5

A SNAPPY APERÇU

A quippy girl is equipped

For life

&

Its assaults

Sexist or otherwise

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.

“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: 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 —>

OCTOBER’S REALITY CHECK Poetspace: Mary Folliet

OCTOBER’S REALITY CHECK

(autumn 2012: the post-fall fall)

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topaz tree tops flash

warning winter’s white expense

some greens yearn for spring

2

flaming forward fast

amidst lemon, crimson, rust

topaz tree tops flash

3

jeweled mums abound

albino pumpkins astound

topaz tree tops last

4

autumn breezes blow

topaz tree tops flash then fall

while October goes

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 —>

ONE blogs – MARTIN BELK – WHITE PAPERS and NET PIRACY: PACK OF WHITE LIES…

Tomorrow, the UK government is set to release a ‘white paper’ on piracy over the internet. The assertion is that internet piracy is costing thousands of jobs, and threatening the film, radio and TV industries, as well as life in the free West as we know it today. BULL.

read more —>

ONE blogs – MARTIN BELK – THE FIGHT WE’VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR

Once, when I was younger, back around 1979, I was sitting in Mrs Bland’s classroom beside my friend at the time Jay Hull. Jay and I’d been spending our morning lying about all the girls we’d done and were gonna do and had been told we could do (there was time for some of that, back then).

read more —>