MUST

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Written by Charles Cissel

Directed by Gabriel Vega Weissman

The legendary William Bonney, AKA Billy the Kid, has been called many things. Up until now, “self-absorbed” wasn’t one of them. After seeing the Burgess Group’s revisionist take on the famous bandit’s life, audiences may leave the theater wondering if Billy’s biggest problem was that he was born before the age of Facebook. In an effort, apparently, to put a human face on the Bonney myth, Charles Cissel has turned the Kid into a thinker rather than a man of action. It’s an intriguing idea: we already have action-packed movies about the West, why not, in a theater piece, focus on the psychological? It might have worked were it not for the fact that MUST’s central anti-hero engages in excess navel gazing and offers mostly tepid and undramatic responses to the people around him.

As the play begins, Billy (Brendan Dooling) and Pat Garrett (John Clarence Stewart) are cohorts who run various hustles across the saloons and cattle fields of the frontier. The two end up on opposite sides of the law as Billy falls in with a band of outlaws and embarks on his notorious crime spree. Mostly, though, Billy waxes philosophical, lamenting the futility of chasing horizons (as soon as you get there, the horizons’s gone, he muses repeatedly). Along the way, he is visited by apparitions. His dapper father (Marl Elliot Wilson), who abandoned the family when Billy was a boy, now struts about drinking fine whisky and offering vaguely cynical commentary on the nature of manhood. Billy’s self-sacrificing, consumptive mother (Sally Ann Triplett) did her best to raise Billy well, but couldn’t quell his penchant for trouble. For a time, Billy shacks up with Luisa (Meredith Antoian), who seems to be the fugitive’s last chance at happiness. Dooling and Antoian have a good chemistry. But the dialogue mostly stays in the cliché zone, with a petulant Luisa wishing Billy would just settle down and stop chasin’ those durned horizons. Ultimately, Billy begins to sound less like an 1880’s desperado than a 21st Century urbanite in the throes of a quarter-life crisis.

Far more compelling is the subplot involving the Kid’s nemesis. Like Bonney, Garrett is a man haunted by a legend he helped create but can never quite live up to. His transformation from con man to lawman is handled with wit and energy by Stewart, and the dramatic stakes are higher in his scenes with Billy than elsewhere in the play. More stage time devoted to the sheriff, and less to Billy’s ruminations, would have been a stronger choice.

Visually, the show is impressively staged: Alexander Woodward’s scenic design depict a barren but lyrical desert landscape, Zach Blane’s lighting shifts nimbly with the changing moods of the story, and Brooke Cohen Brown’s opulent costumes help to make the characters both true to life and larger than life. Their efforts, though appreciated, are sadly not enough to turn MUST into a must-see.

MUST continues through November 19,2017 at the Theater at St. Clements,

423 W 46th St, New York, NY 10036. Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/979546

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OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

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Written by Nancy Bannon & Mollye Maxner
Directed  by Mollye Maxner

When people quote General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous maxim, “War is hell”, they’re usually referring to the carnage and chaos of the battlefield. But for many soldiers, the fires of war don’t stop burning after the military campaign has run its course. They rage on inside the veteran’s psyches, consuming their lives, their families, their society. Using dual time frames and a collage of theatrical techniques OCCUPIED TERRITORIES paints a searing – if flawed – portrait of the ongoing repercussions of war.

Single mom Jude Collins (Nancy Bannon), returns to her hometown to bury her father. Jude is due to check into rehab in a couple of days, and hopes to use the time to reconnect with her preteen daughter Alex (Ciela Elliott). Mother-daughter relations are strained, however, as Jude has been unable to really be there for Alex. It’s Jude’s sister Helena (Kelley Rae O’Donnell), that’s been raising the child while Jude attempts to sort her life out. Adding to the tense family dynamic is the fact that Jude and Helena have sharply different views of their late father. To Helena, he was a good man who bore the scars of war as well could be expected. Jude sees him as an unstable and irresponsible father who used his brief tour of duty as an excuse for bad behavior. Slowly, though, Jude’s perspective begins to shift. Left alone in the basement of the old house, she goes through her father’s collection of photos and artifacts from the war. She also helps herself to his prodigious stash of prescription medication. As Jude slides into a reverie, the tromping of combat boots and the voices of soldiers chanting cadence calls is heard. The audience is brought into the scene as the actors march behind the seats and up the aisles of the theater. The action shifts to Vietnam, 1967.

Here we meet the young Private Collins (Cody Robinson) and the guys in his platoon. Even-keeled Lucky (Diego Aguirre) operates a shortwave radio, which Sergeant Ace Andrews (Donte Bonner) uses to alert his superiors that his men can’t hold their position and are running dangerously low on rations, ammunition, and medical kits. Predictably, the hoped-for supply drop is a long time coming, and morale worsens among men who have already seen too many casualties. Particularly caustic is the Brooklyn-born Corporal Michael “Ski” Makowski (Scott Thomas),who gives Collins no end of grief but deep down is actually looking out for the new recruit. Rounding out this motley gang are the garrulous Private Alvarez (Thony Mena), quiet but courageous Hawk (Nile Harris), and the frail Private “Hardcore” Harcourt (Nate Yaffe), who hasn’t spoken since a word the death of his buddy two weeks previous.

Collins, nicknamed “Cornbread” by his peers, carries his Nikon camera everywhere, but it’s his innocent eyes that are really taking in the details. He sees more than his mind can process, especially as the futility of the mission grows clear. In this incomprehensible world, any sense of moral certainty is destroyed and wanton waste of human life becomes the new normal. No one seems to know why this war is being fought in the first place, let alone whether the U.S. has any chance of winning it. And yet the slaughter continues, and the soldiers have only each other to cling to. The love Collins feels for his comrades in arms will supersede all other relationships, and the battle Jude fights for her father’s affections will prove unwinnable.

To a degree, we’ve seen this story before: an ethnically mixed battalion bonding under heavy fire: a young man’s disillusionment in the foxhole. But co-creators Nancy Bannon and Kellye Maxner bring an innovative sensibility to familiar Vietnam story. Stark realism is juxtaposed against lyrical dance sequences and colorful photos of smiling Vietnamese villagers. The show’s immersive approach effects both the audience and the ensemble. Like the G.I.s they portray, the actors coalesce into a group of men whose mutual trust and loyalty are palpable in a physical, immediate way that gives the show’s brutal ending its devastating impact.

Despite these strengths, though, the show suffers from some missteps. For starters, its title is misleading: the term “occupied territories” today refers to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Also, the civilian side of the narrative is considerably less developed than the soldier’s story. More details about the Collins family’s past and present would have given more dimension to the conflicts Jude, Helena and Alex are working through.

Even so, OCCUPIED TERRITORIES’ rough edges are outweighed by its raw performances, well-researched story line and flawlessly choreographed battle scenes. Its images and voices reverberate long after the curtain call.

OCCUPIED TERRITORIES continues through November 5, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022. Tickets: 212-279-4200.

JAMAICA

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Music by Harold Arlen
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
Book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy

Directed & Choreographed by Keith Lee Grant

Music Director & pianist Jameel McKanstry

Bass: Dominic LaMorte
Percussion: Charles Kiger/Ashley Baier
Reeds: Michael Gennari Trumpet: Kurt Marcum

Daring for its time, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s 1957 parable sported an ethnically diverse cast (led by Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalban), a calypso-inflected score, and anti-establishment message. 60 years later, the show feels surprisingly fresh, dated only in the sense that its score (originally written for Harry Belafonte) reflect a 1950’s conception of Caribbean songcraft. To modern ears, accustomed to the cadences of reggae and world music, Arlen’s tunes sound more like they originated in the West 40’s than in the West Indies.

Content-wise, however, JAMAICA couldn’t be more relevant. Harburg, blacklisted at the time for refusing to name names, took a jaundiced view of Cold War America, and the show’s book takes aim globalism, disaster relief, nuclear threats, and a host of other topics that still preoccupy us today. Even evolution is skewered, as a group of monkeys, loathe to be associated with anything as uncivilized as mankind, dismiss Darwin’s theory as fake news.

Set on the fictional republic of Pigeon Island, JAMAICA begins with a brief tryst between a local teenage girl and a young American tourist on vacation with his folks. Both sets of parents make it very clear they are not in favor of the romance, but the kids sneak around and do it anyway. Soon the girl discovers she is pregnant, but only after the boy has left the island with no apparent plans to return. Flash forward to 20 years later. Mama (Corea “Cori” Robinson), is reaching a point where she can no longer control her daughter Savannah (Taylor-Rey “T-Rex” Rivera). The young woman’s beauty, and her headstrong ways, have become the talk of the village. She is courted by eligible bachelor Koli (Jason Johnson), the captain of a fishing boat, but Savannah has other ideas about her future. The only island she’s interested in is Manhattan, where she can hobnob with the glitterati and enjoy a lifestyle filled with modern conveniences – if only she can find a way to get there. Her ticket soon arrives in the form of Joe Nashua (Daniel Fergus Tamulonis), an New York businessman seeking to get rich quick in the jewelry business. All he needs is a few divers willing to risk being devoured by sharks in order to harvest Pigeon Island’s rich supply of pearls. While many of the islanders are seduced by Joe’s offer of Yankee dollars, Koli treats his arrival with consternation. In his view, the American clearly doesn’t have the community’s best interests – or Savannah’s – at heart.  Further complications ensue when a fierce tropical storm hits the island, derailing Joe’s entrepreneurial ambitions and throwing the whole social order chaos. In the aftermath of the storm, all the characters reevaluate their priorities and Savannah begins to wonder, like another famous Arlen-Harburg heroine, if there really is no place like home.

With her dynamic personality and impressive vocal range, Rivera makes an ideal choice for the restless Savannah. Johnson’s tough, practical-minded Koli provides her with an apt foil. The supporting players each have a moment to shine, and they go at the task with talent and brio. Robinson’s powerhouse voice and Tamulonis’s tight timing add flavor to the mix, while Chris Price and Barbyly Noël bring their comedic skills to a romantic subplot involving a passionate government clerk and his standoffish desideratum. 12-year old scene stealer Treymal R. McClary is highly enjoyable as the scrappy street philosopher Quico. Under Keith Lee Grant’s snappy, exuberant direction, the ensemble members (Zuheila Jason, Isais Miranda, Yesenia Ortiz, and Hanna Ventura) coalesce into an inviting community. Mary Myers’ costumes burst with Caribbean color and flow easily with the dancers’ movements. There is only one aspect of the production that feels arbitrary. Throughout the evening, the numbers are embellished with video projections (a commonplace element in theater these days). Although animator Edward Corcino has fashioned some inspired imagery, it seems unnecessary to add extra visual layers to theatrical action that is already compelling. Less would have been more. This, however, is a minor drawback in a show that is otherwise “coconut sweet”.

JAMAICA continues through M3 24, 2018 at Harlem Repertory Theatre, 240 East 123rd Street New York, NY 10035. Tickets: 917-697-3555.

 

 

 

UP THE RABBIT HOLE

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Written by Andy Halliday

Directed by G.R. Johnson

Like many autobiographical works, Andy Halliday’s tale of love, addiction and recovery is raw, honest and brave. It also, in places, suffers from the lack of objectivity that affects many writers as they attempt to mold their life experiences into dramatic narratives. There is plenty to like about UP THE RABBIT HOLE, including a strong cast, but both directorially and scriptwise, it’s in need of further development.

Young Jack Harris (Tyler Jones), is having trouble maintaining control of his life. Having moved to New York to pursue a career as a dancer, he now finds unable to work due to an injured hamstring. With no Plan B, Jack finds work as a cater waiter, but most of his earnings go to feeding his worsening cocaine habit. His drug buddies include the glamorous but untrustworthy Timothy (Quinn Coughlin), who purports to be straight but enjoys sexually-tinged roughhousing with Jack. Jack’s adoptive mom Helen (Laralu Smith), though well intentioned, cluelessly feeds her son’s addiction by giving him money. Clearly Jack’s lifestyle is a recipe for self-destruction. Thankfully, though, a glimmer of optimism arrives in the form of a letter confirming that Jack’s biological mom has been located and is eager to meet him. Jack travels to Boston, where Angela (also Laralu Smith) welcomes him into her home. The reunion is a happy one, not least because Jack discovers he has a brother. Bradford (Andrew Glaszek), who is gay and has fought his own battle with addiction, is able to offer Jack a kind of empathy and assistance that his adopted family can’t give him. Upon returning to Manhattan, though, Jack falls back into his toxic behavior patterns, nearly derailing his healthy relationship with theater director Robert Maltin (Peter Gregus). A particularly traumatic event threatens to send Jack into an irreversible downward spiral. But thanks to his newfound support system, it appears there may be hope at the bottom of this Pandora’s Box.

Director G.R. Johnson keeps the actors emotionally honest, but has trouble blocking some of the scenes. There’s too much bouncing around in the scenes where Timothy toys with Jack, which dissipates the frightening tension. Other parts of the play seem overly stagnant, as in the scene when Brad, upon meeting Jack for the first time, stands still for several minutes with his arms crossed: a puzzling image for a guy who’s supposed to be welcoming his long-lost brother into the fold. The double casting of Laralu Smith as both Helen and Angela also poses problems. Smith attempts to individuate the two women without resorting to caricature. But ultimately, the moms just aren’t different enough. They also feel somewhat underwritten as characters. Both mothers get to tell their stories, but no tears are shed, no remorse is shown, and we never really learn how either mother feels about her son’s sexuality. They also never meet, despite a request from Angela to do so, which leaves a narrative thread frustratingly unresolved.

Despite its unevenness, though, UP THE RABBIT HOLE manages, at times to be deeply moving and tenderly funny. We can’t help rooting for Jack, especially with the endearing Jones in the part. And the relationship between Jack and Robert is handled with candor and delicacy, both in the dialogue and in the acting. If the same level of excellence could be matched throughout the show, UTRH would go from a very good production to an unforgettable one.

UP THE RABBIT HOLE continues through October 15, 2017 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, New York, NY 10003. Tickets: http://tix.smarttix.com/Modules/ Sales/SalesMainTabsPage.aspx?ControlState=1&SalesEventId=6848&DC=

THE VIOLIN

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Written by Dan McCormick
Directed by Joseph Discher

Tight, traditional and full of testosterone, THE VIOLIN serves as a welcome throwback to the three-man crime dramas that used to dominate the American stage. Like its predecessors, ORPHANS and AMERICAN BUFFALO, Dan McCormick’s naturalistic meditation on greed and loyalty is well-made, fast paced and sports a kind of gritty elegance in its rhythm and language. Unlike Lyle Kessler and David Mamet, though, McCormick endows his characters with charm and warmth, and grants them at least a fighting chance at salvation.

On a dark winter night in a cramped New York tailor shop (meticulously festooned with clutter by set designer Harry Feiner), proprietor Giovanni AKA Gio (Robert LuPone) patiently plies his trade as he has done for decades. What makes tonight different, though, is that a grim anniversary is close at hand. Years ago,  his neighborhood friends Bobby (Peter Bradbury) and Terry (Kevin Isola) lost both of their parents to a murderous vendetta perpetrated by the Irish mob. Since that day, Gio has functioned as a kind of surrogate parent. Sadly, His attempts to instill good values in the boys have borne little fruit. Rather than pursue an education, Bobby, has chosen a life of petty crime. Terry, brain-damaged due to a childhood accident, can’t seem to hold a job at all. Something good, however, has come out of his latest fiasco. While driving a gypsy, Terry has discovered a 1710 Stradivarius that a forgetful passenger abandoned in the back seat. When Bobby discovers the monetary value of such an instrument, he begins hatching a plot to extort a pile of ransom money from its distraught owner. Terry’s hesitant at first, but his big brother’s powers of persuasion are hard to resist. Even Gio, who constantly espouses the virtues of “integra”, has to admit that he has little to show for all his years of toil. A little windfall wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome. With the whole gang on board, Bobby presses forward with the plan. Of course, these guys are hardly criminal masterminds, and unforeseen complications naturally ensue. Relationships are tested and guilty secrets bubble to the surface as the play accelerates to its darkly redemptive conclusion.

Like a jazz trio, the three members of the cast are able to shine individually while remaining deeply tuned to each other’s cadences. Isola, who easily could have played Terry as a stereotypical man child, instead shades his performance with a disarmingly authentic innocence. Likewise, Lupone doesn’t chew the scenery, even in the play’s more explosive moments. His Gio is a man of refinement and aspiration who, because of rough circumstances and poor choices, could never realize his full potential. The kinetic Bradbury is both comical and menacing as he prowls the stage like an animal in search of easy prey. In keeping with their characters’ agendas, director Joseph Discher assigns each actor a specific section of the room. Accustomed to being treated like a child, Isolda’s childlike Terry sits in a corner, impulsively jumping up when he feels an urge to be part of the conversation. Bradbury, as the energetic idea man, is placed at center stage. As the detail-oriented tailor, Lupone moves economically, leaving the safety of his work table only when necessary. It’s a smart bit of staging that subtly alerts the audience to the importance of the moment when he finally does take action. The younger guys can talk all they want. But it’s when Gio’s on the move that we know things are getting serious.

THE VIOLIN continues through October 14, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues, New York, New York. Tickets (212) 279-4200.

 

WORKS & PROCESS ROTUNDA PROJECT: DANIIL SIMKIN: FALLS THE SHADOW

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Combining technology with live performance is a tricky enterprise. The two elements can often cancel each other out, dividing the audience’s attention and failing to coalesce into a single vision. When handled with the right balance of innovation and restraint, however, projected images can blend seamlessly with traditional techniques to create a cohesive statement. Conceived by Daniil Simkin, a principal dancer at American Ballet Theater, and choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, FALLS THE SHADOW offers proof that 21 Century innovations can enhance, rather than overwhelm, classical expression.

The event is held in the central rotunda of Guggenheim, so that the museum’s iconic spiral ramp serves as both a stage set and a series of mezzanines from which to view the performance. Simkin is joined on stage by ABT colleague Cassandra Trenary, Ana Lopez of Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance company, and San Francisco-based dancer Brett Conway. Using infrared cameras, Dmitrij Simkin’s intricate projection designs are equipped to respond in real time to every nuance of the dancers’ movements. The effect, appropriately for the venue, is of a moving modernist painting. Media designer Arístides Job García Hernández meticulously builds specific worlds to match the musical tone of each piece. Flickering pools of light follow the performers bodies like the ion tails of comets. Concentric circles give way to geometric spirals and shifting coronas of color and texture. By contrast, the performers are clad in clean, metallic costumes created by Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Though not quite as apocalyptic as the poem from which it derives its name (T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”), FALLS THE SHADOW does explore the themes of human energy’s destructive and creative potential. In the show’s most overtly allegorical piece, two strident figures hurl jets of black vapor at each other, eventually pulling others into the conflict and engulfing the world in ever-increasing pools of flame. A visual essay on the futility of war could easily come across as heavy-handed. But it works well here, thanks to the delicacy of movement and gradual build to a simultaneous crescendo of music and color. Most of the other segments take a more abstract approach to their depictions of the shadow world between dream and reality, effort and impact. Yet all the pieces are effective, in part because they manage to be as concise as they are kaleidoscopic. The entire concert weighs in at under an hour, long enough to fully exploit its palette of effects, but wisely concluding while before the audience’s sense of wonder has a chance to fade.

WORKS & PROCESS: THE ROTUNDA PROJECT continues with composer Nico Muhly on September 17, 2017 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, Between  88th &  89th Street. Tickets: 212 423 3575.

SUMMER SHORTS 2017: Series B

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Of the three one acts that comprise Series B, the most confidently delivered is Chris Cragin-Day’s two-hander which probes the subject of women’s role in religion. Kim (Jennifer Ikeda), a successful professor and mother of young children, is dedicated to her egalitarian ideals as well as to her Christian faith. Cliff (Mark Boyett), with whom Kim has been friends since high school, belongs to the same church and has just been promoted to pastor. He’s eager to make a good impression, and Kim isn’t making it easy for him. She has taken the unheard-of step of writing down a woman’s name as nominee for the position of church elder. Fearful that he’ll be fired for such a blatant heresy, Cliff at first refuses to back her up on this. Kim perseveres, but she’s unable to strike a bargain until she’s willing to hear Cliff out.  A WOMAN adroitly manages to avoid becoming preachy despite its topic, and its central argument is more nuanced than the usual Patriarchy-vs-Sisterhood commonplace. Under Kel Haney’s subtle direction, Ikeda and Boyett share and endearing chemistry and shade their roles with wit and empathy.  Overall, though, the lacks heat, seeing as its core issue isn’t really an urgent debate in today’s world. There’s always room for improvement, of course. Yet all but the most archconservative Christian institutions have abolished any prohibition against female leadership, and many sects, like the Presbyterian, Mennonite, and Methodist churches (to name but a few) to have been ordaining women for decades. Cragin-Day’s heart is in the right place, but she seems to be looking in the wrong cathedral for glass ceilings.

A hip comedy of millennial manners, Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds’s WEDDING BASH represents the kind of sketch material SNL should be doing but rarely delivers.  Newlyweds Dana (Rachel Napoleon) and Lonny (Donovan Mitchell) are settling into domestic life after what they believe was a magical wedding. Their dinner guests, Alan (Andy Powers) and pregnant Edi (Georgia Ximines Lifsher), don’t agree. But in today’s walk-on-eggshells culture they feel compelled not to say anything critical. Finally, Alan decides he’s had enough. Conscripting Edi into his honesty campaign, he launches into a self-righteous dressing down of the “selfish wedding” in which the guests were coerced into spending a fortune in travel and accommodations only to suffer through a pretentious ceremony a paltry supply of booze. Lonny and Dana fire back with their own frank admissions:  Those wedding gifts you thought would dazzle us? Well, think again. Things escalate from there, and the resulting chaos leaves no one unscathed. The one thing BASH lacks is a satisfying punchline, but thanks to the comedic skills of the cast, and to Rebecca Lord-Surratt’s uber-bourgeois set design, there are plenty of laughs along the way.

Neil LaBute looks under the surface of professional sports in BREAK POINT, a drama centering on a major tennis tournament. Flush with endorsement money and a staggering string of championship wins Oliver (John Garrett Greer) appears to have everything. Internally, though, it’s a different story. Oliver’s under tremendous pressure to win 20 majors, breaking Federer’s record, and to do that he’ll need to make it to the finals in the French Open. Standing in his way is a formidable opponent, who also happens to be an old acquaintance. Stan (Keilyn Durrel Jones), hasn’t had the same success as Oliver, but his prowess is undeniable—enough so that Oliver’s chance at the title could be blown during the semis. Oliver hits upon an ingenious, if ugly, solution. Stan would find himself in the money if he’s willing to throw the match. Like a surprise serve, this indecent proposal throws Stan off for a moment, but he soon rallies, volleying his own slice shots into his opponent’s court. Tensions mount as the outcome of the match and the true intensions of the players grow increasingly uncertain. Both actors bring an athlete’s poise and kineticism to the game, with the solid, meditative Jones balancing Greer’s fretful garrulousness. As a director l, LaBute’s could stand to tighten the pace, and focus the actors’ energy more forcefully. But, as always, his sharp, provocative writing remains a highlight of the festival.

SUMMER SHORTS continues through September 2, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York. Tickets: https://www.ticketcentral.com/59e59/ Online/ default.asp

LUCKY

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Created & Directed by Henry Evans & Tommy McCarthy

Choreographed by Tyler Holoboski

Adding a dash of 21st Century hipster sensibility to the traditions of vaudeville and commedia dell'arte, Atlas Circus Company’s high-energy romp follows the misadventures of hapless young Everyman as he faces overwhelming obstacles in his quest for success and love in the big city.  Accompanied by composer David Evans at the piano, the troupe cavorts about the stage with stunning energy and a palpable joy, spinning everyday situations into farcical flights of giddy nonsensicality. Outside of an occasional lip-synched show tune or and some falsetto gibberish, there is no dialogue in LUCKY. The comedy’s all physical, and the ensemble are all highly skilled in the arts of acrobatics, mime, dance and improv.

The show is composed of nine lazzi, in which the eponymous hero says goodbye to his small-town family and heads off to New York. Armed only with an attaché case and a can-do attitude, he goes looking for work. But holding on to job (or even a sandwich) proves challenging when everything from gravity to social anxiety conspires to sabotage Lucky's efforts.

To elaborate further  would be to give away the cavalcade of surprises LUCKY has in store for its fortunate audience. Suffice it to say that ordinary objects are transformed into percussion ensembles, rapid-fire juggling contests are followed by feats of hair-raising aerialist acts and lyrical dance routines blend with forthrightly lowbrow pie-in-the-face slapstick shtick (actually it looks more like ricotta cheesecake: this is New York after all).

Lead actor Henry Evans has clearly made a close study of the great silent comedians, and his comic persona is flavored with a soupçon of Chaplin and echoes of Keaton and Lloyd. Yet Lucky is also an original creation, enlivened by Evans’s startling athleticism and acrobatic prowess. Paradoxically, it takes tremendous coordination to be a great stage klutz, and Evans, like his predecessors, has mastered the art of the meticulously choreographed accident.

Aided by Koren Harpaz’s animated backdrops, the supporting cast rounds out the whimsical cartooniverse through which Lucky meanders. Sporting a mesomorphic physique and a devilish grin, Leo Abel nimbly morphs into a panoply of urban archetypes, including a mugger, a construction worker and a vein bachelor eager to impress his date. With pompous brio, Russell Norris flings his tall, slim body into multiple variations on the theme of Tyrannical Boss. Rubber-limbed Avery Deutsch is irresistibly charming as Lucky's coworker and would-be love interest.

Here are a few added bonuses: Though by no means dumbed down, LUCKY is appropriate for all ages. Tickets are affordable, and Dixon place has a cozy bar on the first floor where the cast and creatives can often be found mingling with audience members.

LUCKY  continues through August 16, 2017 at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, between Rivington and Delancey Streets, New York, New York.

Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/171

 

 

SUMMER SHORTS 2017: Series A

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Written by Melissa Ross, Alan Zweibel & Graham Moore
Directed by Mimi O'Donnell, Maria Mileaf & Alexander Dinelaris

Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Thoughline Artists’ SUMMER SHORTS festival continues to offer an important showcase for actors, directors and writers of short-form theater. As usual, some scripts are more fully realized than others, but the caliber of the acting and the quality of the production remains consistent throughout the evening.

Anyone who’s ever lost a pet will empathize with the protagonists of Melissa Ross’s JACK.  Faced with the sad task of disposing of their beloved dog's remains, Maggie (Claire Karpen) and George (Aaron Roman Weiner in for Quincy Backer-Dunn) agree on a perfect spot: The Union Square dog run where Jack spent some of his happiest afternoons. It sounds simple enough, but as the two ex-spouses prepare to scatter the departed's ashes, old feelings bubble up to the surface. The ink has barely dried on their divorce, and though both are getting on with their lives, the wounds of separation haven't fully healed.  Thanks to Ross’s skillful and compassionate writing and Mimi O’Donnell’s naturalistic direction, a complex portrait of a troubled marriage begins to emerge. We get a glimpse of the chemistry that made George and Maggie a good couple at first, as well as the inertia that eventually pulled them apart. Weiner and Karpen allow themselves to be entirely vulnerable on stage, allowing the comic and poignant beats of the play to flow organically.

PLAYING GOD comically pits a mere mortal against the wrath of the Almighty. Egotistical obstetrician Scott Fisher (Dana Watkins) decides to interfere with the natural birth cycle and hasten the arrival of his Brittany’s (Flora Diaz) baby. He's not doing it out of concern for the patient, he just wants to reschedule the due date so he can dash off to Chile while the skiing is still good. God (Bill Buell) sees this as an encroachment on his territory. As he tells his assistant (Welker White), Fisher “needs a crash course in humility”. Soon, the young doctor finds himself literally playing God– on a squash court in Boca Raton. Assuming he'll trounce the old timer, Fisher is in for a rude awakening. Playwright Alan Zweibel could stand to further explore the comedic possibilities of his premises. But the script does contain its share of grand one liners and even a bit of Shavian discourse on the subject of Science vs. Faith, all of it volleyed with expert comic timing by Buell and Watkins.

Graham Moore's docudrama ACOLYTE takes place in 1954, in the New York apartment where Ayn Rand (Orlagh Cassidy) plays hostess to a couple of her eager young disciples. Recently wed, Barbara (Bronte Englandnelson) and Nathaniel Branden (Sam Lilja) are having some marital difficulties– and not just because he's an Aristotelian, while she favors the teachings Plato. Ayn, of course, capitalizes on the opportunity to preach her own philosophy of rational self-interest. Ayn's husband Frank (Ted Koch) purports to be a Regular Joe with little grasp of all this epistemological mumbo jumbo. In fact, he's more aware than anyone of what his wife is capable of. Loosened by booze and heady rhetoric, Nathaniel confesses that he's been harboring a strong attraction to Ayn, and Ayn admits she wouldn’t kick him out of bed either. Of course, if there's any swinging to be done, it must be handled in true Objectivist style, with all interested parties on the same page. How about it, Barbara? Willing to lend your husband's Johnson to The Cause?  The dramatic tension builds effectively as this rather Albee-esque dynamic threatens to hurtle the characters into uncharted emotional territory. Unfortunately, though, the energy dissipates when Ayn rises from her perch to deliver a lecture on the evils of Liberalism and other social trends. Though the charismatic Cassidy delivers the aria with compelling conviction, the monologue seems out of place. A more interesting option would be to delve deeper in to the character of Nathaniel, who would soon become a noted psychotherapist, and would one day author his own influential and widely-read book. Tellingly, he titled it The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

SUMMER SHORTS continues through September 2, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York. Tickets: https://www.ticketcentral.com/59e59/ Online/ default.asp

CLOUD 9

Cast of Cloud 9

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Brandon Walker & Erin Corcoran

In today’s identity-obsessed culture, it’s not hard to see why a young theater company would want ot revisit Caryl Churchill’s gender-fluid meditation on the decline of the British Empire. By the same token, a lot has changed since 1979, and theater that was considered groundbreaking three decades ago can sometimes date poorly. As this spirited, if uneven revival shows, CLOUD 9 may have lost some of its shock value, but the dramatic core of the piece, skillfully built by Churchill, still holds up.

The evening gets off to an awkward start as we are introduced to Clive (Brandon Walker) and his wife Betty (male actor Ari Veach), a British couple living in colonial Africa in 1880. The early scenes are played with a good deal of shrillness and bombast (In! Which! Words! And! Even! Fragments! Of! Words! Are! E! Nunci! Ated! Very! Loudly!). The intention seems to be to underscore a modernist “V effect”. But much of the action feels more like Carol Burnett than Brecht. Once the story gets underway, however, the dark comedy begins to land with more nuance and an intriguing domestic power dynamic emerges. Matriarch Maud (Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia), believes in strictly the traditional roles for women. Clive and Betty’s son Edward (female actor Erin Corcoran), likes to steal dolls from his little sister Victoria (played by a styrofoam head) and fails to fulfill his father’s many expectations. African servant Joshua (white actor Bill McAndrews), acts servile but is constantly up to mischief. Clive flirts flagrantly with Mrs. Saunders (Jane Kahler), a visiting widow. Sexual tensions come to a head when explorer Harry Bagley (Robin Friend Stift), returns to “civilization” after months in the wilderness. Harry has trysts with Joshua and Edward, and tries with Clive as well. Appalled at his friend’s proclivities, Clive tries to fix the situation by marrying Harry off to governess Ellen (Kahler) a lesbian. As if the erotic mayhem weren’t enough, Churchill throws in an African rebellion, which, despite Clive’s violent efforts to squelch it, pulls all the characters into its vortex.

The second act is considerably more subdued, and the actors wear their roles with greater ease. In yet another surreal trope, the characters have only aged 25 years, but the world is a century older. Knocking around London, everyone seems to be searching for the New Normal. Gone are the seen-and-not-heard strictures of Victorian child rearing. If anything, little Cathy (Walker) controls her mum Lin (Corcoran) and not the other way round. Victoria (Schlegel-Mejia) loves Lin but isn’t quite sure how a same-sex marriage works. Edward (Stift) is clear that he wants to play the wifely role in his relationship with Gerry (Veach). But Gerry’s is too busy hooking up with random blokes to settle down. Betty’s husband Martin, struggling to keep pace with a changing culture, talks bluntly about sex and professes to be writing “a women’s novel, from the woman’s point of view.” All that remains of the old imperial system is the conflict in Northern Ireland, in which Lin’s brother, a soldier in the British army, loses his life. The play becomes a series of vignettes and monologues, some with an appealing lyricism which provides a pleasant counterbalance to the lustier first act. Viewed from a modern perspective, the characters (and perhaps the playwright) seem both touchingly innocent and maddeningly naive. They’re living on the cusp of Thatcher-Reagan era, AIDS crisis, and the emergence of a new world order. Like their Colonialist forebears, they don’t see the writing in the wall.

CLOUD 9 continues through July 16 at the Access Theatre, 380 Broadway, New York, New York. Tickets: Ovationtix.com.