THE FLATIRON HEX

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Photo: Richard Termine

Created and performed by James Godwin

Blending elements of speculative fiction, film noir, mysticism and social satire, this inventive performance piece provides a fresh, energetic take on the well-travelled genre of dystopian lit.

Using puppets, projections and a host of intriguing props and costumes, performer/creator James Godwin takes us on a journey through the mean streets of NYORG. A none-too-pleasant future version of Manhattan, NYORG is constantly under threat from impending megastorms. The only way to keep the city safe is to use “meat computers’ (mainframes built from living tissue), to predict weather patterns. Wylie Walker, the show’s Raymond Chandler-esque narrator, has an unusual day job. He’s a professional shaman: basically a metaphysical mechanic who performs exorcisms on malfunctioning organic machines. His father was in the business, too, until an “accident” caused his untimely death. Not the most experienced member of the crew, Wylie is usually given mundane tasks. But when the company’s top man falls ill, Wylie is called upon to tackle an important assignment. He finds himself missing a crucial piece of equipment, and the procedure goes catastrophically wrong. This leaves Wylie with few allies and a lot of questions. What happened to the missing key? Who would want to sabotage the exorcism? And most crucially, how can the city’s immune system be restored before the storm hits? With the time running out, our hero embarks on an odyssey that takes him to from a corrupt mayor’s office to a magical sewer, a digital afterlife, and beyond.

Godwin displays remarkable vocal dexterity and boundless energy as he transforms into a host of human, subhuman, ectoplasmic and folkloric characters. He is aided by Jay Ryan’s lighting design, which eases the story’s transitions through time and space, and gives an added punch to the show’s visual style. The quest-driven script is leavened with generous dollops of comedy, but Godwin and co-writer/director Tom Burnett aren’t out to create a spoof. Their humor comes from the sheer joy of getting inside the genres they love. Though it could stand tightening in a few spots, THE FLATIRON HEX still delivers as thrilling a ride – and better special effects- than most Hollywood blockbusters have to offer.

THE FLATIRON HEX continues through May 30th at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, between Rivington and Delancey Streets, New York, New York, Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/171, For upcoming performances and master classes by James Godwin, visit http://www.littleshadowproductions.com.

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28 MARCHANT AVENUE

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Written and Directed by Steven Carl McCasland

Currently running in rep with several other history-based plays by Steven Carl McCasland, 28 MARCHANT AVENUE paints an illuminating and compassionate picture of a turbulent time in the life of the Kennedy clan.

Tensions run high at the family’s Cape Cod compound as America girds for war. The two oldest sons, Joe Junior (Paul Thomas Ryan) and Jack (Colin Fisher), will inevitably be pressed into military service. In a more private family matter, the Kennedy’s eldest daughter Rose Marie (Kristen Gehling) has blossomed into womanhood and is attracting plenty of attention from boys. Rose Marie is “different”, and her parents worry that someone will take advantage of her. Public appearances and family gatherings are also disrupted by Rose Marie’s willful personality and propensity for sudden, uncontrollable outbursts. Something clearly must be done, and soon, but the medical options of the time are horrifying. Ever the politician, Joe Senior (Orlando Iriarte) tries to gather support for his plan to have Rose Marie treated with an experimental new form of surgery. Consent proves difficult to achieve. Compassionate Eunice (Rachel Adams) and plainspoken Kathleen (Kimberly Faye Greenberg) grow increasingly contentious, and even younger siblings Bobby (Brian Piehl) and Patricia (Kelly Reader) are drawn into the fray. All of them will be changed forever, but it is matriarch Rose (Dorothy Weems) whose grief and bravery we feel the most as she struggles to maintain a public image of togetherness even as her family slips from her grip.

McCaslan’s solidly-constructed script renders all the characters in three dimensions, each with talents, flaws, and ambitions. Yet the arias never feel forced, and the players’ entrances and exits are deftly interwoven into the tragic arc of the story. The actors coalesce well into an ensemble, with Weems, like her character, providing a strong emotional center. The show’s only shortcoming is that, with its 11-member cast, it feels a bit too big for its venue. Although the Clarion is a comfortable and well-maintained space, its ground plan and lighting kit impose tricky limitations on the flow of action. McCaslan makes it work, directing with a confident hand and wisely emphasizing intimacy over scope. But it would be wonderful to see this moving and relevant production find the larger room, and broader audience, it deserves.

28 MARCHANT AVENUE continues through May 31 at the Clarion Theatre, 309 East 26th Street, New York, New York. Tickets: http://www.showclix.com/events/1307

ONE HAND CLAPPING

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Adapted and directed by Lucia Cox

Based on a short novel by Anthony Burgess, this mordant take on middle class life in postwar Britain seeks to examine the impact of consumerism on the machinations of everyday life and love. It’s a provocative topic. Yet, despite meticulous direction, acting and design, ONE HAND CLAPPING only partially succeeds.

Used car salesman Howard Shirley (Oliver Devoti) is afflicted with what we would call today mild autism. He’s compulsive about everything from the order of the books on to his shelves to his doom-and-gloom pronouncements on the state of the word. Luckily, there’s another, more useful aspect to the specialness of Howard’s mind. He has a photographic memory, which enables him to win big on a popular quiz show. He parlays his winnings into an even bigger fortune as he discovers he also has a knack for picking horses at the track. At Howard’s insistence, his wife Janet (Eve Burley) quits her supermarket job and the two go on a luxurious trip around the world.  At first, having money to spend is fun for the young couple, but problems still persist. Howard’s depression worsens. And Janet, weary of her husband’s rigidity, runs into the bohemian arms of writer Redvers Glass (Adam Urey), whom Howard has commissioned to write a poem. Janet’s zest for life and Howard’s misanthropy inevitably clash, leading to alarming consequences.

The show gets off to an intriguing start, but runs out of energy as it struggles to line up its satirical tone with a worthwhile target. Janet’s unsophisticated narration often seems designed to provoke derisive, rather that empathic laughter. And though the actors give sincere and committed performances, the characters nonetheless come off sounding like ideas rather than real people. The script makes a few valid (if obvious) points about the vulgarization of modern culture. But Burgess sprays his vitriol too indiscriminately, and with scant wit. The production values, on the other hand, are impressively rich. Director/adaptor Lucia Cox and designer Meriel Pym have created a visually arresting world in which both the domestic coziness and the underlying creepiness of the Cold War era come vividly to life. It would be wonderful to see them apply their considerable talents to more worthy source material. ONE HAND CLAPPING continues at 59E59 Theaters through May 31, 2015. 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison. Tickets 212-279-4200.

COOL HAND LUKE

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Adapted by Emma Reeves

Directed by Joe Tantalo

With ever-increasing confidence, director Joe Tantalo has been honing a lean, visceral approach to staging provocative, often misunderstood, works modern fiction. With COOL HAND LUKE, adapted by Emma Reeves from Donn Pearce’s semi-autobiographical novel, Tantalo and the Godlight Theater Company bring musicality, grit and spirit to a allegorical tale of a Southern chain gang’s struggle for redemption.

Luke (Lawrence Jansen) has a tough time adjusting to civilian lifer after serving with distinction in World War II. Society sees him as a liberator of the oppressed, but Luke finds the label ironic. As he recalls it, he and his fellow soldiers didn’t always receive a hero’s welcome as they marched across Europe. And as the enemy became unpredictable, the Americans followed suit. The Allied troupes saved some villagers, but raped robbed and harassed others. With his psyche scrambled by moral ambiguity and battle fatigue, Joe knocks around his home town looking for trouble Despite the best efforts of his mother (Kristina Doelling), Luke embarks on a life of petty theft and heavy drinking. When the law catches up with him, Luke finds himself sentenced to hard labor and chained together with a motley group of convicts and. At first, Dragline (Mike Jansen), Curly (Lars Drew), Rabbit (Jarrod Zayas) and Society Red (Brett Warnke) don’t know what to make of the “newcock,” who always has a smile on his face. In time, though, the gang comes to embrace Luke as a kind of messiah. No matter how brutally Boss Godfrey (Nick Paglino) and his henchmen (Jason Bragg Stanley and Ken King), try to impose their authority, somehow they cannot break Luke. And as the stakes grow higher, the other inmates discover their own will to be free—or die trying.

Confidently driving the story, Lawrence Jansen neatly embodies the inner demons beneath Luke’s cool exterior. He is matched by a versatile and emotionally raw supporting cast, some of whom morph nimbly into multiple characters. A potent sense of the story’s region and period is evoked by Danny Blackburn and Bryce Hodgson’s original music and by the soulful singing of Julia Torres (who also does an appealing turn as one of Luke’s abettors). Godlight veterans Maruti Evans, (lighting and set design) and Orli Nativ (costumes) give the show an arresting, chiaroscuro visual style that encapsulates the story’s ambiguities eases the show’s novel-like transitions between different time frames and locations.

COOL HAND LUKE continues through May 31 2015. 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison. Tickets 212-279-4200.

GIGI

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Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Adapted by Heidi Thomas
Directed by Eric Schaeffer

Although it’s been over fifty years since it broke records at the Oscars, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Leowe’s sophisticated, buoyant take on Belle Epoque manners doesn’t feel the least bit dated. Thanks to the enduring wit and solidity of the songs and Heidi Thomas’s brisk new book, the show feels right at home among the more recently- minted offerings of an unusually colorful Broadway season.

The eponymous heroine (Vanessa Hudgens) is a provincial adolescent, forced by the death of her parents to relocate to bustling Paris. Though she is well cared for by her homespun grandmother (Victoria Clark), Gigi has a tough time adjusting to the big city. Parisians talk endlessly of love and are deeply committed to social posturing, neither of which interests Gigi. Her independent spirit meets with sharp rebukes from her jewelry-obsessed Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty), whose intention is to groom Gigi for a life as a courtesan. Family acquaintance Gaston (Corey Cott), heir to a large sugar fortune, is more cosmopolitan. Yet he, too, fails to see the relevance of l’amour in a world where advancements in science and engineering are much more exciting. Gaston isn’t quite sure what he wants, but he does know it isn’t what his womanizing uncle Honoré (Howard McGillin) his rapacious mistress Liane (Steffanie Leigh), have in mind for him. Of course, both ingénues succumb to thrill of romance eventually. But finding their own brand of happiness means ducking reporters and swimming against the social current- a challenging, if exhilarating, enterprise.

Hudgens brings a contemporary, pop sensibility to her phrasing and delivery. It doesn’t always suit the material, but her magnetic stage presence and unaffected winsomeness make her ideal for the part nonetheless. Her transformation from coltish gamine to poised society lady is neatly mirrored by Cott, who brings spontaneity and heart, as well as vocal dexterity, to his portrayal of Gaston. Naturally, some of the show’s best songs are written for the supporting characters. McGillin and Clark share a piquant chemistry as the older-and-wiser couple that might have been. Doty’s glittering, formidable Alicia and Leigh’s entitled Liane feel simultaneously true to he period and perennially modern (throw in a little Botox and they could pass for the one percenters of today).

As in the film version, Paris itself is one of the stars. Designer Catherine Zuber (costumes), Derek McLane (sets) and Natasha Katz (lighting), have clearly studied the work of Toulouse-Lautrec and Jules Cheret, and the show’s opulent parade of rich colors and sinuous shapes feels like an Art Nouveau lithograph come to life. The dance numbers, choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, are both dazzling to the eye and ingeniously comic. The careening tipplers of “The Night They Invented Champagne” and the vulture-like posturing of “The Gossips” are particularly inventive. Director Eric Schaeffer keeps the story moving at a tempo that is consistently lively, but never rushed.

GIGI continues in an open run at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street
New York, New York. Tickets:(877) 250-2929.

THE JOY OF SAX

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Punning aside, THE JOY OF SAX is an apt title for the energetic and appealing approach Pete and Will Anderson take to making music. Cleary thrilled to be working with world-class sidemen, the Andersons have compiled an eclectic menu of jazz compositions that showcase their mercurial talents. Iconic composers like George Gershwin, Leigh Harline and Antonio Carlos Jobim are well represented, but contemporary tunesmiths make a welcome appearance as well (Pete Anderson’s original tune “Deja Vu” is one of the show’s highlights). The twins’ exuberant style is balanced by the mellower tones of Harry Allen on tenor sax. Drummer Kenny Washington, whose list of past collaborators reads like a Who’s Who of Jazz legends, is as adept at providing subtle shading to a seductive ballad as he is at turning up the heat for a swinging, up-tempo jam session. On the Hammond B3 organ, the versatile Pat Bianchi paints a rich spectrum of musical colors that adds depth and luminosity to the horn sections’ flights of fancy. The magnificent Andersons have a charming, modest style as they chat between numbers, and their easy rapport with the audience helps keep add buoyancy to the proceeding. Mostly, though, they do their talking through their instruments. And their message – that jazz is as enjoyable, relevant and vital as ever – deserves to be heard.

THE JOY OF SAX continues at 59E59 Theaters through May 7, 2015. 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison. Tickets 212-279-4200. Check here for upcoming Anderson Twins tour dates: http://peterandwillanderson.com/shows/