DEATH OF THE PERSIAN PRINCE

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Written and directed by Dewey Moss

Although it’s now common knowledge that homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, the American media hasn’t delved deeply into the root causes or social repercussions of this atrocious policy. In an insightful, if uneven new drama, playwright-director Dewey Moss sheds light on the human cost of intolerance and the struggles of persecuted gay Iranians to assert their identities and reconcile their relationships with family, religion and culture.

Attractive, intelligent Samantha (Pooya Mohseni), has fled her home county to seek a better life and in New York. Her boyfriend James (George Faya), is a U.S. Army veteran trying to get on with his life after the trauma of war. He’s crazy about Samantha, but feels puzzled by her cagy responses to his questions about her past and her plans for the future. While James is out buying wine, Samantha gets a visit from the last person she expects: her brother Cas (Gopal Divan). Sinister and volatile, Cas insists that Samantha should give up her American dreams and come back home where she belongs. When she resists, Cas ruthlessly ratchets up his tactics. James intervenes before anything dire can happen. But after witnessing Cas’s strange behavior and murky allusions to the past, James is ready for some real answers. The truth turns out to be much darker and more complicated than he could have imagined, and the true identity of his beloved “Samantha” is not what he assumed.

The well-cast actors give committed performances, and Moss navigates the play’s real-time framework skillfully. The middle section of the play, however, proves a bit problematic. Both script-wise and directorially, the menacing Cas comes across as an over-the-top, “crusader”-blaming villain. Divan has a strong stage presence and is certainly capable of playing the subtext if Moss would allow to do so. Instead there is far too much screaming and jittering where coiled menace would have been more effective. Still, it’s impossible not to be moved by the story of the life Samantha left behind, the unfinished business that continues to haunt her, and of the plight of those who fared less fortunately. With a little tweaking, DEATH OF THE PERSIAN PRINCE could be as theatrically satisfying as it is socially relevant.

For more information: http://deathofthepersianprince.com

THE NEW MORALITY

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Written by Harold Chapin

Directed by Jonathan Bank

The Mint Theater Company, dedicated to unearthing neglected plays, has this time discovered a true gem. Blending battle-of-the-sexes satire with a frothy Edwardian comedy of manners, THE NEW MORALITY captures a potent moment in British history when propriety was still a cornerstone of middle class life, but Victorian strictures had begun to collapse under their own weight.

Strong-willed Betty Jones (Brenda Meaney) has caused quite a stir among the inhabitants of a well-to-do colony of houseboat vacationers on the Thames River. As everyone within earshot knows, Betty spent the previous evening telling off Muriel Wister (offstage). It seems Muriel has been getting a tad responsive to the overtures of Betty’s husband, Colonel Jones (Michael Frederic). Betty’s demure friend Alice (Clemmie Evans) counsels contrition. But an apology is not forthcoming, and the husbands find themselves reluctantly drawn into a battle of wills. Timid Wallace Wister (Ned Noyes) is ill-suited to the task, but Muriel expects him to fight for her honor, Blustering threats and counter-threats follow. Betty’s brother (Christian Campbell), a cynical lawyer, is on hand in case a libel suit arises from the conflict. Even the servants (Kelly McCready and Douglas Rees) are hard-pressed to maintain order as the conflict spirals out of control. All this friction combines with record high temperatures to wear away the characters’ thin veneer of civility. Uncomfortable truths bubble to the surface and outdated value systems are called into question. For this to end well, sacrifices will have to be made on all sides.

Despite the play’s constraints of time and space, Harold Chapin’s script never feels stilted or expository. Comic tension rarely lags and the humor is character-driven, lending the story a freshness that transcends its period. Director Jonathan Bank moves his baton at the right speed: brisk, but not rushed. The ensemble goes at the material with confidence and zeal, with the radiantly mischievous Meaney providing a formidable epicenter. Like a comedic Hedda Gabler, she embodies the cold enjoyment Betty derives from putting people on the spot as well as the wounded woman within. The production is also visually satisfying, thanks to the color and whimsy of Steven C. Kemp’s sets, Carisa Kelly’s costumes and Christian DeAngelis’ lighting design.

THE NEW MORALITY continues through October 13th at the Mint Theater 311 West 43rd Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10036 | Box Office: 866-811-4111

DROP DEAD PERFECT

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Written by Erasmus Fenn

Directed by Joe Brancato

Carrying on the aesthetic forged by Charles Ludlam and The Ridiculous Theater Company, playwright Erasmus Fenn has concocted a colorful, if flawed, vehicle for Ridiculous veteran Everett Quinton. A comical mash-up of THE GLASS MENAGERIE, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, I Love Lucy, Psycho and other cult favorites, DROP DEAD PERFECT is rarely more than clever, but it  does give Quinton and company plenty chew on.

Wealthy Idris Seabright (Everett Quinton) lives in an opulent home in the Florida Keys with her disabled ward Vivien (Jason Edward Cook). A formidable grand dame of the Crawford-Davis mould, Idris is used to getting her way. This doesn’t sit well Vivien, who is eager to break away. Believing there’s a market for her phallic-looking abstract sculptures, she seeks to start a new life in New York. Conniving lawyer Phineas Fenn (Timothy C. Goodwin), has his own reasons for keeping Vivien pinned to the Seabright house. He’s hoping she’ll accept his proposal of marriage, though she has shown no romantic interest in him thus far. Into this tense atmosphere sneaks Ricardo (Jason Cruz), a handsome but shady Cuban seducer who soon has everyone staggering around in an erotic stupor. Ricardo and Idris share a dark secret pertaining to the Seabright family’s troubled past, and as hidden truths emerge, the stakes grow higher. Vivien has one last chance to escape before Idris’s murderous need for control becomes a raging conflagration that threatens to destroy everything it path.

Despite the fact that today’s audiences have seen this type of satire before, there are enough strong elements here to potentially craft a good show. Under Joe Brancato’s direction, the actors find the right balance between caricature and sincerity. James J. Fenton’s scenic design and Charlotte Palmer-Lane’s costumes evoke the opulence of vintage Hollywood drama. There are dance numbers that showcase Cruz and Cook’s remarkable dexterity. Ultimately, though, the show just isn’t tight enough. It’s essentially a one act concept, and over the course of 90 minutes, maintaining the right campy tone proves challenging. The comedic beats, when they come, land effectively, but there is too much stage time devoted to the play’s rather convoluted plot. Fenn (or whoever’s behind the pseudonym), needs to cut away the fat and keep the jokes coming at a faster clip.

DROP DEAD PERFECT continues through Oct 24, 2015 at Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W 46th St (at 9th Avenue), New York, NY 10036 For tickets call: (845) 786-2873