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=

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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.