27

 

mg_2322mastervoices27-300x1882x

Written by Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek

Directed by James Robinson

Briskly paced and delivered with brio, MasterVoices new production takes a refreshingly playful – though by no means sugarcoated – look at some of the key figures of 20 Century culture. Clocking in at 90 minutes with no intermission, the opera derives its title from the Paris home where American expats Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas lived and worked for 40 years. It’s a fitting appellation, both because the domicile housed the first great collection of modern art, and because many public and private dramas were played out within its walls.  History, both elevated and barbaric, came to came to call at 27 Rue De Fleurus.

The show begins during the heyday of the budding Modernist movement. Against a backdrop of empty picture frames, Gertrude (Stephanie Blythe), entertains Picasso, Matisse, Man Ray and other art world luminaries. All the artists are eager to have their work anointed by Stein, but co-hostess Alice (Heidi Stober), does a bit of eye rolling. Geniuses, after all, don’t always make the most considerate guests. Nonetheless, she’s happy to see Gertrude collecting works of art that will one day become iconic while working on her own poetry as well. With the advent of World War, the soirees cease for a time as coal and food become scarce. In the prosperous 1920s, the Salon once again becomes the center of an artistic renaissance. Hemingway and Fitzgerald, accompanied by their wives, drop by to drink (and drink, and drink) and discuss new forms of literature. Sadly, Europe again is dragged into war, and Paris falls prey to German occupation. Under the Third Reich, being Jewish, American or openly gay can get a person killed. Gertrude and Alice are all three, yet they make it through the 1940’s unscathed. That’s because Gertrude has befriended high-ranking intellectuals in the collaborationist Vichy government and works as translator of for its rightwing leader, Marshal Philippe Pétain. It’s a puzzling choice for Stein, especially considering that she could have gone back to the States, or slipped away to neutral Switzerland. Whatever the moral cost, Stein survives with her legacy intact: Unlike many other cultural troves, 27 Rue De Fleurus escapes being looted by the Nazis. Throughout it all, Alice remains fiercely devoted. Even death cannot sunder the bond between them.

Whether Gertrude’s collaboration with fascist panjandrums was motivated by passion or pragmatism is a subject still hotly debated by Stein scholars. But composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek aren’t here to pronounce judgment. Their goal is, like Picasso, to paint a warts-and-all portrait of their complex subject. They rise to the challenging admirably, with Gordon’s richly harmonic sound palette encapsulating the bright and dark aspect of Stein’s personality. Likewise Vavrek’s lilting lyrics, many of them reminiscent of Stein’s own poetry, evoke a variety of moods ranging from the heady energy of artistic revolution to wistful reflections on the ravages of time. Blythe’s warm, powerful mezzo-soprano centers the ensemble while lyric soprano Stober, like her character, exhibits affecting purity both individually and in counterpoint with her partner. Under Ted Sperling’s energetic baton, the leads are given ample support by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and a 150- member chorus. Bass-baritone Daniel Brevik, baritone Tobias Greenhalgh and tenor Theo Lebow gamely morph into a rich array of characters. James Robinson directs with humor and heart, while painterly touches are provided by scenic designer Allen Moyer, costume designer by James Schuette, and lighting design by James F. Ingalls.

27 was performed on October 20th and 21st as 21, 2016 as part of MasterVoices 75th Anniversary Celebration New York City Center, 131 W. 55th Street, New York, New York. Website: http://www.mastervoices.org

 

 

HEISENBERG

02heisenberg-tmagarticle

Written by Simon Stephens

Directed by Mark Brokaw

 

Relationships, especially in their early stages, have something in common with theoretical physics. Results defy predictions, and the perspective of the observer influences the outcome of the experiment. At least, that’s what Simon Stephens seems to have had in mind when he named his quirky new two-hander after the father of the Uncertainty Principle. For all that, HEISENBERG doesn’t delve as deeply as it should into the subatomic particles of the human psyche. But its endearing protagonists and seasoned cast still provide enough to satisfy audience who seek lighter fare.

At a crowded London train station, American divorcee Georgie Burns (Mary-Louise Parker) walks up behind septuagenarian Alex Priest (Denis Arndt) plants a kiss on his neck. She claims to have mistaken him for someone else. Like many things Georgie will say through their relationship, this may or may not be true. Either way, the ice has been broken and a kind of courtship follows. Sounding more like the Many Worlds Interpretation than any of Heisenberg’s theories, bubbly Georgie does tells numerous different versions of her life story. Alex, courteous but reticent, reveals little more than the fact that he’s single and makes his living as a butcher. That’s enough information for Georgie to go on, she shows up a few days later at his shop. At first Alex feels rattled by the unexpected visit, but Georgie’s charm and onslaught of chipper chatter wears down his resistance. Putting aside his concerns about their age difference, he agrees to take her out to dinner. The date goes well and sex follows. It’s only after the lovemaking that Georgie comes out with a disturbing request. She’s in trouble, or so she says, and needs financial help. Alex begins to wonder begins if all her little fibs are indicative of a more serious tendency towards dishonesty. Perhaps he’s nothing more to Georgie than an easy mark, her attraction to him a cynical sham. Alex, rusty after years of solitude, is torn between two daunting options. If he gives the relationship another chance, he risks getting hurt. If he lets her go, he’ll probably spend his twilight years alone. After a bit of soul-searching, he musters the wherewithal to do the right thing.

Arndt and Parker are well matched as a duet. His gentle baritone, inflected with a trace of Irish brogue, is an apt compliment to her nasal American coloratura. Their unflagging authenticity, seemingly spontaneous, is clearly the product of exhaustive exploration. Stephens endows his characters with intelligence and curiosity that elevate the show above more commonplace portrayals of May-December romance. His language is especially effective when illuminating the odd insights known only to people who spend a lot of time alone: lyrical corners of the world most people don’t take the time to notice. Plot-wise, though, the play’s dramatic stakes could stand to be raised considerably. Georgie and Alex seem more in like than in love, resulting in an evening of theater that is more pleasant than it is riveting. It would be intriguing to see Stephens apply his considerable skills to a more probing look at the challenges two people face when struggling to find a common language — especially in a world where, to quote the play’s namesake, “the reality we can put into words is never reality itself.”

HEISENBERG continues through December 10, 2016 at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre,
261 West 47th Street, New York,  NY. Tickets: http://www.telecharge.com /Broadway/ Heisenberg/ Overview

90210! THE MUSICAL!

117181

Written by Bob & Tobly MsSmith

Directed and choreographed by Donald Garverick

The latest in a cavalcade of TV and movie spoofs by kitsch mavens Bob and Tobly McSmith, this high voltage pasquinade delivers exactly what its title promises. Sporting a a tirelessly upbeat cast and a pop-inflected score by Assaf Gleizner, the show neatly compresses 10 seasons of the legendary teen soap opera into a brisk two acts. Everything about the series is fair game for ridicule, including the nepotism that made Tori Spelling a star and the crow’s feet and receding hairlines that appeared on members of the “teenage” cast. Of course, it’s all done with a generous dollop of affection and nostalgia for a time when network TV served up guilty pleasures with unabashed avidity. Obviously, some of the japes will go over the heads of audiences who didn’t grow up watching the original series But even the uninitiated will get the gist of the story and recognize its archetypes.

When their folks take jobs on the West Coast, twin siblings Brandon Walsh (Landon Zwick) and Brenda Walsh (Ana Marcu) relocate to posh appearance-driven Beverly Hills. The culture shock has them reeling at first. Raised in Minneapolis, these kids have never seen anything like boozehound Steve Sanders (Seth Blum), popularity queen Kelly Taylor (Alexis Kelley) or inwardly-sensitive bad boy Dylan McKay (Alan Trinca). Surrounded by all these “drama zombies”, Brenda and Brandon don’t have an easy time holding on to their Midwestern values. The twins’ nurturing parents, Jim and Cindy (played by Hensonesque puppets in the plays’ most sidesplitting beat), try to keep the kids on track with a bit of homespun advice. But their frequent bathrobe malfunctions only serve to make things even more awkward. Nonetheless, the Minnesotans gradually begin to feel accepted by the cool clique. They are even invited to hang out at the Peach Pit, a diner run by the avuncular Nat (Blum again). Brenda joins a movement dedicated to making sure Tori (Caleb Dehne) is allowed to graduate. Brandon finds a sense of purpose by working for the school newspaper, where he befriends studious editor Andrea Zuckerman (Blum yet again). Also on hand are freshmen dweeb David Silver (Thaddeus Kolwicz) and his sidekick Scott, whose fondness for playing with his father’s rifle foreshadows a tragedy to come. Soon enough, it’s Brandon and Brenda’s turn to welcome a new student. Emily Valentine (Marcu) proves to be as psychotic as she is fashionable, and when she sets her sites on Brandon, fireworks follow. The drama never ends at West Beverly High.

Director/choreographer Donald Garverick keeps the energy level high, and adds extra parodic flavor by incorporating 90’s dance trends into the show’s deliriously silly numbers. The performers, all of them gifted with Broadway-level chops, are clearly having fun letting their inner teenagers come out and play. They are all well cast in their roles, though for very different reasons. Marcu, for example, is a near dead ringer for the young Shannon Doherty, whereas the gravel-voiced Blum is (to put it mildly) cast against type as Andrea. They are aided by Carmen Mendoza’s spot-on costume design.

The show’s grade point average suffers only in one area: lyrics. Some of the rhymes are extremely clever, as when Nat raps that Drinking Zima will get you “more bombed that Hiroshima.” Unfortunately, though, the writers don’t maintain this level of wit throughout the show. The rhymes can get a bit sloppy, and there are missed opportunities to go further with the characters’ specific vocabularies. Clearly Bob and Tobly have what it takes to ace this subject. They just need to grab some NoDoz and hit the books.

90201! THE MUSICAL! continues through November 19, 206 at theater 80, 80 St. Marks Place, New York, New York. Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com. Episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 are available for streaming on Hulu.com.

 

 

THE BIRDS

thebirds7

Adapted by Conor McPherson from the story Daphne du Maurier

Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski

Writing in 1952, author Daphne Du Maurier imagined a bleak future in which mankind’s survival is threatened by a sinister change in the avian population. In his iconic film adaptation (which didn’t please Du Maurier), Alfred Hitchcock kept little of the plot, but retained the core concept of winged menace. Now Conor McPherson, known for chilling Irish Gothic yarns like THE WEIR, offers a modern spin on ornithopocalypse. As in the previous versions, McPherson keeps things enigmatic. No pat explanations are offered, and audiences are left to guess at what evil forces are at work, what sin awakened the monster. For the 21st Century audiences, THE BIRDS reads as a parable of climate change, Mother Nature’s payback for humanity’s destructive hubris (“Who’s the endangered species, now? Huh? “). Given this contemporary context, McPherson’s new spin ought to feel grippingly relevant. Yet despite a strong cast, there are gaps in the construction of the play that ultimately impede its momentum and muddle its meaning.

Seeking refuge in an abandoned rural New England house, writer Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia) tries to make the most of what little provisions she can find. Like the rest of the human race (what’s left of it), she is seeking shelter from the birds, who have united as a species and are tearing people to shreds. There are human threats as well: people are forming into gangs, looting and killing in order to survive in this ravaged landscape. Diane joins forces fellow fugitive Nat (Tony Naumovski), who is strong and handy but emotionally unstable. The two have just begun to bond when young Julia (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw) turns up at their door. A free spirit who reads palms and quotes Ecclesiastes, Julia enlivens the group dynamic and manages to find some wine and food in a nearby house. The trio begins to coalesce into a family. But Diane questions whether the younger woman, who once ran with a bad group of people, is telling the truth about where she got the goodies. Diane’s suspicions are confirmed when she receives a visit from the Farmer, the only other living human being in the area. Clad in homemade armor, and speaking like a populist politician, the Farmer claims to be the only one who can lead the way to a better life. Diane doesn’t take him up on the offer. She’s more concerned with the fact that his canned onions resemble the ones Julia has been bringing home. Clearly the girl has been trading sex for comestibles, and lying to Matt and Diane about it. Trust is further eroded when Julia uses her nubile charms to lure Matt away from Diane.  An incestuous tug of war ensues, and Diane reshapes her morality to suit her changing environment.

The charisma and credibility of the cast is almost enough to carry this odd drama. Stefan Dzaparoski uses the theater’s round space adroitly and keeps the tension taught. Yet even their best efforts can’t fill in the missing pieces. Matt comes across as something of a disparaging caricature, a panting male easily led by the clever women in his life. Diane is more multidimensional, but her arc (much of it telegraphed through the journal entries she read aloud to the audience), isn’t fully convincing either. Apparently a two hour and 20 minute version of McPherson’s script premiered at the Dublin Theater Festival in 2009. Perhaps taking more time to get to know the characters might have helped the audience follow their transformations. In this leaner, 90 minute edition, something crucial seems to have been sacrificed. Trimming the fat from a script is part of every playwright’s process, but it must be done skillfully lest the good bits disappear as well. Ultimately THE BIRDS leaves us undernourished.

THE BIRDS continues through October 2, 2016 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison, New York, New York.  Tickets: https://www.ticketcentral.com

DEAD SHOT MARY

dsm1

Written by Robert K. Benson

Directed by Stephen Kaliski

In 1931, an ambitious, Irish-born woman named Mary Shanley took the bold step of  joining the mostly male NYPD. In a career spanning over two decades, Shanley racked up over 1000 arrests and became one  of the few women of the time to attain the rank of detective first grade. Her exploits, covered admiringly by the local press, captured the imagination of a public hungry for heroes. A kind of urban Annie Oakley, her pistol-packin’ image represented the can-do character of American womanhood.  Doubtless her example inspired generations of women to pursue careers in law enforcement. But few people learned much about the woman behind the iconic photos. With mixed success, playwright Robert K. Benson and performer Rachel McPhee attempt to paint a more multidimensional portrait of the woman New Yorkers came to know as Dead Shot Mary.

Growing up in a poverty-stricken immigrant family, young Mary seeks a path to a better life. In her neighborhood, it’s the coppers that get respect, and she becomes determined to join the force. The idea sounds farfetched at first, but by the time Mary comes of age, female police officers have begun to gain some traction. Sexism still prevails, but Mary believes – correctly – that given a chance she can prove herself as capable as her male counterparts. During months of training, she pines for the day she can proudly don a police uniform. Yet her first job involves putting on pretty clothes and blending in with the population. Though she initially chafes at the idea, she turns out to be a highly effective undercover cop. Pickpockets, department store shoplifters, phony parishioners who burgle donation plates, fortune tellers who bilk impressionable customers: all become the target of Mary’s ruthlessly efficient detective skills. Often she’s required to investigate nightclubs, which is just fine with Mary. Her appetite for both jazz and booze is considerable. Fame arrives when a newspaper photographer captures Mary’s eye-catching blend of fashion and formidability. Beneath a wide-brimmed hat the detective wears a give-no-quarter expression, and her gloved hand reaches into her dainty purse to clutch that essential accessory, a .38 revolver. Mary’s reputation grows as she receives a commendation from Mayor La Guardia and travels to London to apprehend international scam artists. But the officer’s life is not all glory. Mary’s binge-drinking worsens and she gets demoted when she brandishes her firearm in a pub. Eventually she gets back into the department’s good graces, but her twilight years are haunted by self-doubt.

McPhee handles the period accent skillfully and, with the aid of Peri Grabin Leong’s well-researched costumes, disappears into the part. Both commanding and likable, she carries the audience confidently through the ups and downs of Mary’s life. As a play, though, the production leaves a few too many questions unanswered. Shanley’s crime fighting exploits are compellingly recounted, but Benson and director Stephen Kaliski are less surefooted when it comes to the more personal aspects the narrative. To be fair, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of biographical information available, so a certain amount of guess work is par for the course. Still, a more affecting balance could be struck between Mary’s legend and her true identity. No one knows why she remained single all her life. She certainly wouldn’t have required a husband to support her, but what about the emotional dimension of relationships? Were there lovers? Was Mary gay, straight, or simply an independent soul who cherished her autonomy too much compromise it? The script introduces a few possible theories, but never lands solidly anywhere. This cloudiness might work if the story were told from an outsider’s perspective, but with Mary confessing in the first person, we end up more puzzled than moved by her penchant for rueful introspection. DEAD SHOT MARY has its heart in the right place, but its creators need to line up their targets more decisively.

DEAD SHOT MARY continues through October 15th at The Bridge Theatre 244 W 54th St, New York, NY 10019. Website http://deadshotmary.com/ Tickets: http://tix.smarttix.com/ Modules/Sales/SalesMainTabsPage.aspx?ControlState=1&SalesEventId=5796&DC=

 

 

THE TROJAN WOMEN

trojanwomen2_allisonstock

Adapted by Ellen McLaughlin
Directed by Anne Cecelia Haney

Written shortly after the barbaric Athenian conquest of Melos, Euripides’s tenth tragedy was designed to inspire his countrymen, if not to give peace a chance, at least to think twice about the human cost of war. Told from the point of view of the vanquished, THE TROJAN WOMEN remains a significant work, its allegories applicable to contemporary conflicts. Trimming the script to a brisk 60 minutes, adaptor Ellen McLaughlin highlights the play’s themes of remembrance, identity and survival, while trimming away some of the lengthier dithyrambs of the original.

In the quiet after the carnage, sea god Poseidon (Thomas Muccioli) walks among the lumbering women of a once great society. As their city burns, the Troades awaken to face a grim future. As we learn from the Chorus (Amanda Centeno,  Chun Cho,  Clea Decrane, Jenny Jarnagin, Kyra Riley, and Jennifer Tchiapke), the women of Troy were artists, healers, farmers and craftswomen.  Now reduced to spoils of war, they will be taken as brides, concubines and slaves by the conquering Greeks. Many, like Hecuba, (DeAnna Supplee) are mourning the loss of their husbands, fathers and sons. Prescient Cassandra(Lindsley Howard), whose visions of the destruction of Troy went unheeded, now takes perverse delight in her new premonition : she is going be murdered, but her new Greek masters will suffer, too. Helen of Troy (Rebeca Rad) mocks their lamentations. Hardened by years of captivity, she has learned to hold her head up even under subjugation.  Her presence is not welcomed by the women. After all, it was the Greek king’s lust for Helen that started the war in the first place. Seeking to mar her legendary beauty, the women attack Helen, but their misplaced objurgation changes nothing.  Hope arrives in the form of the infant son of Hecuba’s daughter–in-law Andromache (Casey Wortmann).  Hecuba instructs Andromache to “teach him to remember”, to carry the story of Troy forward into the future . Alas, it is not to be. In the drama’s most heart-wrenching turn, Greek soldier Talthybius (Phil Feldman) ruefully proclaims that the child must die.  Still the Trojan women endure, never forgetting the world they left behind.

McLaughlin and director Anne Cecelia Haney wisely don’t oversell the relevance of the narrative. Its universality speaks for itself, especially given the show’s visual style. Scenic/costume designer Marte Johanne Ekhougen frames the action in a bunker-like space of concrete walls and bare light bulbs. The captives, as well as the soldiers who periodically enter the scene, are mostly clad in muted, culturally-ambiguous apparel. Only Helen and Andromache, wives of royal warriors, appear in colorful finery.  Anchored by Supplee’s commanding Hecuba, the cast the delivers the confident, visceral work for which the Bats (The Flea’s resident acting troupe) are well known.  Their unaffected approach to this challenging material potently embodies both the mythic and the modern elements of the text.

THE TROJAN WOMEN continues through September 30, 2016 at the Flea Theater is located at 41 White Street (between Broadway & Church Streets), New York, New York. Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/960702

A DAY BY THE SEA

 

Directing Austin Pendleton Sets Charles Morgan Costumes Martha Hally Lights Xavier Pierce Original Music & Sound Jane Shaw Props Joshua Yocom

 PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine

By N.C. Hunter

Directed By Austin Pendleton

Playwright Norman Charles Hunter merits the adjective Chekhovian in more ways than one. In setting and structure, Hunter’s work certainly shows the influence of the master of tragicomedy. As a historic figure, too, Hunter had something in common with the vanishing bourgeoisie of turn-of-the-century Russia. Once the toast of the British stage, Hunter, along with Terrence Rattigan and other West End luminaries, was destined to see his world swept away by the tide of revolution. In 1955, when John Osborne’s LOOK BACK IN ANGER ushered in the era of angry (read whiny) young man, Hunter’s gentler approach to drama went out of fashion almost overnight. Looked at through 21st Century eyes, though, Hunter’s insightful take on rising cost of ideals is surprisingly relevant. The characters that populate A DAY BY THE SEA are hardly the anyone-for-tennis stereotypes associated with British drawing room fluff. They are, like most of us, concerned about their careers, worried about the state of the world, and struggling to make sense of their relationships.

Now in his early forties, hardworking diplomat Julian Anson (Julian Elfer), once dreamed aiding in the causes of world peace and social justice. At the very least, it would be nice if he could advance beyond the middle management position he holds at a small government bureau in Paris. Unfortunately, Julian’s a little too zealous for his own good, and is not well liked by his lackadaisical employers. As he waits to hear from a colleague (Sean Gormley) if a promotion is in the cards, Julian pays what the thinks will be a brief visit to his family estate in the lovely seaside town of Dorset. Here he finds a motley assortment of folks each coping with some sort of personal conundrum. His mother Laura (Jill Tanner) keeps busy running the estate while caring for elderly Uncle David (George Morfogen). Her only assistance in this effort comes from Dr. Farley (Philip Goodwin), who is given free room and board and all the gin he can drink. Estate manager William Gregson (Curzon Dobell), seeks to improve the property, but gets little support from frugal Laura and seeks Julian’s help in changing her mind. The atmosphere is soon energized by the arrival of lovely Frances Farrar (Katie Firth). Taken in by Laura after her parents died, Frances spent a good part of her childhood at the Dorset estate and holds many fond memories. Now she has two children of her own, and is faced with the challenge of bringing them up on her own. Having lost one husband in World War II and another in a scandalous divorce, she has no idea how she’ll support her young son Toby (Athan Sporek ) and daughter Elinor (Kylie McVey). She would seem to be a perfect match for Julian, and a romantic chemistry begins to develop between the two singles. In a parallel scenario, the doctor- a good man despite his bad habits- wins the admiration of governess Miss Mathieson (Polly McKie). Her nurturing touch might be just the thing to pull him back from the abyss. Of course, drawing up blueprints for happiness is one thing. Putting a plan into action is another, and there are more surprises to come before the end of the day.

Although the evening moves a leisurely clip, the dramatic never slackens and the suspense mounts considerably towards the play’s conclusion. We care whether Julian will pop the question or pull a Lopakhin and lose his nerve, how Frances will react if he does propose, and whether the doctor will put the booze down long enough to realize see that Ms. Mathieson is his last. best hope. Director Austin Pendleton, unceasingly dedicated to absolute honesty on stage, draws quietly powerful performances from a talented, committed ensemble. Alive to the subtleties of the script, the actors move with an innate awareness that every line, every beat, signals a change in their characters’ psyches. The house by the sea is, of course, a kind character in its own right, and is given a strong presence by Charles Morgan’s painterly set design, Martha Hally’s period costumes and Joshua Yocom’s props. Xavier Pierce’s fluid lighting changes underscore the play’s central metaphor; the summer sun burns brightly, then all too quickly fades.

A DAY BY THE SEA continues throughOctober 23rd, 2016 at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, Between 9th and 10th Avenues, New York, NY 10036. Tickets: https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/A-Day-by-the-Sea-Mint-Theater-Company/Ticket

Fringe report: TAKE ONE

1.-TAKE-ONE-ensemble-Act-II-460x345

Written by  Jeff Ward

Directed by Michael Schiralli

As Ernest Hemingway famously stated, “The first draft of anything is s**t.” Apparently playwright-songwriter Jeff Ward agrees, as none of TAKE ONE’s hapless heroes gets anything right on the first draft. Even Jehovah himself finds the creative process exasperating. But thanks to a tuneful score, bright dialogue and clever lyrics, the tribulations of history’s frustrated geniuses are extremely fun to watch.

Somewhat reminiscent of David Ives’s short play collections, the play comprises three separate thematically linked once acts. The evening begins at the Beginning, as God (Tom Alan Robbins) endeavors to create a world in which something interesting is liable to happen. His intentions are somewhat perverse, however, as he secretly hopes that Adam (Rob Brinkmann) and Eve (L.R. Davidson) will sneak a taste of the fruit he has forbidden them to touch. Even when the Serpent (Caroline Schmidt) sashays around the garden in slinky green gown, she cannot tempt the first couple into doing the wrong thing. Fearful that his Book of Genesis is going to end up a very dull read, God next attempts to turn Cain (Corrado Alicata) against his brother Abel (Carl Howell). The result of His efforts are, again, confounding.

Flash forward to the Florentine renaissance, where Michelangelo (Keith Varney) labors tirelessly on the Sistine Chapel. Then as now, the artist is perpetual conflict with the money man. Pope Julius (Alicata) complains about everything from Michelangelo’s personal hygiene to the sluggish pace at which he paints. Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that Michelangelo’s first ceiling is a little too far ahead of its time. Much to the delight of his rivals Leonardo (Robbins) and Raphael (Brinkmann), Mich is badly out of favor with the Vatican. Thankfully, a muse arrives in the form of a young apprentice. Ludovico (Howell) isn’t the sharpest chisel in the box, but his youth, beauty and good-hearted innocence give the master a new lease on life. Alas, even their happiness is short lived, as politics inevitably clashes with both art and love.

Fittingly for a musical theater writer, Ward chooses Rodgers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! as his next major event in the story of civilization. In an era when Broadway spectaculars had always featured lighthearted ditties and leggy chorus girls, Oscar Hammerstein (Varney) is ready to break new ground. In order for a plot-driven musical to work, however, certain songs will have to be cut. Dick Rodgers (Howell), will have none of it. Insisting that the song must stay, he meets with resistance from everyone from his wife Celeste (Schmidt) to producer Rouben Mamoulian (Robbins).  Killing one’s darlings has never been an easy task, but Oscar’s powers of persuasion are not to be underestimated.

All three mini-musicals are as solidly crafted and sport unexpected twists as well as clever cultural references. Of the three, the middle piece has the most heart. Michelangelo’s resigned self-assessment (“I’m 28, and nearly dead”) stands out in sharp contrast to 17 year old Ludo’s purity of spirit. Their ill-fated effort at mutual redemption forms a narrative through line on which they pin the piece’s satirical conceits. Director Michael Schiralli adds a touch of visual wit with sly references to the iconic poses Michelangelo’s masterworks.

The actors, hip to the quirky rhythms of Ward’s David comic sensibility, are committed to their roles and strong on vocal dexterity. Betsy Rugg-Hind’s costumes Lauren Page Russell’s set and prop designs add opulence and graphic whimsy to the proceedings.

TAKE ONE has completed its run at the Fringe, but will likely be transferred to another venue. Check http://www.takeonethemusical.com for updates:

 

Fringe report: CALM MOM and AT THE CROSSROADS: MUSIC FOR FAUST

Now in its twentieth year, the New York International Fringe Festival has managed to keep its energy high, its ticket prices low, and its offerings diverse and provocative. Here are two that are highly recommended:

 

5304aa686697e6b5ff60f3882e6eab8f_1370549892_l

CALM MOM

Written and performed by Gaby Gold

Directed by Theresa Gambacorta

Musical Director/Arranger Steven Gross

In Gaby Gold’s charming one-woman musical, the tribulations of a young mother form the basis of an evening of drama, comedy and best of all, original songs. As the story begins, Gaby is anything but calm. For no discernible reason, her infant son has just stopped breathing. She rushes him to an emergency room, where a bewildering array of doctors, nurses and EMT’s fails to give her clear answers. As she waits to hear what the tests reveal about her son’s condition, Gaby thinks back on her own childhood in pre-gentrification Greenwich Village. Many of the memories involve Gaby’s larger-than-life mother, Gretchen, a one-promising singer with a faux-British accent and penchant for age-inappropriate clothing. As Gaby matures, she must of course find her own style of motherhood, and though it isn’t easy, having a sense of humor certainly helps. Co-written with composers Tom Corrado, Mitch Lance, Paul Fujimoto, Michael Hart and Dina Pruzhansky, Gold’s songs feature tight rhymes, and strong melodies and hooks that encapsulates the characters  (“If It Weren’t For You, I’d Die”, “Chaos Plus Hysteria Equals Love”). Gold’s impressive vocal range and warm delivery animates the comedy songs and tender ballads with equal grace and precision, and there’s added fun to be had watching her morph fluidly into a rich array of supporting characters. Plot wise, what’s here is solid, but there’s room for expansion. We only get brief glimpses of Gaby’s recovery from alcohol  dependency, her transition from the streets of Manhattan to a bucolic life in Westchester, and her relationship with her husband Steve. More story beats and more songs could easily be added without overstretching the show’s length. There is life after Fringe for some shows. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that CALM MOM settle into the Triad or the Laurie Beechman for the longer run it deserves.

CALM MOM continues on Tuesday, August 23rd @ 6:15 and Friday, August 26th @ 7:30 at the Huron Club, 15 Vandam St, New York, NY 10013

Tickets: Fringenyc.org

888837035_ca3815fe1d

 

AT THE CROSSROADS: MUSIC FOR FAUST

Film Directed by F.W. Murnau

Music composed by Ben Singer, performed by Modern Robot

Whether German auteur F. W. Murnau saw the writing on the wall is not known (he died in 1931, before the Nazis took power). But the horror he depicts in FAUST is eerily reminiscent of the Fascism to come. Creepy as he is, it isn’t really the leering Mephisto (Emil Jannings) that threatens to destroy all the good in the world. Human vanity, prejudice and mob psychology are the real monsters here. The trouble starts when aging alchemist Faust (Gösta Ekmant), unable to save his town from a devastating plague, begins throwing his books, including the Bible, into the fire in frustration. One of the tomes falls open, and is revealed to be an occult instruction manual. Faust, ready to make a deal, follows the book’s crude diagrams and meets Mephisto at a shadowy crossroads . Our hero gets his youth back, wallows in earthly splendors, and seduces the Duchess of Parma (Hannah Ralph). After the thrill of debauchery wears off, though, Faust discovers greater meaning in the pure face of the simple country girl Gretchen (Camilla Horn). Her innocence doesn’t last long, however. Faust’s neglectful treatment of Gretchen sets of a chain of a chain of tragic incidents that places her fatally at odds with an intolerant society. Murnau embellishes this cautionary tale with opulent sets, chiaroscuro lighting, Carl Hoffmann’s sweeping cinematography and special effects that, even in the age of CGI, are striking. The Gothic potency of the images is complimented by an original score, performed live on percussion and guitar. Composer Ben Singer gives more of the complex phrasing to the drummer. The guitarist, in some of the slower scenes, remains limited to a two-chord, heavy-reverb universe. Still, what the music lacks in melodic variety it makes up for in proficiency and rapport. In the more kinetic moments, and especially in the film’s brutal climax, both musicians get a chance to shine, with fuzz pedal distortion and other hard rock pyrotechnics put to effective use. A neglected classic, FAUST is ripe for rediscovery, and the added energy of live music makes it all the more compelling.

AT THE CROSSROADS: MUSIC FOR FAUST continues on Wednesday, August 24th @ 8:00 at 85 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009.

 

STRANGE COUNTRY

stragecountry

Written by Anne Adams

Directed by Jay Stull

After so many noted playwrights have had a crack at the genre, it’s not easy to give the dysfunctional rural family play a fresh spin. Yet, thanks to her keen ear for regional speech and compassionate approach to her characters, playwright Anne Adams delivers an original and affecting take on the American dark pastorale.

Darryl, (Sidney Williams) lives a life of self-imposed exile in a slovenly apartment in Bell County, Texas. His set routine of drinking and loafing is disrupted by the arrival of his imperious sister Tiffany (Vanessa Vache), who insists that he join in an upcoming family gathering. Their parents are about to renew their wedding vows, and Tiffany has promised Mama that Darryl will attend the ceremony. Cooperation is in short supply, however, as Darryl and his father have been estranged for years. To complicate matters, Tiffany’s girlfriend Jamie (Bethany Geraghty), who is struggling to maintain her newfound sobriety, feels as if she’s caught in the middle of the family’s squabble. Tiffany and Jamie take off, leaving the conflict unresolved. Darryl’s solitude is short lived, however, as Jamie, stranded after a violent row with Tiffany ends up knocking on his door in the middle of the night. Darryl grudgingly lets her stay the night. The two get to talking, and find they have plenty in common. Both have struggled with behavior illness, both have been on the losing end of bitter custody battles and been separated from their kids. Talk leads to physical intimacy, and Darryl and Jamie’s find themselves wandering into dangerous territory—especially when the atomic-tempered Tiffany returns unexpectedly.  The ensuing conflagration leaves no one unscathed.

Confident in his cast, director Jay Stull lets the actors, like the lost souls they portray, experience the awkwardness of their newfound vulnerability. The subdued, disarmingly authentic performances give the play a vital emotional core. Adams thankfully steers clear of redneck stereotypes, and makes it clear that, though her characters may have sketchy coping skills, they don’t lack intelligence. Their language is peppered with recovery rhetoric, and with phrases like “raison d’être”, which take on an intriguing musicality when delivered with a Texas twang. Adams also exhibits a feel for dramatic structure, steering clear of the shoehorned exposition and forced plot points that often haunt single-set naturalistic plays. Visual manifestations of the characters psyches are provided by Michael O’Connor’s lighting design, Samantha Rose Lind’s costumes Brian Dudkiewicz’s grungily lyrical set.

STRANGE COUNTRY continues through August 13, 2016 at the Access Theater, 380 Broadway, New York, New York. Tickets: