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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mac Wellman's The Fez and TheSandalwood Box

"The Fez" and "The Sandalwood Box"are two one act plays running in concert as part of Mac Wellman's Perfect Catastrophes, A Festival of Plays.  "The Fez" begins as "My Fair Lady".  Eliza Doolittle (Rora Brown) is debased as less than human by a fiendish Prof. Higgins (Jimmy Dailey).  She washed her hands she did before coming to Prof. Higgins for voice lessons to elevate her station in life. The startling staging goes haywire in a fez frenzy.  The trajectory projects into a deafening & undecipherable melee that morphs into absurdist theater with logic to its madness.  Hats off to choreographer Jose Rivera, Jr. and scenic designer Frank J. Oliva who manage to orchestrate an interesting intersection of free for all spirit with pizzaz and a medley of music & dance styles.  Actors planted in the audience add an element of immersive theatrics that add to the madcap fusion of fun & theatrics.  "The Sandalwood Box" is a pandora box of bedlam that is ominous, poetic and bizarre.  This surreal production has a nightmarish tilt that sprouts paradoxical poetry with euphemism of woes.  The sandalwood box contains a collection of historic catastrophes foretold by Prof. Mitchell (an ominous Ashley Morton).  Wellman throws out existential questions and questions who possesses the knowledge for determining right from wrong, truth from lies.  Marsha Gates (Dorothea Gloria) lost her voice at the start of the play but finds it at a ferocious decibel sporting a menacing Cheshire Cat grin.  Gloria falls through the looking glass and shatters the avant-garde drama into a daring quandary.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

THE GREAT SOCIETY - Stars Brian Cox as LBJ

"The Great Society" is an ambitious and arduous play about LBJ (Brian Cox) that technically span the years from 1964-74 although the program gives the TIME as 1965-1968.  Therein lies a hidden detail to wag the dog to derail from the copious political characters and social upheavals that ravaged our nation.  The years 1965-1968 are the confluence of domestic civil liberty issues LBJ was contending with as he led our nation into escalating the Viet Nam War.   There's an army of politicians for a feeding frenzy of political pundits.  One might benefit from cliff notes or a cheat sheet.  Cheating being the modus operandi that keeps churning the Presidency and constituencies that parallel with today's bully in the White House.   LBJ sets up his character by offering up a bull story; literally a rodeo bull riding story.  LBJ tells us "Everybody gets thrown.  Sometimes you don't get up."  LBJ uses a lot of animal analogies to drive home his message along with bullying and wheeling and dealing not often done in good faith.   "All the Way"also written by Pulitzer & Tony winning playwright Robert Schenkkan starred Bryan Cranston on Broadway.  "All the Way" was a more cogent play and a more complex character study.  Cox plays LBJ with one pounding dimension until the end when we see vulnerability expressed to Lady Bird and in his defeat declining to run for re-election.  However, this is a crucial & painful epoch in our nation's history.  Schenkkan delivers emotional punches on the pressing social issues that plagued our nation that systemically persist in today's society.  The Voting Rights Act signed into law under LBJ is a major comprehensive civil rights legislation the eliminated obstructions that fettered African 's from exercising their rights to vote.  LBJ's concessions were made with seemingly quid pro quo negotiating.  LBJ felt betrayed by MLK's stand against the Viet Nam War and Stokely Carmichael (Marchant Davis) derailing of peaceful protests made a burning impact.  Why LBJ seemed to submit to McNamara's demands for troops & funding for the Viet Nam War is baffling.  VP Humphrey (Richard Thomas) seemed heroic  on issues in opposition to LBJ until he cowered under pressure in front of the press.  LBJ recognized "racism as becoming respectful" but failed to commit the National Guard to combat the atrocities he knew would be perpetrated on protestors.  There's much to benefit & learn from in "The Great Society."  LBJ intimates to Nixon damning info during the campaign was withheld.  How was it obtained was Nixon's concern. History often repeats itself.  Seeing Trump become the 2nd president to depart office in disgrace should likely take place.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

THE PINK HULK Written/Performed by Valerie David

"The Pink Hulk:  One Woman's Journey to Find the Superhero Within" is Valerie David's one woman show of her personal journey with her bouts with cancer.  Valerie is the writer/performer of this highly charged show sharing her experiences and emotional scars.  Valerie's energy is infectious and uplifting.  Valerie plays more for comic relief than pathos.  Having been cancer free for 14 years post her bout with Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma, Valerie & her bf Belinda are vacationing and celebrating in Aruba.  Valerie unabashedly boast she always scores sex on a beach or campgrounds.  What she finds is a lump that is confirmed by Belinda who urges her to get checked out as soon as they return.  The gall of getting a diagnosis of breast cancer is confounding for Valerie whose bound and determined to get ravaged by a lover before her body is ravaged by cancer treatments.  The marathon search for a hook-up took-up too much time.  While its Valerie's tale to tell,  her pursuit of tail derails from the gravitas of her prognosis.  Valerie has aspirations for being on a Broadway stage and missed out on her big break to be in "Urine Town".  She does find her calling & support in improv.  The play is a defiant depiction of a strong willed woman.  She's filled with humor & rage overflowing onstage in buckets.  Valerie claims her treatments and needs on her own terms.  We sympathize with Valerie's abandonment by her friends (especially Belinda) and her feelings of anxiety and depression.  Surgery, radiation and chemo did exact a heavy toll on Valerie's self-confidence and femininity.  The play is performed not for laughs nor pity.  Any diagnosis of cancer is shitty.  Valerie's approach is lighthearted amidst adversity.  Everyone's experience is unique and complex.  "The Pink Hulk" is a sobering and soothing antidote for feeling alone in struggling with cancer.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Matthew Lopez's THE INHERITANCE - Part I

"The Inheritance" by playwright/screenwriter Mark Lopez is at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in a marathon performance in 2 parts.  Lopez best known for his play "The Whipping Man" which earned an Obie.  "The Inheritance" opened in London and received the Olivier and London Critics Award.  The play is cleverly structured around a group of young men who are budding writers. The play is set in NYC in the near present and tips its poetic license in homage to E M Forster who appears as their friendly professor willing to work with a student claiming writers block or as Forster says "a writer's tool - procrastination."  The young man bemoans narrative today can't compare to that of the epoch in the early 20th C England.  Forster steps in and tells him themes of love and requited love are timeless and persists in prodding his protege into setting up characters and plots.  Toby Darling is selected as the main character and his lover is Eric Glass.  Toby is at a party in the Hamptons surrounded by famous celebrities and calls Eric cajoling him to join him as he continues to consume martinis.  The facade of structuring a story melds into the play unfolding.  Toby is the budding writer and Eric his partner/fiancee.  The live in a spacious rent controlled UWS apartment, for now.  Eric is the unassuming character whose heroic triumphs have yet to be revealed.  Happenstance brings Eric together with the older, Henry Wilcox while both their partners are out of town.  Over dinner & wine, Henry is coaxed into sharing how he and his partner have remained together for nearly 4 decades.  Henry's love story is shrouded during the AIDs epidemic, its horrors and fears.  It seems that fear that was a major factor in sustaining their relationship.  Eric and Toby inhabit an era liberated from AID's fatalities and gay persecution and face seemingly more banal issues that plague all relationships.  Lopez's clever play is staged on a minimal set with engaging actors.  But, the dramatic impacts falters in comparison to "Angels in America" and "The Normal Heart."  The comparisons with these masterful plays and E M Forsters' brilliant writings may be unfair but this is the inheritance "The Inheritance" is built upon.  

"The Owl" by Arthur Sze - MTA Poetry in Motion

Poet Arthur Sze (b 1950 NYC) is a prolific writer of poetry.  His poem collections have earned him numerous honors including an American Book Award and was named Poet Laureate for NM.  Coming across this tranquil and soft poem while riding the subway stirred a serene feeling while amongst my fellow strap holders.  I like this poem for its simple beauty and colorful imagery.  The poster paints a regal owl perched on a branch .  The owl is brazenly & unabashedly scrutinzing you.  This lovely painting has a blazing background awash in golden sunshine & crimson autumn leaves.  It draws consideration of the wondrous colors enveloping us.  Awaiting as we burst forth from underground.


The path was purple in the dusk
I saw an owl, perched
on a branch

And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings I was
Silent then, And felt

the owl quaver.  And at dawn, walking,
the path was green in the
May light

The Owl
Arthur Sze

FOR COLORED GIRLS..by Ntozake Shange at Public

The full title of this revival by poet & playwright Ntozake Shange (b Amer. 1948-2016) is "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf".  The play was first performed off-Broadway in 1975 where it earned and Obie and quickly moved to Broadway.  The play is a choreopoem; a pastiche of music, drama, poetry, storytelling and music.  The exceptional cast of women are only referred to by the varying chromatic colors dress.  The outfits all have a motif of a black woman's face. The immersive staging is performed in the round with some seatings on stage.  The Ladies move through the aisles, encouraging participation and making contact with those wishing to dance & move their hands. The Ladies enter the stage from the aisles and commence dancing in an exuberant free for all that resembles a tribal Macarena accentuated with tap mired in jazz.  The 7 Ladies tell us of their lives of hardships, abuse, longings and desperation with raw honesty in an elegiac style.  The Ladies speak in a profoundly poetic style that emphasizes their sufferings, defiances, sorrows & joys.  Music and dance flows continually uplifting and sustaining the women.  The rainbow of colored women adhere together.  The Ladies recognize their combined strengths and experiences creates something much more powerful than themselves.  The rainbow of colors epitomizes a combined energy; a beacon of beauty & sustenance.  The Lady in Blue (Sasha Allen) singing voice was astonishing and the Lady in Brown (Celia Chevalier) was adept at orchestrating the interwoven storytelling.  The play paints a dire portrait of black-men.  But, it's more complicated and magical than a plight of woes. "For Colored Girls" is a theatrical experience that blends poetry that lingers in the air, music & dance that blend the body and spirit.  The Lady in Red's requiem scorches one's soul.  The Ladies tell us "I want for you to love and I don't want to dance with ghosts.  I am not impervious to pain or sensual pleasures."  Shange's masterful play is audacious and alive.

Friday, October 11, 2019

AMERICAN FABLES - 5 Short, Startling Plays by Eric Fallen

"American Fables" is a compilation of 5 short, one act plays that deliver a powerhouse punch.  Playwright Erick Fallen's plays are construed with unrelenting dramatic suspense and contentious interactions between two characters.  The dialogues are fast, furious, ominous and elegiac.  The first play "Prefect Weather" is a seemingly benign, happenstance interaction between a man & a woman seated on a bench in Central Park. The parallels between Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story" resound like a clarion bell.  The innocuous encounter between 2 strangers turns aggressive & antagonistic with menacing undertones of prejudice and distrust.  The ending is ironic & unexpected.  Themes of distrust, discomfort and deceitfulness are all cleverly imbued in Fallen's plays.  "Paradise" is no picnic for a man being sequestered and interrogated.  The interrogator has an accent & appearance that may be Middle Eastern.  The surprising twists to this play are shocking.  The double-talk from both the one in charge and his detainee is humorous and menacing.  The relentless questioning uncovers alternate facts.  "Friendly Fire" is a fierce display of determination from a mother of a fallen solider demanding the army's release the file on her son's death.  The mother's obdurance & convictions surmount the stall tactics of a military officer.  Having fought to obtain the file she's overcome with confusion & pain by what is revealed.  "The Fixer" is the most ominous and poetic of the 5 plays.  Sean, an attorney is beside himself with worry.  Files were just raided from his office along with everything, including the office lights.  The fixer, someone known to Sean comes into the officer wearing rubber gloves and somehow soothes Sean's fear of reprisal.  He quotes from Romeo & Juliet to Sean (and quotes from Trump) "Facts don't matter.  The past diminishes their impact and significance."  Hark, for never was a one act play of more woe!  The final play amongst these brilliant, concise, well-written and superbly acted short plays was "Basic Plumbing."  As in the previous acts, there's a fueled stand-off between 2 people.  A vexing woman demands a book from the librarian.  He tells her the library is closed and she'll have to return tomorrow.  Their combustible dialogue provokes & excites as in all these plays.  The ending is also surprising, but it's a kinder, gentler outcome.  Eric Fallen's "American Fables" playing at HERE  portend a politically savvy & talented playwright.  Fallen's ear for dialogue and flair for ferocious drama place him in the pantheon of playwrights along with Edward Albee.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY at A.R.T./NY Theaters

The long one act play "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Chad Bekim appropriates its title from Frost's famous poem portending the ephemeral fleeting of beauty.  The opening scene is of a young couple Clay (Michael Richardson) and Jess (Talene Monahon) bantering & laughing.  Jess reads aloud from Clay's high school year book as Clay is packing his satchel.  Clay is headed for college.  Clay's kisses & pleas with Jess to come with him are futile.  Jess is steadfast in staying put but insists Clay attend  and their plan is "to stick to the plan."  Jess asks Clay to leave her with his golden t-shirt.  "...Gold, her {nature's} hardest hue to hold." (RF)  Their idyllic plan diverges soon after Clay starts college.  Jess is working a menial, demeaning job in the town with little to offer.  They Skype each other at the start of the semester but their connection wanes.  Clay's mom Susan (Mary Bacon) has kindly welcomed Jess to live in her home as a haven from her mom's abusive boyfriend.  Clay returns at Thanksgiving and finds Jess hanging out with friends getting high.  He's frustrated and their relationship frays.  Sesame Street has just introduced a new character to educate young people on the opioid/drug addiction crisis.  Bekim's play dissects the downward spiral of addiction and the vortex of pain ensued.  The fragmented scenes lend a frenzied pace. Jess' drug problem becomes all consuming.  Susan kicks Jess out of her home.  Clay becomes ensnared in a spider's web of drug dependence with Jess. People have pain.  For some, drugs are a way to numb the pain.  It's difficult to fully fathom the circumstances & choices that lead people to using narcotics for an induced altered state of consciousness ostensibly destroying all aspects of a normal, productive life - for a passing reprieve from reality.  The impact of Jess & Clay's addiction resonates most powerfully from Clay's mom Susan and Jess' brother Jamie (an excellent Peter Mark Kendall).  Susan's love and compassion for her son and Jamie's for his sister don't suffice to ward off the omnipotent lure of addiction.  "Nothing Gold Can Stay" makes it painfully clear that one of the worst aspects of a self-destructive illness is the toll it summons on those most intimate with the addict.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins on Broadway The Height of the Storm

Sir Jonathan Pryce and Dame Eileen Atkins alight upon the Great White Way in a play by French playwright/novelist Florian Zeller, "The Height of the Storm."   Zeller at age 40  is wise in the creative art of play-writing and the ways of the world.  Zeller tells us as the play begins "We need to know when to let go."  Andre' (Jonathan Pryce) has been married forever to Madeleine (Eileen Atkins).  The couple's 2 daughters are Anne (Amanda Drew) & Elise (Lisa O'Hare).  This family dynamic is never in doubt but the clever & devious structure of the play is nebulous as to whether Andre or Madeleine or perhaps both have died.  We know the family is in mourning but who is grieving and for whom we're uncertain.  Andre, a highly acclaimed write has advanced dementia.   What is a mirage and what is real remains clouded in a stifling mystery.  We're left to drift through the detritus of these people's live to ascertain the truth?  The muddled sequence of events are mired in such cunning fashion the audience experiences vertigo & confusion.  We're not alone in asking what is going on?  These multi-layered manifestations come fast & furious, tender & slow.  Life is short - except for when it's oppressively long.  This brilliant & provocative play examines the burdens of becoming elderly.  It looks at the complex issues that arise when adult children of parents become the generation responsible for caring for their infirm and geriatric parents.  Both Pryce & Atkins give tour-de-force performances and the supporting cast is flawless.  "The Height of the Storm" is a tempest of mounting issues that deal with aging & dying with dignity.   The play examines truths from many pensive perspectives.  One needs to know the truth is oftentimes ugly and too oftentimes not confronted in a timely or diplomatic manner.   "The Height of the Storm" lingers like a cyclone long after the curtain falls.

Monday, October 7, 2019

SINCERITY FOREVER by Marc Wellman at FLEA

Teens in a small southern town are consumed with their appearances, their social status and their teen trysts amidst Ku Klux Klan conductivity.  Self-Obsession during high school years is all too common but it's shocking to see youngsters go about their quotidian vapid lives often nonchalantly dressed in their heinous Ku Klux Klan garb.  Their banter flows from current crushes to questions raised about the existence of a heaven or hell and God's plans; should there be any.  Identical dialogues are repeated between different pairings which resonates a repetitive cycle of thinking & behaving. The quality teens consider omnipotent is sincerity.  Sincerity seems to offer a hall pass to these KKK teen members for their adorations as well as blind hatred of others.  There's a lot these teens admit to not knowing including the difference between good art or bad.   But, they've been convinced their sincere Christian beliefs condone their putrid racism and bigotry.  An omnipresent fuss ball or celestial presence seems to permeate all their senses.  The fuss ball appears as a vehement black woman toting a satchel far too heavy for anyone else to bear.  She ends the play with a blazing pontification of disgust for mankind.  The anger being directed at supplicating God's name to uphold hatred.  Playwright Mac Wellman's writing captures teens' angst and curiosity.  Wellman also exposes how being raised entrenched in white supremacist society, the freedom to choose, question and change is laden with perpetrated hatred sincerely viewed as privileged and therefore manifests unchallenged.