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Alone Together

A CLR Theater Blog

Theatre Review: The Holly and the Ivy, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, England


December 2nd, 2011 at 10:01 am

Holly and the Ivy

Margaret (Corrinne Wicks) and David (Tom Butcher)

“Middle Ground Theatre Company”. The programme claims it’s a geographical description, but that there is a gift to a reviewer. Not since George Bernard Shaw disbanded the short-lived “Beardy Know-It-All Plays For Your Own Good Society” and John Osborne closed up the accounts of “Shouting At You Til You Give Me Enough Money To Settle My Mounting Bar Bills Productions” can there have been such a bracing example of truth in advertising. The Holly and the Ivy is unashamedly middle-brow, middle-class and it got me right in the middle of the waistcoat.

Wynyard Browne’s play takes us back to the late 1940s, to a Norfolk vicarage where a family is gathering for Christmas: the ornery aunts, the estranged journalist daughter with a drink problem, the other daughter who won’t leave her father’s household for her fiancé, the son doing National Service who’s unsure if university is really for him, and at the centre the absent-minded clergyman. It could be the set-up for a ghastly piece of Downton/Cranford wallowing in the glories of the English countryside we have lost, but the play (written at around the same time it’s set) is funny, charming and lets its characters argue about the point of life and the meaning of love in a way which is miles from the self-conscious folksiness of those TV shows.

The characters are built with that terrific assurance of some mid-century writers (C.P. Snow and Anthony Powell spring to mind), which balances the need for them to represent social types or attitudes to life, whilst also allowing them rein to be individual and surprising. Stuart McGugan plays not only a country clergyman, but a man who realizes that after a lifetime of playing the “country clergyman” he has made his own role for himself whether he likes it or not. Chris Grahamson’s jerky performance as his son gives an impression of a similar man at the other end of his life: the serviceman who’s pretty sure he’s not a soldier, but not certain what character he can fit himself to. Amidst this closely studied characterisation, the parallels to contemporary life – the argument over whether university is for learning a profession or “finding yourself”, the friction between family members who’ve ended up in decidedly different income brackets, the attempts by the younger generation to hide the subjects of booze and sex from their elders – are much more powerful because they seem so unforced.

The show isn’t perfect. The initial scene is marred by Tom Butcher wrestling so hard with an assumed Scottish accent than he sets his feet every time he needs to attack a line, and Alan Leith is sometimes slightly too much the worldly raisonneur (despite being terrifically watchable throughout). Some moments are a little too explicit for a modern audience: when someone declares that they want their life to be founded on some kind of eternal values, we wince rather more than we would if they’d simply stripped off and humped the sofa. But this is a terrific production, and a good night out.

Theatre Review: Three Days in May, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, England


November 28th, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Warren Clarke as Churchill

Warren Clarke as Churchill in Three Days in May

The five minutes bell had just rung, and the bassist from The Jam was holding up the bar queue. The fact that there was a queue at all, this being a weeknight at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford, was a pretty good sign that this show had a powerful appeal to a particular demographic, and would do good business when it got to London. Unfortunately, I needed a pint, and that demographic (comfortably off, of a certain age, many having already retired from stockbroking or changing the course of rock history) was getting between me and the Old Speckled Hen. 1

There were a lot of promises in the room. The posters promised us the chance to see Warren Clarke as Churchill, one of Britain’s most superbly gruff actors embodying the gruffest of all its national heroes. Then the play’s opening scene promised us the inside story of Churchill’s war cabinet during the period when the country “stood alone” (in the words of endless novels and history books) against the Nazis. This is national myth writ extremely large – so much of the discourse around Britain’s political and social identity still looks back to that time, and takes the struggle against Hitler’s Germany as its finest, and defining, hour.

Clarke certainly made good on his obligations. He barked, he grunted, he rumbled, and, once you got used to the fact that he was acting on a slightly more heightened plane than the rest of the cast, he gave a surprisingly subtle account of a figure who was larger than life even during his life. Clarke hasn’t always had the range of roles his talent deserves, and has ended up stuck in the public mind for gruff Yorkshire detective Andy Dalziel and gruff Northern mill-owner Mr. Hardwood, so it was cheery to see him do more with the role than move the gruff south a bit. It gradually becomes clear that Churchill is using his own near-caricatured persona to get around his cabinet colleagues, playing on his own stature to cajole and browbeat them into agreeing to give him the time he needs before coming to an accommodation with Germany.

The play isn’t quite so forthcoming. It’s a skilful and lively account of what went on between those men who, for a while, really did decide the fate of the country. Old-fashioned history from above, with treaties, private conferences, battles of wills and none particularly the worse for that if you enjoy it. However, having breathlessly offered to give us the astonishing inside scoop on what really went on behind closed doors on those days in May, it proceeds to explain that what really went on was more or less what we all thought. I didn’t know many of the details – and as Michael Billington of the Guardian has said, it’s salutary to be reminded now and then of how inevitable our victory in WWII wasn’t – but the fact that Churchill was incredibly obstinate, smoked cigars and never wanted to surrender to Germany is hardly earth-shattering news. The real surprise of the piece came when it seemed that the reviled Neville Chamberlain, who has still never recovered from “Peace In Our Time!”, was the casting vote in supporting Churchill’s defiance. He has a good speech about growing sisal on an island, but it comes rather too late. And there’s an awful lot of macho byplay with whiskey and a revolver and gruff manly reticence which gave the whole piece a slightly queasy back-slapping air. As an historical account of those days it succeeds brilliantly, but as a thriller I couldn’t get involved.


1 In case you’re worried, and to avoid any undue suspense in this review, it did end ok. I nicked one of the plastic pint cups they keep by the water jugs, and decanted the ale as soon as it came across the bartop, thus sashaying into the auditorium with my drink in my hand and avoiding the dilemma faced by my co-queuers, who had to either chug a five quid glass of Cotes du Rhone in two minutes or leave it behind.

The Bobbed-Haired Bandit, New York International Fringe Festival


August 28th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Bobbed-Haired Bandit

Chase Burnett as Eddie and Katelyn Carson as Celia in The Bobbed-Haired Bandit
Photo by Erin Mayhugh Photography

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote, was finally ratified. In the freewheeling decade that followed, society treated the emerging Modern Woman with a mixture of elation and anxiety. Many Americans, quick to embrace innovation, applauded the independent thinking, career achievements, and sassy fashion statements of the new generation. But some worried that darker spirits might drift in on the winds of change. Newspapers abounded with stories of bad girls, as if to warn citizens of what can happen when social strictures are loosened.

The scandals of the time have continued to fascinate modern storytellers, who examine historic events from a contemporary perspective. In 1975, female felons Belvah Gaertner and “Jazz Killer” Beulah Annan became the inspiration for the Broadway hit Chicago. Now Celia Cooney, who perpetrated a string of armed robberies in Brooklyn, has her own musical, too. And thanks to its rich score, snappy book, and clever choreography, The Bobbed-Haired Bandit does her story justice.

Cleverly, the show opens with the intersection of pop culture and personal angst — “Just a Story,” a fantasy number in which Celia (Katelyn Carson) devours crime novels in her tenement bedroom. Already fantasizing about a life of crime, Celia gets all the prompting she needs when she and her husband Ed (Chase Burnett) realize their workaday jobs won’t provide enough money to raise a family. With a baby on the way, they’re going to need some extra cash. Ed obtains a gun from a friend of a friend, and he and Celia hold up a local bakery. Appropriately, the scene is staged to resemble the silent cinema of the time. More heists follow, and reporters have a field day recording the exploits of the “Bobbed-Haired Bandit.” Police Commissioner Enright (Tracie Franklin) fumes at his staff’s inability to apprehend this unlikely perp, and sends two of his finest to put a stop to this madness. Although they chafe at this seemingly silly assignment, detectives Frank and Casey (Ariana Shore and Jennifer Wren) are determined to get their woman. As the hunt intensifies, Ed and Celia’s increasingly desperate actions lead them to places they never thought possible.

Book and lyric writer Anna Marquardt and composer Britt Bonney capture the exuberance of the time with a menu of tuneful, cleverly worded songs that incorporate tango, foxtrot and jazz motifs. Moving from boisterous to somber, the score gradually darkens as Celia and Ed confront the futility of their actions. Carson adroitly navigates the turns in the story and embodies Celia’s gradual loss of innocence. She is complimented by Burnett’s vocal clarity and sincere stage presence. Director / choreographer Deborah Wolfson nimbly orchestrates the talents of a versatile ensemble. Her professionalism is bolstered by David Withrow’s period costumes, Cory Rodriguez’s newspaper-laden set, and Rodrigo Vega’s powerhouse musical direction.

If Bandit has a flaw, it is that the only male voice on stage belongs to Burnett. The concept of an all-female supporting cast (all of whom exhibit stunning vocal and comic talent) is in keeping with the show’s theme of redefining femininity. But Bonney’s intriguing score is underserved by a limited palette. The addition of few deeper voices might add variety and open up the melodies to a wider range of harmonic possibilities.

The Bobbed-Haired Bandit
Book & Lyrics by Anna Marquardt
Music by Britt Bonney
Directed & Choreographed by Deborah Wolfson
At Bleecker Street Theater
45 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10012
New York International Fringe Festival

The Woman in White, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford


August 25th, 2011 at 12:48 pm

The Woman in White

GUILDFORD, ENGLAND – First of all, Wilkie Collins’ Victorian sensation novel The Woman in White is not the same as Susan Hill’s ghost story The Woman in Black. Sounds an easy enough distinction to make, and I’m sure in the calm of an internet blog post, with a cup of coffee and Wikipedia both within easy reach, dear reader, you will smile at our consternation. But there were five of us, a good proportion of whom remembered having read the book(s), taken students to see the show(s), or heard the most extraordinary things about either (or both) of them, and it took us most of our time in the bar beforehand to reach a consensus on which play we were, in fact, attending and whose memories belonged where. Personally I’m convinced I caught the barman humming “Lady in Red” satirically under this breath, but I couldn’t prove anything, so I had to be content with ordering my interval pint in a rather marked manner.

Had we but known, our contretemps in the bar was the ideal warm-up for seeing The Woman in Black. As those who’ve read the book will know (don’t start that again), Collins’ strong suit is suspense tinged with bafflement. When it works, you’re reeling from the last twist in the plot, and wondering where it’ll go next. When it doesn’t, you’re still trying to work out whose will has just been overturned by the return of the mysterious stranger who looks exactly like the missing heiress whose marriage records…and so the next twist is rather a moot point. We know who’s in the right (loyal and outspoken sisters, penurious young lovers who just happen to be called “Hartright”) and who’s in the wrong (drunken baronets, sinister foreigners with ridiculous shoes), it’s just going to take three hours and two intervals to work out exactly why. The scenes zoom by, thanks to Nicola Boyce’s skilful adaptation, and the epistolary form means there are plenty of excuses for characters to simply explain to the audience what has gone on since the last scene.

Unfortunately, modern audiences have trouble with platitude-spouting cardboard roles like Hartright, and since he’s one of the leads, we spend an awful lot of time listening to him drivelling on about honour and lifelong devotion, trying not to hear the stifled giggles from the rows behind us. It’s a lousy role, and Thomas Brownlee can’t save it, which means that Lucy Cudden has to play Marian Holcombe without much of a foil. Neil Stacy’s urbane solicitor keeps the action moving with some fun character work until Colin Baker appears as Count Fosco, when the play really starts, about an hour into the production. Baker overpowers this show just as Fosco overpowers the novel, and all the best scenes are his. It’s an enjoyable production overall, but it does drag in places – and if you’re performing Wilkie Collins and the audience isn’t gripped, there’s not much else for them to think about.

The Tutor, New York International Fringe Festival


August 22nd, 2011 at 12:41 pm

The Tutor, NY Fringe Festival

The dramatic tension of Kate Mulley’s seriocomic take on modern hangs on an intriguing juxtaposition. The characters that populate the play are bright, comically human, and rendered in three dimensions. But the plot reads like something you’d find on Showtime After Dark. The trope creates a lens through which Mulley examines the struggle for self-definition faced by a rising generation of educated young women. In the age of equality, is it bad to be sexy? Fun to be bad? Which costume is more empowering: the corporate suit or the Victoria’s Secret intimates? The troubled protagonist of The Tutor doesn’t quite find the answers, but attracts plenty of fun and trouble as she embarks on her quest.

Yale graduate Meredith (Olivia Gilliat) leads a double life. By day she helps high school students prepare for the SAT’s. By night, she an internet seductress who poses in racy lingerie, then sells the used undergarments to devoted followers who are willing to pay top dollar. By adopting the pseudonym Cassandra and keeping her face off camera, Meredith manages to keep her side business a secret — even from clients who unwittingly buy intimate apparel from “Cassandra” while hiring Meredith to tutor their kids. Meredith’s fiancé Josh (Valence Thomas), perpetually overseas on business, doesn’t suspect a thing. But the charade can only last so long. As if unconsciously desiring to be caught, Meredith starts a webcam journal. Now viewers will be able to discern her secret identity. She is equally cavalier about her tutoring practice. At her sessions with 17 year old Greg (Ian Way) she wears low cut tops and shares the beer the young man sneaks from his parent’s fridge. It’s a matter of time before Greg’s parents (Valerie Lonigro and Bradford Cover) take notice of the impact Meredith is having on their son. The ensuing confrontation sets off a chain of events that pushes hidden secrets out into the open and tests the tensile strength of the familial and romantic bonds of all the characters.

Despite Meredith’s penchant for playing with fire, there are few explosions in The Tutor. Tensions tend to rise and subside rather than colorfully combust. Still, if the stakes could stand be raised, Mulley’s gentle approach to storytelling has its upside as well. Particularly moving are the bittersweet beats between Meredith and Greg who care for each other but cannot, of course, ever be a couple. Gilliat and Way play these scenes with delicacy, warmth and humor. Likewise, Cover and Lonigro share an enjoyable chemistry as the lenient dad and helicopter mom who can’t agree on how to deal with their son’s maturation. Co-directors Ben Gourgeon and Doug Spagnola draw strong performances from a perfectly cast ensemble and make ample use of The Living Theater’s deep stage. The show’s impressive technical components — video feeds, complex lighting cues and set changes — mesh smoothly without a glitch.


The Tutor
Written by Kate Mulley
Directed by Ben Gourgeon & Doug Spagnola
At The Living Theater
21 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002
New York International Fringe Festival

The Turn of the Screw at Glyndebourne, Live Streamed via The Guardian


August 22nd, 2011 at 9:02 am

The Turn of the Screw, Glyndebourne

Turn of the Screw, Glyndebourne Opera 2011. Joanna Songi as Flora, Miah Persson as The Governess, Thomas Parfitt as Miles
Photo by Alastair Muir

Glyndebourne: one of the names in the British calendar. Up there with Wimbledon, Henley and other occasions which involve large quantities of strawberries being consumed in extremely specific clothing. With the added attraction of some of the best opera in the world. Streaming a performance across the internet raises even more questions about what experience is being offered than the recent spate of cinema screenings of plays from the National Theatre. For many people Glyndebourne is an event as much as an opera house, and watching online is, as one commenter put it on the Guardian website, “an option for the desperate”.

From this point of view, watching the feed was an exercise in absence. The shots of the audience as the orchestra tuned up, the interval feed of people in evening dress wandering around the lawns, all underlined the fact that we were not actually there. And that they were. But when it came to the actual performance, the superb camerawork gave us a view of the performers which even the best seats in the house couldn’t provide. Admittedly there’s a trade-off – obviously it’s a different experience being part of a breathing and reacting audience – but for a claustrophobic chamber piece like The Turn of the Screw, this format was ideal. Every crazy eye and wavering look came straight to the viewer, along with brilliantly crisp acoustics. I’ve always read The Turn of the Screw as basically a ghost story, taking the possibility that it’s all in the Governess’ head as a pious bit of ambiguity bigged up by New Criticism. Seeing Miah Persson sing the role in a torrent of close-up shots threw that assumption out, and made it genuinely uncertain in a way I probably wouldn’t have got if I’d actually been in the auditorium.

For opera fans who weren’t worried about missing the odd note, there was also the option of keeping Twitter on in the background, and swapping comments with other people watching the performance. Much as I like cramming into the bar during the interval and picking over the first half, I don’t usually have access to what the New Yorker’s critic Alex Ross has to say (“I love the eerie ‘wealthy country house’ ambience. Oh wait, the opera hasn’t started yet.”) or the shoutings of the composer Nico Muhly, fresh from his latest opera, (“So sexy to use alto flute and bass clarinet; it’s a weird mannered fauvism”…”More naked kids! Y’all would have marmite-and-feathered me out of the country if I had half as many.”) So, opera online: it’s not for everyone. But it’s got a better shot at being for everyone than most opera houses.

Anne Boleyn, at Shakespeare’s Globe, London


August 22nd, 2011 at 8:30 am

Anne Boleyn Shakespeare’s Globe

Anne Boleyn’s had a lively time of it since her death. At the time of her execution she was rumoured to be a witch with an extra finger, in 1692 John Banks’ pathos-drenched Anna Bullen, or Vertue Betray’d made her into a tear-jerking heroine, and she recently turned up again in Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl as an unpleasant Machiavel with a violent streak. Howard Brenton’s play takes on these wildly divergent images, as a newly-crowned James I, frolicking in his sudden wealth and power, finds a book and a dress belonging to the dead queen. Initially he’s excited by the idea of her heresy and the “interesting stains” to be sought on her clothes, but he gradually becomes haunted by the idea that her spirit is still around the palace, and could speak to him. Cutting between two crucial points in Renaissance history – the break with Rome and the writing of the King James Bible – Anne Boleyn shows us the “before” and “after” of the Elizabethan period, so often depicted as the defining era of British history.

There’s a lot of terrific historical information in this play, such as the grisly contraceptive options Anne’s fellow courtiers suggest, or the debates James holds between the High Anglican and Puritan wings of the Church of England, in an attempt to settle their differences. It should be perfect material for the Globe, but some of the performances were very broad indeed. Miranda Raison’s opening scene as Anne had to capture the audience’s attention and sympathy, but it came across as mannered and smirking, leaving her a lot of ground to make up. On the other hand, James Garnon as King James was brilliant, his stammers and twitches suggesting a man whose lust for life and paranoia fought for control of him. Despite the subject matter, and the evident success of the play, the particular style of performance the Globe encourages seemed to throw the play off kilter a few times. There was too much “playing at naughtiness”, an easy iconoclasm feeding off the sense that jokes about sex are risky and daring in a play about the Renaissance in Shakespeare’s “own” theatre. I can’t blame Brenton, the cast, or the audience for this feeling, but it kept wrecking the play’s pace. Frustratingly enjoyable.

Butley, at the Duchess Theatre, London


August 19th, 2011 at 6:00 am

Butley, Duchess Theatre, London

Dominic West as Ben Butley and Martin Hutson as Joseph
Photo: Alastair Muir

The imposing frame of Dominic West bestrides the stage. Hard-drinking, philandering, playing futile and vaguely malicious games with colleagues in an institution under siege, a lot of us might feel we know this script. Et in Arcadia McNulty. Now Hogwarts is officially over and done with, let’s all enrol at the faculty of The Wire.

At this point, the comparisons come to a halt like a fanboy smacking full-tilt into the barrier at King’s Cross Station. Simon Gray’s bilious vision of a London university in the early seventies is terrifically enjoyable, but it feels very much of its time. Where West’s incarnation as Detective McNulty was part of a sprawling, panoramic vision of a social and political system in crisis, Butley hones in on one man frenetically working his own destruction in an academic office. Gestures are made towards student radicalism and changing mores, but Butley’s existential battle is conducted on viciously hand-to-hand terms.

Given the way higher education is being reformed (or wrecked, depending on how you feel) in Britain and the US, the idea of a sodden anti-hero don verges on the nostalgic. Poised somewhere between Lucky Jim and The History Man, Butley rages against students and recites nursery rhymes alongside T.S. Eliot in a way which looks very cosy to today’s Humanities adjuncts scraping around for their next assignment. Juxtaposing the two kinds of poetry might have been daringly elitist in the early seventies, but these days he’d risk being written off as a standard-issue postmodernist.

Luckily the play’s impact doesn’t depend on a social critique, but on the furious verbal invention which Butley directs at anyone who gets in what he perceives to be his way. The structure is old-school, the development isn’t very surprising, but good heavens, was Simon Gray ever good at what he did. Indeed, it probably feels familiar because so many writers who came later recognised a good thing when they ripped one off. Go see Butley, and let an old master show you how it’s done.

The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre, London


August 18th, 2011 at 8:48 am

The 39 Steps, Criterion, London

Anyone lured to the Criterion by hopes of seeing a dashing tale of British pluck and derring-do in the form of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps will be baffled and disappointed. Based less on Buchan’s novel than on Hitchcock’s film, this production takes a cheerily mocking swipe at the antics of the square-jawed hero Richard Hannay as he battles dastardly foreign agents, attempts to converse with Scottish yokels, and remains the perfect gentleman even whilst handcuffed to the heroine. The fact that it can now boast of being the longest-running comedy currently in the West End suggests that it taps pretty successfully into a tradition as firmly British as Hannay himself: a need to mock the idea of hearty “Britishness”, even as we celebrate it at one remove.

The stagecraft which lets a four-person cast romp through trains, city streets, bridges and the Scottish moors is a pleasure in itself. There’s a devoted and austere silliness about the spies who trundle onto the edge of the stage carrying their own lamppost to lurk beneath whenever Hannay looks out of the window, or the shadow-puppets of bi-planes which chase our hero across the glen. Though I missed a couple of effects which I’m sure were in the show when I saw it on the pre-West End tour a few years ago. If you’re going to rewatch it, be warned that The Bit With The Dog is no longer in the show, nor is That Thing With The Ladder and the Flying Helmet, presumably casualties of translating the show to a small stage like the Criterion.

The show’s ad-hoc, physical, carry-your-own-scenery style of performance might have suited Hannay. Like other heroes of the period (Agatha Christie’s Major Despard springs to mind) he was the sort of tweed-clad adventurer who could enjoy the bright lights and comforts of the city for a while, but could never approve of them. So it seems apt that the Criterion, in the centre of a theatre district full of musicals and film stars, is holding its own with a piece of brilliant, energetic theatre which manages to both enjoy and mock its hero’s exploits and its own status as a “West End show”.

Jason Nahum: Never Playing It Safe


July 14th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Jason Nahum

Jason Nahum

NEW YORK – Jason Nahum, an up and coming actor of considerable talent, opens up about his recent foray into the downtown scene, appearing in Axis Theatre’s Hospital 2011 written and directed by Randy Sharp. The experimental play just opened last weekend in Sheirdan Square, the latest installment of this unusual episodic series that Axis has performed over several years. Nahum, a graduate of Emerson College, discusses the artistic side-effects of sharing the rehearsal room with serial theatrical risk-takers:

Can you describe Hospital 2011?

Hospital is Axis Theatre Company’s flagship show. A new installment has been performed nearly every summer since 1997. Like past productions, Hospital 2011 is an episodic series that examines the interior life of a terminal coma patient. Through four episodes our protagonist, the Traveler, subconsciously interacts with characters from her actual life. Before the play begins, there is a short film that provides some background for the Traveler and the characters she meets. There are three sections of each episode. First is the event, where she is introduced to the idea that something strange has happened. Next is an abstract scene between the doctors and nurses. Finally, is the dream sequence, where she encounters characters from her past in different, dream-like contexts. This show really introduces the audience to new ways of thinking about the possible, subconscious circumstances surrounding one’s own death.

Who do you play? How would you describe your character?

In the premise film (Traveler’s real life) I play a co-worker of hers (a teacher). I have strong feelings for her, but she is more interested in the dashing teacher with whom she flirts on a regular basis. In the play however, I play more of her perception of my character. Because the play takes place in the Traveler’s subconscious I am technically her, or at least a part of her.

What has the process been like for you personally as an actor in this project? How has it been different from other projects you have worked on?

This is my debut with Axis. The company of actors is incredibly talented and committed. The director, Randy Sharp, is really open to actors’ suggestions and she is very encouraging of taking risks on stage. I am at a point now where she has convinced me of her confidence in my work, which has really opened me up to explore and discover. We are at a point now, as a company, where we are putting on four different shows (episodes) in a seven-week period. While we’re finishing up one show, we are teching the next. This type of schedule is a challenge in itself, but the real challenge was in the work. I have never been in an original play with re-writes before. There were multiple occasions where I would be fresh off-book and then handed a totally new script. It’s odd though. That never phased or frustrated me. I enjoyed learning new lines and re-working scenes. As an actor I’ve never been such a big part of the writer’s process. Because of all the challenges I have encountered and continue to encounter working on this show, quite honestly I consider this to be the greatest experience I’ve had working in the theatre.

What do you hope the audience comes away with?

My major hope for the audience is that they walk away saying, “Man, I can’t wait to see the next episode!” I don’t expect the audience to follow perfectly in each episode. There is an element of mystery, which I love, and which leaves the audience wanting more. This show traditionally is a bit on the experimental side, but this year, I’ve been told is much more literal than past productions. Although it’s more literal than past productions it is definitely still somewhat abstract. Which can be great fun for the audience. It certainly is for the company!

How has this experience working on the play helped you grow as an actor?

After most of the plays I’ve worked on over the past five or so years I have walked away saying, “Well, don’t do that again.” Referring to some risks and choices I had made. Not the case with this show. Randy has really been supportive and has made it seem like I haven’t made bad choices. I may not have made the best or appropriate choices at times, but they were never bad or wrong. I suppose the most important thing I’m walking away with is a reaffirmation that I have made the right career choice and that I should never play it safe.

Hospital 2011
Every Friday, Saturday at 8 pm thru August 20th
Axis Theatre
One Sheridan Square, New York, NY 10014

Target Margin Theater’s The Tempest


May 19th, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Annunciation to the Shepherds

Mary Neufeld, Yehuda Hyman, James Ferguson, Purva Bedi and Nana Mensah in Target Margin Theater’s The Tempest.
[Photo: Hunter Canning]

The Hand-Made ‘Tempest’

Target Margin Theater, the celebrated downtown company, presents Shakespeare’s late comedy, The Tempest for its twentieth season. The production focuses its energies on exposing its illusion-making apparatuses to such an extent that the creaks and cranks of its pulleys and the nonchalant all-female run crew become the focal point of the play. When Prospero declares “I abjure this rough magic” in the final act, Shakespeare’s poetry is imbued with an unexpected shade of meaning because theater itself is shown as a failed contrivance bereft of illusory magic.

As the audience find their seats the entire stage is open and we can see HERE Theater’s back wall where actors chit chat and prepare for their performance. From these first moments the tone of Target Margin’s Tempest is established. There is no attempt to conceal the fact that: this is a performance, the actors are pretending, and the stage is anything but a stage. This only heightens the knowing playfulness already present in a text rife with double meanings, direct addresses, and asides. The effect is not so much a Brechtian break from emotional identification, but more of a feeling of being let in on the joke.

Director David Herskovits establishes a well-defined performance style for his actors reminiscent of a bygone era of stage conventions with extended arms, deliberate movement and heightened speech. When Prospero, played with precision by the affable Steven Rattazzi, retreats to his room to tell his daughter Miranda, the sensitive and slight Clare Barron, about her bizarre origins, the stage transforms by what seems to be a plank of wood at a time, into a candle lit interior above which the word “Remember” is painted. The scenic change, the flickering luminescence and the actors’ strange gestures all work to create a moment of rare theatrical beauty when this spectator is painfully aware of the transitory nature of the sight before her eyes, a delicate and fleeting vision soon to be destroyed by the next installment of time. In this scene, the different design elements come together to convey an aesthetic cohesion that, unfortunately, the production has difficulty in maintaining. Rattazzi and Barron are able to embody the whimsical choreography while remaining fresh and alive. Some of the actors get lost in the movement, and seem to exert more effort maintaining it than delivering their lines.

Clever sound design by Kate Marvin and David Herskovits and ingenious set design by David Birn work laboriously to announce their contribution to the play-making, mostly to comic effect. But, as the evening continues, the insistence on calling attention to the seams starts to distract from the wonder a play like The Tempest can conjure simply with the dazzling display of its language. Even though it is only an illusion, sometimes I want to believe in theater’s magic.

Playwright in Profile: Susan Tenneriello


March 29th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Susan Tenneriello

Susan Tenneriello

Innovation at the Margins

I first encountered Susan Tenneriello’s captivating and mysterious work when I read her Tick Tock in anticipation of a reading at Paper Beats Rock, a series that I was co-producing. The words her twisted and comical characters speak fly out of their mouths with the velocity of a whirling top. At once lyrical and satiric, Tick Tock tells the story of neighbors bewildered by an unseen man who just moved into the neighborhood upsetting their sense of balance and decorum. Tenneriello shows suburbia to be the eerie landscape of displacement that it is, where people’s submerged tensions turn them into little ticking time bombs. The plot explodes more than it resolves, and after reading it I knew that I glimpsed the reality that realism just can’t get- that invisible emotional stream pulsing beneath the surface.

“I’ve always been interested in how to access the vocal rhythms of character and dialogue in a heightened form, and how stories don’t really end. They intersect, disappear and reappear, connect and modulate. For me rhythm is compositional, musical, poetic, complicated like us,” explains Tenneriello of her inventive style where characters don’t simply speak, they erupt in discursive symphonics. The playwright’s dense, poetic dialogue challenges her audience to think about the complex relationship between emotion, thought and word. Self admittedly drawn to “breakage, peripheral states, [and] outcasts,” Tenneriello mines the fringes to examine the “mythologies we believe in or invent” that are breaking down, in decay, or are spurring our demise.

Tenneriello’s first encounter with theatrical experimentation came from her mother who used to perform impersonations after family dinners. “We would bang our silverware on the table calling for ‘imitations’ at the end of the meal. She would disappear and return dressed like one of us in a bathrobe or jacket, and parody us. It was hysterical.” Tenneriello retains some of this loving mockery in her own characterizations. In Rubber Room, her play about two teachers stuck in a room prohibited from teaching due to wackadoo Board of Ed. bureaucracy, the two women are drawn by their creator with much compassion. They are crazy in a crazy world. They are familiar types — the burn out and the zealot — and we know their fall from idealism all too well. Tenneriello, a Professor of Theatre at Baruch College, depicts her characters’ dilemma with comedy, shading their bizarre situation with humor, shedding light on the farce that mostly is modern life.

In 2009, she spent nine months working with director Jerry Ruiz on Mirage at the Soho Rep writer/director lab, a developmental program that supports writers searching for new theatrical expressions. Recently, Tenneriello has been working in collaboration with a group of writers and dramaturg Lynn Thomson on Exodus Code, a piece produced by America-In-Play, a company dedicated to mining America’s theatrical legacy for the inspiration of new work. Exodus Code is a collaboratively written piece based on the “Bintel Brief,” an advice column that appeared in the early 20th century Yiddish newspaper, Forverts where readers sent the newspaper letters of complaint, personal expression, or questions. On the collective writing process Tenneriello says,”the script came together not as separate pieces but as a collective fabric of voices and styles.” Exodus Code was shown at the Tenement Museum in Lower Manhattan, as part of the museum’s mission to explore the history of immigrant life in New York.

For Tenneriello, who goes to the fringes to find the unseen illogic of an irrational world, the past serves as a way “to gain insight into the now.” I look forward to seeing what she discovers.

Theater Review: Rude Mechs Performs The Method Gun


March 13th, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Rude Mechanicals: The Method Gun

Rude Mechs company members performing in The Method Gun.

What about Risk? What about it?

NEW YORK — As Tennessee William’s 100th birthday approaches, many theater companies around the country are resurrecting William’s work to pay homage to a man whose contributions to the American theater tradition are profound and too numerous to enumerate here. The Rude Mechanicals, or Rude Mechs as they abbreviate themselves, pay homage to another American theater tradition with their fucocked version of A Streetcar Named Desire: the experimental theater group. There are too many of these groundbreaking “groups” to name all of them, but just because of the sheer delight it brings me to write their names I will mention just a few: The Group Theater, The Living Theater, Five Lesbian Brothers, The Wooster Group. Each of these historic ensembles have brought a vibrancy and edge that invigorated the theater world like a shot of adrenalin. Of those mentioned, each work in a different vocabulary of aesthetics that ultimately unfurls from a core of belief about how the theater should relate to the world. Upon these beliefs the founders found it necessary to band together, enacting that other American tradition: idealism.

After seeing the Rude Mechanicals’ faux docu-drama, The Method Gun, this theater-goer was left wondering just what, if anything the “Mechs” hold near and dear as a core belief. The play documents “the search” for Stella Burden, a mysterious acting teacher from the 70s, who started an unnamed company, rehearsed A Streetcar Named Desire for many years (without the parts of Stella, Stanley, Blanche or Mitch) only to leave without word for South America. Her actors continued rehearsing the piece for several more years, applying “The Approach” (Stella Burden’s technique) hoping to perfect their performance. The Rude Mechanicals “re-enact” their rehearsals that took place in the 1970s, interrupted with biographical side-notes and information to help convey their “research.” At one point, early in the performance, Lana Lesley, prays that the ghost of Tennessee Williams will inhabit the stage during their performance (the one that took place 30 years ago or the one now?) and fill it with emotional honesty. Those prayers go unanswered. For all their pyrotechnics and sardonic parody, these actors, The Rude Mechs, can’t seem to bring sincerity to their performances, or their performances of performances, for the 90 minutes they inhabit the stage. Yes, there are tiger costumes, and choreography, and jokes that are funny if you’ve taken an acting class, but at no time did I feel that anyone was revealing anything of any real consequence.

Read more…

Welcome to Alone Together, CLR’s New Theater Blog


January 17th, 2011 at 6:15 pm

For centuries theater has has given its audiences the chance to reflect on what it means to be alive, both as an individual and as a member of a community. In a technologically advanced world beset with exponential changes, the foundation of theater remains the same. We come together to watch and dream the solitary thoughts that mysteriously create a collective experience.

Alone Together will explore emerging trends in theater and what they tell us about who we are as culture. It will also examine the unique individuals who make these productions and the personal struggles that compel them to seek out the public forum for expression. Through interviews, personal portraits, reviews of current plays and profiles of groundbreaking producers, Alone Together will bring you an honest portrayal of the here and now in American theater.

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