Hurricane Diane Takes Downtown By Storm by Wickham Boyle

I have eagerly followed the WP Theater since 1978 when it was launched by Julia Miles and was called the Women’s Project. Now, with a snappy moniker, it is in its, her, 40th season. This means it is the oldest and largest theater company dedicated to developing and producing the work of women at every stage of their careers.

I have seen the work of Eve Ensler, Maria Irene Fornes, Pam MacKinnon, Lynn Nottage and Anna Devere Smith, among others, through the auspices of WP Theater. Now WP has partnered with The New York Theater Workshop NYTW, to present Hurricane Diane, a hip new play morphing gender, Greek mythology and radical imagining of a better ecological world. This requires some unpacking.

Hurricane Diane is written by Madeline George and directed by the bright light that is Leigh Silverman. The five-person cast headed by Becca Blackwell, whose pronoun is they, is astounding. The play is a gender-bending tale of Dionysus, Bacchus, aka Diane who returns to earth in an attempt to right the whirling green ball that our planet as it spins toward annihilation due to climatic chaos. Diane is a red headed god/goddess whose plot is to seduce four New Jersey housewives, both sexually and ecologically. Diane wants the women to spearhead a return to permaculture gardening, a state where lawns and curbs and boundaries between properties are banished and the world returns to ecological harmony.

In the hands of another theatrical team this could be heavy handed, but this 130-minute evening is full of belly laughs and equally important provocative moments of ecological reflection. The play unfolds in a suburban kitchen on a cul-de-sac where Pam, Rene, Beth and Carol all live in identical houses. The gals engage in coffee klatches sharing snippets of their lives. Beth is a meek recently divorced member of the gang and Kate Wetherhead plays her dithering to great comic results. Beth is the first to be deflowered by Dionysus as they make their way through the group. Next in line is the character Pam Annunziata, a wowza of an interpretation by Danielle Skraastad. Her Pam is an over the top Sopranos character who convulses the audience with her every appearance. Michelle Beck tackles the character Renee, a high-end shelter mag editor, and the only person of color in the gang and at her place of work. Renee is reserved and bright, all the better to fall into the seductive clutches of permaculture and the god/dess. Mia Barron’s character Carol is the first we meet and the last to topple during the final storm. Carol is tightly wound. She wants Diane to redesign her garden, but doesn’t actually want to venture forth outside as she has an abhorrence of nature in its actuality.

The kitchen set, by Rachel Hauch, imaginatively busts apart during the finale when the women themselves are torn open by Dionysus and the hurricane that is ravaging their neighborhood and their personages. Kaye Voyce’s costumes support all character choices and Barbara Samuels’ light provide evocative scene changes and mood enhancements. Of course Leigh Silverman’s direction, as ever, lets actors find their best paths and gives audiences the opportunity to revel in new work where we can be challenged and entertained in equal measure.

What a pleasure it is to extoll a cast and crew where the majority is comprised of women or persons choosing not to be defined by gender. This is a glorious evening in the theater and it made me want to rip out any semblance of unwild horticulture I have in my life and replace it with wild imaginings.

Hurricane Diane at New York Theatre Workshop

79 East Fourth Street      212 780 9037


Pushkin Downtown in Summer

Entertainment » Theatre
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Aug 10, 2018

Summer offerings abound and one worthy of a well air-conditioned two hours is the downtown theater company the american vicarious’ world premiere of Jonathan Leaf’s “Pushkin” at the Sheen Center.

“Pushkin” is a verse play that pays homage to Russia’s first superstar author, the poet/Playwright/novelist Alexander Pushkin, the author of “Eugene Onegin” and “Boris Godunov,” the basis for Mussorgsky’s opera. Leaf is a former New York City schoolteacher and journalist who obviously can do deep dive research and cover a subject carefully. He transformed the final years of Pushkin’s life, taking historical fodder and crafting it into a verse play.

Pushkin, who was famously biracial, was exiled by Alexander I and censored by Tsar Nicholas I, even though the ruler was enamored of his verse. The final years of this artist’s life were rife with rumor of his wife’s infidelity with the Tsar, the birth of children, mounting familial expenses, a chronic gambling addiction and the desire to write what he felt politically without losing his life and thus being banished from his children and his wife’s sister, with whom he had a tortured affair.

The play focuses on the tension between his exceptional talent and his flawed society and self. Pushkin struggled to abolish serfdom and yet utilized serfs in his household. He wanted to be a lauded artist and yet had to be censored and strangled by the Tsar whose pronouncements in the first person plural resonate with Trumpian speech – as in, “we are not amused.”

The work is well directed by Christopher McElroen, who is also the artistic director of the american vicarious. The design of the work is amazing. Troy Horie, who self identifies as a scenographer and installation artist, created a simple square set with the audience seated on both sides. There is a red carpet on the floor and at the opening, and an enormous, white square surrounds a sleeping Pushkin, played by the very excellent Ian Lassiter. The square, the frame, then lifts and reveals what we learn are the illuminated drawings Pushkin doodled of gallows. At the play’s culmination, when Pushkin is killed in a duel, more glorious drawings, lit from within are revealed. This moment lasts for far too short a time, as it is visually stunning. And frankly, even though the work is interesting, at two hours it is too long.

Of the actors, Pushkin’s wife Natalya, played with simpering flirtatiousness by Jenny Leona, and her cheating sister Alexandra, played by Lexi Lapp, are excellent. Kyle Cameron as Gogol seems to goad Pushkin into his gambling perhaps as he is a bit jealous of his friend’s prodigious talents. Gene Gillette is perfect as the weak, petulant Tsar.

However, I was diverted by the seemingly never-ending scene changes and prop placements. Tables, carafes, playing cards, dueling pistols, all seemed to be constantly changing positions, and, yes, carefully carried by well costumed serfs thanks to designer Elivia Bovenzi. The scene changes were musically interesting; yet alas, no music was credited in the program. It did provide an interesting interstitial to what could have been unbearable.

If the scene changes were minimized, the play would slim down to a better length. As we have learned from another play that ends badly with a duel and features a man who is enthralled with three sisters, “Hamilton,” much can be done to denote place change without enlisting props and constant scene changing as the audience watches. It maybe unfair to compare “Pushkin” to the rightly exalted “Hamilton,” but recently “Carmen” as CSC Rep created a panoply of place and time with a few ammunition boxes. I feel strongly that this work was diminished by a busy-ness that detracted from the strong story, lilting verse and a cast of well-credited, talented actors.

“Pushkin” runs through August 25 at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture, 18 Bleecker Street, New York, NY. For more information, visit the Sheen Center website.

Peter Pan Tries to Fly At Bard


Jack Ferver in "Peter Pan," which runs through July 22 at Bard Summerscape.Jack Ferver in “Peter Pan,” which runs through July 22 at Bard Summerscape.

Bard College’s wonderful summer festival of music, art and theater takes place in the magical Frank Gehry building shimmering on a greensward on campus in the lush Hudson Valley. So for me, no matter what happens inside the theatre, excitement and beauty abound.

Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile inner confusion and missteps with the outer environment, and this summer’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Peter Pan” proves this theory. It is Bernstein’s 100th anniversary and thus many productions and homages abound, and justifiably. He was, and still stands as a marvel of a modern composer and innovator. His “Peter Pan” had a brief run in 1950 only to be eclipsed by the more famous Mary Martin “Peter Pan” a scant four years later, but the music of Bernstein and the wonderful words of Scotsman J.M. Barrie live on even if they are often eclipsed by a production so over burdened by kitsch, props and strange Darth Vader voicing that it made some audience members scurry for the door and others, this reviewer among them, to wish, oh please let us just hear this glorious music with perhaps some Tinkerbelle-voiced human reading the remarkable words of Barrie. This was not to be.

The production, directed by the often-lauded Christopher Alden, takes place on an acid green stage and opens with the frantic placement of potatoes along the proscenium. Five Bard students clad in matching green run from a shopping cart piled high with spuds to the edge of the stage in what seemed like a strange reality TV contest. The small orchestra, with great re-envisioning of the score by Garth Edwin Sunderland, plays the grand music. Stage left is a working carnival ride consisting of five metal sharks that can whisk lost boys, Peter or Wendy back and forth to Neverland or serve as the trundle beds for the boys after Wendy is transformed into their mother. This was a lovely design concept wrought by Marsha Ginsberg, and one that seemed remarkably clear in the midst of the miasma of mermaids in shopping carts, pirates in ski masks with digitally scary voices or any of a host of myriad unwelcome diversions from original music and words.

A production still from “Peter Pan,” which runs through July 22 at Bard Summerscape.

This reviewer adores experimental works, having toiled at the nest of experimentation, LaMama ETC, for decades, but often experiments in performance are like the advice given elegant women by Coco Chanel, “Before you leave the house, always remove one thing (an accessary), less is more.” Alden’s direction was often frantic to the point that I might have believed there was a fire off stage or that the bus back to Manhattan was leaving ahead of schedule. But there were some winsome touches as well. Jack Ferver played Twink, oops Tinkerbelle, in a gender-bending fluid, fun way as he danced and twirled to his own choreography or led cast members in steps he devised. Captain Hook, voiced by the superb William Michals, was a joy even when dripping too much stage blood and spitting into Peter’s medicine in an attempt to poison him. His Captain Hook’s soliloquy was such a welcome, glorious break that it brought down the house, deservedly.

Bernstein was commissioned to write only musical accompaniment for the 1950 production, but of course in typical overachieving fashion he also included seven original songs. “Who Am I?” happily receives a reprise sung the second time by the excellent Rona Figuero after an earlier, confusingly weird version by Erin Markey, who plays Wendy. Markey (whose chosen pronoun is they or them), delivered their lines in an unexplainably flat way as if they were perhaps part robot. So it was a treat to hear the lyrically melodic song revisited by Figuero.

As with much of this production, less would have been so much more. However, it was was a treat to listen to this glorious, usually forgotten Bernstein score and to hear the words of Barrie. Barrie, through the voice of his childish, never-grow-up characters, expresses so much of the angst we all feel as we struggle with being grown up in a scary world, often yearning to dip our toes back into a childhood we perceive as safe, but most probably was filled a sense of being a lost boy or girl in a constant search for “Who Am I?” Go for the music and words.

“Peter Pan” runs through July 22 at Bard Summerscape, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. For more information, visit the show’s website.

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Fun Home Hits the Hudson Valley

Theater Reviews


Cast members from the Rhinebeck Theatre Society'a production of "Fun Home."

Cast members from the Rhinebeck Theatre Society’a production of “Fun Home.”  

“Welcome to our home on Maple Avenue… ” sings the excellent cast of “Fun Home” in the Hudson Valley’s Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck, N.Y. The Tony-winning musical is receiving its regional premier in a production by the Rhinebeck Theatre Society.

This musical reinvents a classic coming of age story seen through the eyes and pen of cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Her graphic novel of the same name is the inspiration for the transporting words and music of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. This transcendent work is something this reviewer saw in each iteration as it moved from tiny stages to Broadway glory. As a fan, I was worried that a small regional company might not do justice to this musically intricate work that combines nuanced themes of belonging with coming to terms with sexuality and suicide told with rollicking humor. But when the first song rolled over me and the beautiful set (by Andy Weintraub) unfolded, I was gob smacked.

The work chronicles Alison’s growing up with a closeted gay father, and her coming out to her parents during college, followed soon after by her father’s suicide and admissions of his latent and actual longings. The work intertwines Alison at three ages (small, played with a kind of vigor and impish pluck by Eliza Petronio, medium, comported and sung with bravery and bravado by Mary Kate Barnett, and adult, in the person of Alison, the grown woman cartoonist whose performance is full throated and glorious.

Add to this mix the very poignant and dulcet tones of Jared Allyn Decker as the conflicted father and Alex Heine as the soulful, long suffering mother of three and wife to a gay man. The other children, John, played joyfully by Molly Lyons, and Christian, brought to life forcefully by Jamison Fountain. There is also a bravura performance by Lisa Delia as Joan, the gal who wins Alison’s heart to such a degree that Mary Kate Barnett sings “I’m changing my major to Joan,” a wonderful first love song.

These amateurs, under the deft direction of Dot Luongo and the skilled orchestra led masterfully by Paul and Joanne Schubert, bring down the house with raw emotion and often-hilarious moments. The “Fun Home” (slang for the funeral home where everyone lives) gives rise to hijinks as well as a kind of confusion about the blurred lines of home and work, life and death, the sense of belonging and worldly expectations.

Alison Bechdel is the woman who coined the term “The Bechdel Test,” which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two female characters that engage in conversations about anything other than men. The test has become a litmus test for deciding if there is an active presence of women in films, drama, and literature. And this work certainly puts female characters front and center without minimizing the importance or thrust of the men in the story.

Rhinebeck Theatre Society states in their press release, “A 2015 report from the New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network shows that LGBTQ people in the Hudson Valley also deal with limited or poor media representation, family estrangement, limited access to affirming healthcare, and severe social isolation. ‘Fun Home’s’ honest representation of LGBTQ narratives will be particularly impactful with a cast of nine local actors, many of whom identify as LGBTQ, especially for specially invited audiences of local high school Gay-Straight Alliances.”

This important work is a lyrical look at how we remember and how we resolve wounds in order to stitch together meaningful lives. The music, the lyrics, and the excellent production all weave together to produce an evening that will soothe and stimulate in equal measure. Bravo.

“Fun Home” continues through June 24 at The CENTER for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, 661 Route 308 Rhinebeck, NY. Performances: Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM.
Ticket Prices: Adults $27; Seniors $25; $20 student tickets at the door. “Pay What You Will” Fridays (cash or check at the door)
For more information, visit the theater’s website or box office (845) 876-3080.


Admit it Josh Harmon’s “Admissions” is Important and Amazing

Entertainment » Theatre


by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Apr 2, 2018
A scene from "Admission." Photo: Jeremy Daniel

A scene from “Admission.” Photo: Jeremy Daniel  

Let’s admit it, Joshua Harmon is a playwright to follow, stalk and revere. His previous plays “Significant Other” parsed the bumpy road of gay relationships, and “Bad Jews” one of the most produced recent plays in America, tackled religion. All of these garnered praise, guffaws, deep thought and great entertainment. His newest work, currently gracing the stage of the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, is called “Admissions.” And it covers the full range of what that word can mean: something divulged and maybe a tad secret, or the act of letting someone in, usually to a place that requires some standards and not just an open door policy.

This is Harmon’s most serious, and yet still giggleable play. He says he worked at it on and off for 12 years and it is obvious that he turned the idea of preferential admissions for people of color, as well as inborn white privilege, over and over and viewed it from inside out and upside down. In Harmon’s words, “I’d never seen a deep exploration of being a white liberal or white privilege. What does privilege look like?”

The premise of “Admissions” is that at a posh New England Prep School the Admissions Officer, Sherri Rosen-Mason, played with taut whining and good-hearted perfection by Jessica Hecht, is keen on increasing the percentage of students of color. It is perhaps her life’s mission. An elderly, long time school administrator, Roberta, is in charge of the school brochure, and she seems only able to find pictures of white students to include, thus thwarting Sherri in her mission. Ann McDonough plays Roberta with bumbling aplomb.

Sherri is married to Bill, The Head of School, given gravitas and fatherly humor by Andrew Garman. These two have a son, Charlie, a senior at Hillcrest Prep. Charlie’s best friend is Perry, a bi-racial kid who attends the school. Perry has a pastry toting, white woman mom named Ginny (Sally Murphy) who is often given to frantic, air headed dithering or proselytizing. Sherri and Ginny are also fast friends. Both boys, Perry and Charlie, apply early decision to Yale. Perry gets in; Charlie is wait-listed. The drama ignites and unfolds between December 2015 and April 2016.

A scene from “Admission.” Photo: Jeremy Daniel  

There are five characters in this tight hour and forty minute non-stop action satire. All of them Caucasian, by author’s design. Perry and his African American father are never seen, but referenced extensively. (In an interview with Harmon on NPR, he said he felt it was more genuine to write what you know, hence white characters and white privilege.)

Charlie, played by Ben Edelman, must be mainlining Red Bull as he has some of the most intense, energy infused monologues (along with endless stairs to run up and down) and still flip and flop like the hormonal teenager we are to believe he is. He delivers a rant on the issues of diversity. Is it fair how society decides who is a person of color? If Penelope Cruz is a person of color, why isn’t Sophie Loren? Charlie says his grades and SAT scores were better than Perry’s. If Charlie is half Jewish and his grandfather outran the Nazis, why isn’t he given preferential treatment? After all, decades ago, no Jews were admitted to Yale (or any women).

Then the rant veers to why some hapless girl named Olive was awarded the position of editor-in-chief of the school newspaper over Charlie. Charlie continues to run up the stairs, flop on the sofa, veritably foaming at the mouth and traversing the excellent set by Riccardo Hernandez, which serves both as Sherri’s office and the family home. This extended monologue wins actor Edelman applause as our heads are spinning. You can watch the audience wordlessly agree or squint as they parse the multitudes of positions presented on how diversity works or doesn’t work from the perspective of a well cared for, dare we say, privileged white boy. All of this action is given taut attention through the directing chops of Daniel Aukin who helmed “Bad Jews” and is scheduled to direct “Skintight,” the next Harmon play set to open later in the spring.

Following up on the monologue, Harmon allows the father to voice his thoughts. Garman’s character rises from his perch in the chair after his son has exhausted himself. He calls Charlie spoiled, says he has no gratitude. And chides him that he will always be fine, always ascend because he is a privileged white male from a prep school background who will no doubt go to an excellent university. He will always have a seat at the table, people like him built the table, and therefore a seat is saved.

The mother, whose job it is to constantly assess and split the infinitesimal difference between deserving candidates, is now stuck realizing that her son may or may not have gotten into his childhood dream school because some dedicated admissions officer, just like her, gave an edge to a kid of color. Or the kid wrote a better essay, had more compelling recommendations, or a host of other marvelous attributes that would make him a fit for what the class would need.

There is a plot twist that allows Harmon to explore a further notion of how far do our scruples and morals extend when it comes to potentially allowing our children to harm themselves. I won’t divulge this, since it is a good one and unconsidered by this viewer until it popped up.

In the end, we the audience, who resemble the people of privilege the play is shaking its fist at, are left admitting that we have questions. When our children, whether of color or not, get into a program, or a school, or get a promotion, do we think they earned it outright? Or do we, will we, wonder what other factors went into their, or our, admission to the next level.

Harmon’s “Admissions” is the kind of work we need in profusion. It pushes us to think about our country and what is going on when a white racist president strips rights from immigrants, LGBTQ citizens, and women. When people of color are disproportionately shot and we have a Justice Department that turns a blind eye espousing that the rampant police killings are a “local matter.” This play is so powerful because it considers multiple facets of diversity and instead of bludgeoning the audience with statistics, and horrors, it allows us to laugh at our neighbors, our often very serious children, and ourselves. Bravo to Harmon and Lincoln Center for producing such an audacious work.

“Admissions” continues through May 6 at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater,
Lincoln Center ,150 West 65th Street, New York, New York. For further information, visit the Lincoln Center Theater website.