Rapping the Moor: Othello the Remix

The Q Brothers’ Othello: The Remix
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor THE EDGE
Thursday Nov 17, 2016

GQ and Postell Pringle 

GQ and Postell Pringle   

“Hamilton” has happily released the theater world to recognize the power of modern poetry to tell a story in the rhythms of modern rhyme. The newest entry to this hip-hop pantheon is the “Q Brothers’ Othello: the Remix.” It is brought to us in association with theater wizard John Leguizamo and well worth the 80 minutes of raucous wit and wise re telling of one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies.

“Othello” tells the story of a general who falls in thrall with Desdemona and they elope. Her father is not pleased and so to escape some notice, Othello appoints Cassio to a more exalted position, angering his more experienced lieutenant, Iago. Iago then spins elaborate lies to turn Othello against Desdemona, who eventually kills her, leaving the stage littered with, what we now cavalierly call collateral damage.

This remix casts Othello and his posse in the music industry as competing rappers. Think of it as an all sung Shakespearian “Empire.” The intimate Westside Theatre/ Downstairs has been turned by designer Scott Adam Davis into a blaring disco with DJ Supernova spinning and scratching and neon lights flashing. It sets an energetic stage for what is to come and heated up the theater happily as the AC was somehow blasting in November.

The show is created by the Q Brothers, meaning music, words and direction. I don’t know if GQ and JQ are actual brothers, but their ability to coalesce a tale and excite an audience is impressive. Everyone in this cast is not only supremely talented, but they seem as if they are having a blast and we lucky few get to watch and clap and groan at puns and just get happily awe struck.

There is a wonderful harkening back to the original Shakespeare modality even though the words are magically modern. All the women characters — Emilia and Bianca, wives to Iago and Cassio — are played by the men. This is achieved by quickly donning wigs and sort of dickey-like dress fronts. (Huge props to costume designer Christina Leinicke.)

This works not only for comedic enhancement, but allows JQ who tackles the roles of Roderigo, Loco Vito, a record producer, hilariously obsessed with tennis, as well as Bianca, and Jackson Dorian who portrays Cassio and Emilia to show their acting wonderful chops.

Q Brother GQ plays the villain Iago and Brabantio, Desdemona’s father. He can be dark and swiftly becomes a doddering old man with wonderful precision. Desdemona is embodied only as a distant soprano voice floating occasionally though the action. A wise choice as she should not be turned into a caricature.

The lead role of Othello is embodied by Postell Pringle whose outsized character is matched with his prodigious talent. He raps; saunters and sweats bringing every nuance to a man besotted with love and brought down by the green-eyed monster of jealousy.

This work was commissioned jointly for the Globe to Globe Festival by Shakespeare’s Globe, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and premiered in Britain and Chicago before gracing the New York stage. This is the third Shakespeare to be transformed by the Q Brothers and let’s hope many people revel in this work so they can bring us more of the cannon.

The Q Brothers’ Othello: The Remix” enjoys an extended run at Westside Theatre/Downstairs, 407 W. 43 between 9th and 10th Avenue. For tickets or information, call 212-239-6200 or visit Othellotheremix.com.

Falsettos Rings True

THE EDGE
Falsettos
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Wednesday Nov 9, 2016

I adore Billy Finn. I have been saying this for four decades, no exaggeration. During this time I have seen every iteration of “Falsettos” from Broadway to individual songs belted and bellowed over the phone when we worked together during the launch of the Big Apple Circus. Yes, William Finn really did escape from the circus and ascended to become one of the most exalted, insightful, funny, ravaging intelligent people emboldening the American theater scene.

The newest incarnation of “Falsettos” reminds us of all Finn’s gifts and how perfectly fitted they are to his long-time collaborator, the visionary director James Lapine. I think that many of us fretted that “Falsettos” might have become a bit long in the tooth, like stalwart fans who wept and worshiped it the first time when it came in three parts: “In Trousers,” “March of the Falsettos,” and “Falsettoland,” but take heart old timers and first timers; this is marvelous.

In tribute to the writing, the music and the direction “Falsettos” is not a frozen timepiece, but a concatenation of the terror that scorched the landscape when AIDS first burst into our lives and the hope that propelled us. And it has also morphed into a work about blended families and most shocking to me, is the feminism vibrating across a stage, written in the early ’80s.

“Falsettos” has so many layers that reviewing it is part dissection, part history project, and all joy. The show begins in true Finn fashion with a rollicking number called “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” I recall that Finn thought that might be the perfect name for his show, and thankfully cooler heads prevailed. But at the very opening, we know we are allowed to laugh at things that are usually hidden from view and unspoken. It is the razor-sharp humor that allows “Falsettos” to draw back a curtain to reveal how we create family, unity and forward motion in perilous times.

The test of a timeless work of art is whether it can move past its original quest. In the early ’80s there was the unknown killer that became the AIDS crisis. Perhaps from this disease and the activism necessary to battle a non-listening government, we grew into a more expansive society with greater equality for the LGBTQ community.

And now, on the cusp of a terrifying election, it seems many have receded into a time of hatred and repression. When we watch in a darkened theater filled with the most glorious music and words that can flip from clawing tears from your eyes to belly laughter we know that we are all lucky to be alive now.

As I watched “Falsettos” I thought of all the wonderful, bright, talented people from my life in the arts who should have been in the theater with me. I missed them; I missed my hopeful young self, but I was soothed surrounded by vibrating talent.

“Falsettos” chronicles the story of Marvin, who is married, then divorces and finally embraces being a gay man. Christian Borle, who usually has oversized comic roles, here has an emotional depth rarely seen from him. He is jubilant to finally have the life he dreamed of madly in love with another man and then losing that love to a plague. Marvin is a man boiled down to his essence and Borle is powerful in this role. Marvin’s sweet, manipulative, handsome lover is Andrew Rannells, from “Book of Mormon” and “Girls,” and here he too has a depth and range that takes our breath away.

Marvin was married to Trina; a woman who thought her life was all sewn up when Marvin rips the seams out. The incredibly talented Stephanie J. Block tackles this new world feminist role. This woman can croon, or belt or sing a song while eating a banana and spitting out the phrase, “I’m breaking down.” She is broken, and yet dinner still needs to be made, served, cleaned up and a bar mitzvah has to be planned. Luckily she gets help from the kindly shrink Mendel played with a bumbling schmaltz by the talented Brandon Uranowitz.

The kid at the center of many battles is young Jason, Anthony Rosenthal, who takes center stage, dances to the “March of the Falsettos’ or attempt to hit a baseball while the cast sings, “We’re watching Jewish boys who almost read Latin, up battin’ And battin’ bad.” He is great.

There are two other characters populating the world of “Falsettos,” and they are “the lesbians next door.” Cordelia, a caterer, played with an easy verve by Betsy Wolfe and Dr. Charlotte who is solemnly charged with dealing with the bachelors who come in scared and confused and leave later “unenlightened.” When Tracie Thoms sings “Something Bad Is Happening,” you feel the chill of that first wave of a crisis about to hit. She brings a strong presence to the role, and the ensemble is augmented for it.

My tiny misgiving is the set. It is designed by David Rockwell, also an architect of good intentions, and is composed of a series of huge soft Jenga-like blocks that can be used to create a sofa or be knocked down in anger or create baseball bleachers. All good ideas, but the time and action of moving all the pieces, assembling and reassembling often distracted me from just wanting to be at the moment with the music and the words and the mellifluous voices, and of course a wonderful, in Finn’s words, “teeny, tiny band.”

It might be evident to all, that Finn’s idol when he was at Williams College, was Stephen Sondheim; also an alum. The attention to idiosyncratic wordplay, the encyclopedic knowledge of history, music and art that flows from tightly strung lyrics and the complicated, syncopated or purely waltzing rhythms that emanate are a tribute to Sondheim and of course, are made modern and marvelous by Finn.

“Falsettos” is a show about synergy and sympathy, activism and romance and believing. It is what we all needed decades ago, and we need it even more than ever now.

“Falsettos” runs through Jan. 8. 2017 at the Lincoln Center Theater at Walter Kerr Theater, 219 West 48 Street. For information or tickets, call 800-840-9227 or visit http://www.lct.org/shows/falsettos

Peter Brook Returns to BAM with ” Battlefield”

Battlefield

by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Friday Sep 30, 2016

 

Thirty years later, Peter Brook retakes the stage created for him at the BAM Harvey Theater with “Battlefield,” a pared-down, much older writer’s take on the aftermath of the great saga and battle illuminated in the “Mahabharata.”

I first encountered Brook’s work in 1971 when I sat spellbound in the BAM opera house watching his “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” From there I endeavored to see all I could from his Bouffe Du Nord theater in Paris, to the Aix-en-Provence Festival, to LaMama. I sat transfixed through the nine hours of Brook’s original “Mahabharata” in 1987 and came back for more.

The original work, based on the epic poem, runs over 200,00 lines of poetry and featured a company of nearly 60 actors. There was music, elaborate costumes, and breaks for sustenance for the intrepid audience.

“Battlefield” is a story told on a bare stage, after all it is the final story in the saga where nearly everyone has been killed and laments a world littered with corpses. Four actors –Carole Karemera, Jared McNeil, Ery Nzaramba and Sean O’Callaghan – inhabit the many characters who tell the tale and fables within stories. Each is remarkable, mutable, reverent and wonderful to regard.

The characters are transformed via accents, affects, and a few errant pieces of cloth. These minimal costume pieces by Oria Puppo allow quick changes and echo the sparse world we witness. Everpresent on the edge is the extraordinary percussionist, Toshi Tsuchitori, who created the music for the original “Mahabharata” and continues to propel this final version forward.

This iteration focuses on Prince Yudishtira and he wrestles with how to live in a world that he has been instrumental in obliterating. This is a battle where even victory is dry dust as both kings have lost all of their families and loved one. They try constantly to unravel the notions of culpability and an afterlife where rebirth is possible. The language in this epic can be astonishingly beautiful. The various tales are evocative of Aesop’s fables, the Bible, and parables like those in the Koran, but all spun together with a distinctly Indian twist.

The play, at less than 90 minutes, is a slow-marching mediation asking the audience to question their own mortality and the choices we have made as a modern society with a constantly war torn world swirling at our well-fed feet. It is a world where” justice is blind and sorrow destroys wisdom.”

The audience at BAM is graying, like your scribe, and so it is a group often contemplating our legacy and the plight of the world we have either helped sink or shape, or perhaps turned our backs on. I spoke with Brook as I left, and I saw a spark still in those crystal-blue eyes, but this work is the effort of a man who at 91 still wants us to see the glory of the “Mahabharata,” a book Brook says is “an immense canvas covering all the aspects of human existence.”

“Battlefield” runs through Oct. 9 at BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street in Brooklyn. For tickets or information, visit http://commerce.bam.org/tickets/production.aspx?pid=11668

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“The Wolves” Howls on 42 Street

viewimage_story-phpEntertainment » Theatre
The Wolves
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Wednesday Sep 14, 2016

“The Wolves” is a world premier play crafted by Sarah DeLappe and developed with care by The Playwrights Realm, a company dedicated to supporting early career playwrights. They certainly unearthed a jewel here.

An all girls soccer team takes the stage. A bare, black box theater space at The Duke on 42nd Street that has been covered in green AstroTurf — a brilliant design conceit by Laura Jellinek and amplified by stark, provocative lighting by Lap Chi Chu.

From the first moment what strikes everyone is a cast of ten, diverse young women. Take a pause here. This is very unusual. And a play written by a woman, directed flawlessly by Lila Neugebauer and with an appreciative audience that conservatively was 60 percent women.

 

I took a young friend, a 15-year-old who just moved to America from Copenhagen. At dinner before the show we discussed so much of what was vibrantly portrayed in this tight 90-minute work. How are we defined as young women, what should we consider politically, how can we make friends in a new environment, why are people so mean, how do you find a trajectory in life?

These questions were all posed and some were parsed during the time the team stretched, did drills, “knees up, rear kicks, headers, passing the ball,” all was articulated on the turf. These actors are extremely fit. The sheer physicality of the work requires them to run, leap, and stretch hamstrings, quads, and delts endlessly while they unfold their home life, questions regarding abortion, what it means to be home schooled or religious and how to be a fierce athletic warrior.

And it is delivered in rat-a-tat speed, just the way modern youth talk. Every sentence is like punctuated in a like rhythmic way with like the word “like.” I often find language contrivances as like difficult to listen to, and in this play it diverted me at times and bothered my grown up sensibility. But it is realistic and was even addressed in a final scene by the only adult to make an appearance.

The girls’ characters were all well written and enacted. There is the goalie Lizzy Jutila, who constantly had to rush off stage to hurl before each game as she was so driven by her perfectionism. Lauren Patten #25 the team captain, gets into massive arguments with teammates and then must muster the gang to win the game. Tiny, blond Sarah Mezzanotte is the groups eating disorder poster child, scarfing down all the orange rinds after the team has left them behind. These are all small or large embodiments of issues that modern girls grapple with and it is so important that it is given a loud, raucous, wise voice, center stage.

“The Wolves” runs through Sept. 29 at The Duke, 229 W 42nd St., New York, NY. For information or tickets, call 212-255-3089 or visit playwrightsrealm.org

Men On Boats: All Woman Cast

Men On Boats
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Saturday Aug 13, 2016

Perhaps the wild fire success of “Hamilton” has opened a niche for theater pieces that are historical, irreverent and so non-traditionally cast that they shake us wonderfully. Such is “Men on Boats” originally produced by Clubbed Thumb, a company which since 1996 has presented and commissioned over 100 ground breaking, new works.

“Men on Boats” written with wit and wisdom by Jaclyn Backhaus, features a fearless, fierce all woman cast. Let’s start there. There is wonderful audacity to feature men in the title and yet a swirl of women embodying the explorers who ventured down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1869 on the first trip taken by white explorers, and helmed by one-armed Civil War hero John Wesley Powell.

Ten men in four boats embarked on a journey that covered and mapped almost 1,000 miles through uncharted canyons. This changed the west forever. Three months later, only five of the original company plus Powell would emerge from the depths of the Grand Canyon. “Men on Boats’ takes us, in 140 minutes, through every harrowing, often hilarious step of the trip.

The scene is set by huge black and white photomontages of the canyons, cliffs and waterways. The glorious cast holds up only the prows of the boats and yet the fervor, the danger, the heroic saves and swirling eddies is all completely vital. This is of course a concatenation of scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, beautiful costumes by Asta Bennie Hostetter, and sound design that wraps the audience in crashing waves and splintering boats, wrought by Jane Shaw.

The cast is stunning. Kelly McAndrew as Powell leads the pack with a dry wit, cool delivery equally capable of sharing geological facts or short quips. Her lead clues us in to the fact through the writing and the spot on direction by Will Davis, we will constantly be flipping from modern jargon, to late 19th century patter and the jokes and wisdom will be packed in between as tightly as the flour, bacon, whiskey and scientific instruments were stowed on the small vessels that plummeted down the canyon.

There is at times a cartoonish take as Powell and Kristen Sieh, who plays Dunn, a founding member of the theater company and often a cohort to Powell ruminates about what names to give cliffs and inlets, mountains and rivers. There is a nod to the fact that most of this glorious landscape had been named and traversed for eons by native people, but none-the-less, white men do what they must.

The cast features a range of voices, sizes and colors as the women portray crew members like Sumner, (Donnetta Lavinia Grays) who is strait laced and a constant stoic until faced with a rattlesnake when (s)he becomes a whimpering high pitched shrieker who is saved by the cook’s coffee pot.

Birgit Huppuch portrays Goodman, the youngest, smallest boatman. Goodman brings a humor and pluck to every scene and even heroically saves Powell who is stranded on a cliff. In this work, Goodman takes off his trousers and tosses a leg to Powell to haul him over. Emblematic of the play, when the rest of the crew arrives, Goodman and Powell are hugging in gratitude with pants tossed to the side. It is this ability to portray history while not bogging down in it, that makes evening so magical and important.

The rest of the cast, each inspired, includes Elizabeth Kenny as Old Shady, Powell’s brother and a humors character who can assume the shape of a shady tree. Layla Khoshnoudi, Danaya Esperanza, Danielle Davenport, Hannah Cabell, and Jocelyn Bioh round out the crew.

I had the great, and terrifying honor of rafting down the Colorado for only a week and this play brings back the glorious grandeur of the physical surroundings, the amazement of rapids and water falls traversed, and how lucky we all are to have tales to tell that are as magical as “Men on Boats.”

“Men on Boats” runs through August 14 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42 Street in NYC. For information or tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit ww.TicketCentral.com

Twyla Tharp 50 Years

 

gay wwwTwyla Tharp and Three Dances
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Tuesday Jul 12, 2016
Twyla Tharp is a 73-year-old pixie with lots of attitude who has shaped the flow and flux of modern dance. Tharp began her dance career in 1965 spinning a yo-yo while arched forward like a ski jumper, in her first piece, called “Tank Dive.” It was performed at Hunter College after her graduation from Barnard College. 2016 marks her fiftieth anniversary of dancing, choreographing and the Joyce Theater is part of a global celebration of her work.

Although raised in the Midwest and California, Tharp is a citizen of the world who has created work that shakes audiences, reviewers, fans and foes to their core. Tharp created dances to “Sinatra on Broadway,” and work for classic ballet companies worldwide. Her 1973 work “Deuce Coupe” is heralded as the first to mix modern and classical dance moves all to the beat and blare of the Beach Boys. Her Broadway musicals include “Movin Out,” “Come Fly Away,” and her choreography electrifies films like “Hair,” “Amadeus,” and “White Nights.”

She has written three books, her 2003 book, “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.” provides life skills for the creative outlaw. She is a mother, a grandmother and the mother hen to many dancers who have passed through her tutelage and heard her roar, and rage. Until July 23 audiences can thrill to “Twyla Tharp and Three Dances,” three very different Tharp dances from favorites to a premiere.

Twyla Tharp Dance in 'Brahms Paganini'

Twyla Tharp Dance in ‘Brahms Paganini’ 

 

Tharp has joked that she was named for a champion hog caller and her 1976 piece called “Country Dances” seems to hearken to a county fair where four dancers jockey, arabesque and joke wildly to country music like “Took My Gal A’Walkin,” and “Rat Cheese under the Hill.” There are seven different, often hilarious songs and dances to tickle the soul. Tharp has a wonderful way of making us laugh at the usual by upending it.

A pas de deux might just as well be two men, women as the duo, or in this case a very tall, elegant, amazing dancer Kaitlyn Gilliland partnering with the hapless John Seyla who seems to be astounded and often wonderfully tricked by moves made by Gilliland, as well as Amy Ruggiero and Eva Trapp. The four are costumed by Santo Loqusato in mock county gear, embroidered shirts, flare skirts and they whirl across the stage, vie for attention or just up and leave the stage and storm off. It is classic Tharp; funny, irreverent and beautifully wrought so that the audience never anticipates the next step or the next giggle.

The second offering, “Beethoven Opus 130” is a New York City premiere; the world bow was June at Saratoga. Here the full company, eight dancers, Matthew Dibble, Kaitlyn Gilliland, Daniel Baker, Ramona Kelly, Amy Ruggiero, Eva Trapp, Nicholas Coppula, and Reed Tankersley take the stage in marvelous Norma Kamali costumes with evocative lights provided by Stephen Terry. This piece is pure elegance and combustible energy.

The dancers take form as twosomes, or as a full flock of black birds flitting and flying across a bare stage. Again it is diva Gilliland who captivates in a stunning way. Even though there are seven other dancers performing with bravura gusto one can not stop watching Gilliland in her flowing tulle with appendages that seem to elongate with every pirouette and grand jete. Here again the partnering morphs and confuses, the classical mixes with the Marx Brothers and everyone is seduced. It shows that Tharp in on point to perfection even as the decades unfold.

The evening’s final piece is “Brahms Paganini” from 1980. Jennifer Tipton’s lights bath the Greek god-like Reed Tankersley in white light as he performs a daunting solo dressed in Ralph Lauren’s pure white trousers and shirt. He spins and leaps pretending to lose his way, only to start and stop and beguile us over and over in the portion entitled Book I.

At moments the audience gasps can be heard as the work becomes acrobatic and then back to endless turns and leaps on and off the wings. He is finally joined by the rest of the company in Book II all performed to “Brahms Variations on a Theme By Paganini Opus 35.”

By the final curtain call the house was on their feet screaming as Twyla Tharp was hauled up onto the stage and lifted as a conquering hero. She proceeded to mug and gracefully bow while grinning ear to ear. A perfect elf who had once again created magic.

“Twyla Tharp and Three Dances” runs through July 23 at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eight Avenue in NYC. For tickets or information, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.joyce.org

TURN ME LOOSE: Joe Morton is beyond amazing

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People toss terms around in reviews and at cocktail parties like “tour de force.” It means a magnetizing performance or show, and we are all hungry for it. If you are looking for a show, a performance, an experience that is up front, brilliant and stunningly smart, run to see acting icon Joe Morton in Gretchen Law’s play “Turn Me Loose.”

 

Joe Morton plays Dick Gregory

Joe Morton plays Dick Gregory , Joe Morton IS Dick Gregory  

 

“Turn Me Loose” is the story of comic genius Dick Gregory, the first black stand-up in the ’60s to make white audiences laugh at the absurdity of bigotry. Gregory morphed one of the most successful show business careers of the postwar era into a life of activism, sacrifice and danger alongside Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and other Civil Rights leaders. Wielding razor-sharp wit, Gregory hacked away at myths about race, poverty, war, and politics.

Joe Morton has gained incredible popularity from his recent work in the television hit “Scandal” however his work and fans span decades from “Brother From Another Planet” until this game changer at the jewel box Westside Theatre. Morton doesn’t play comedic genius and activist Dick Gregory he becomes him. From Gregory’s launch in the ’60s until his work continuing right up until today Morton sweats, and hums, groans, weeps and sings us through not only Richard Claxton Gregory’s life, but also the march of the Civil Rights movement through the election of Barack Obama.

Gregory was brilliant. He had an edgy educated, humor that allowed him to stand up to racists from Alabama during his first gig at the Playboy Club in the early ’60s. Gregory’s introduction, given by the very good actor John Carlin who plays many interstitial roles during the play, says, “You may not like him, but you won’t forget him, Dick Gregory.”

In author Gretchen Law’s play, when Gregory encountered heckling from the audience calling him “Nigger,” Gregory’s response was to tell his audience that in his contract it calls for him to receive an extra $50 every time that epithet is hurled.

The play is set up as a nightclub that spans over 50 decades, it is a solid set by Tony winner Leon Rothenberg and its intimacy encourages the audience to respond from time to time. John Gould Rubin’s direction empowers Morton to own every inch of the stage.

He is engaged in a clubby monologue on a stool, he leaves the stage to sit on the apron, wiping his brow telling the tale of the death of Medgar Evers and his own tiny son. A chilling saga where Gregory unfolds a foreboding of death only to receive a call from his beloved wife Lil, with whom he had 10 children, saying their son Richard has died.

Medgar Evers insisted that Gregory go home to his family and Gregory believes it was his son’s death that saved him from being assassinated, as he was constantly standing by Evers’ side.

It was the great Medgar Evers’ last words that inspired the title of this powerful play. As the time shifts from the 60s to today we learn through comedy and exposition facts like “there are more black men imprisoned today than there were enslaved in 1850.” We are forced to come to recon with the tragic path our country has taken and yet to revel in the way that someone like Dick Gregory can pluck humor from the most terrible situation and let it resonate.

Joe Morton is never off stage and never out of character fro 90 minutes, He is drenched and stooped as an old man and upright and dancing as the spry young Gregory. At the close of this show that takes you see sawing from tears to guffaws the entire audience is on its feet before lights have fully dimmer, and many are screaming for MORE, MORE, MORE!

“Turn Me Loose” runs through July 17 at the Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St. For tickets or information, call 212-239-6200 or visit www.turnmelooseplay.com