Monthly Archives: December 2011

Lysistrata Jones – a review

*published on Dec 19, 2011 in EDGE

At first I was slightly thrown off course by the froth and seeming frivolity of “Lysistrata Jones” a musical that moved from a smaller Off-Broadway venue and the Judson gymnasium by way of The Dallas Theater Center. I kept thinking, looking, and cogitating attempting to find the raison d’être in this production with music and lyrics by Lewis Finn.

Patti Murin, Josh Segarra, and the cast of "Lysistrata Jones" (Source:Joan Marcus)

In order to parse my reticence to enjoy the fun, I share this: I had seen Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” at BAM the night before. A revelatory solo performance by John Hurt in what is surely Becket’s most personal and revealing work. It was a triumph. One man, a tape recorder, a simple table, closely focused lighting and some bananas directed insightfully by Michael Colgan of the Gate Theater in Dublin. I was gob smacked for the entire piece and admit the mindset of Beckett lingered with me.

Curtain up the following evening on, “Lysistrata Jones” at the Walter Kerr Theater. There there were no house lights to half, no long foreplay to begin, only a bump to bright lights and a stomping, slamming band and the vision of an African-American Amazonian goddess in a gold lame bra, size, oh, maybe 50 double H and a voice equally as large and compelling. Thank you Liz Mikel! And we were off. It took me until the second act to recalibrate my senses for pure joy and to detect the simple messages within the kingdom of musical theater.

And in such a kingdom the players of course act, sing their hearts out, and dance some very complicated basketball-themed moves, well conceived by Dan Knechtges, who also directed the show. The players are all wildly young and talented. This is a very loose reworking of Aristophanes’ play from 411, called simply “Lysistrata”, an account of one woman’s mission to end the Peloponnesian War.

Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges — or as they call them in this modern version, “giving it up” — from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace. In the hands of writer Douglas Carter Beane, this becomes ” Good god/ we got / a sex jihad.”

So you can see that Aristophanes’ premise is similar, but the means and energy are quite different. Here Athens is Athens U, a low-level safety school where it seems no one really aspires to much, including the basketball team, who is enjoying an extended losing streak and doesn’t even want to try.

The team captain, Mick, played and sung well by the very cute Josh Segar, is the leader of lethargy and the sweetheart of Lysistrata Jones, a tiny blond with pipes for days, Patti Murrin. We learn that Lysi had to transfer because her parents became mired in the debt meltdown — one of the many times the creative team brings in the tweaks of modern social criticisms and sometimes witticisms as well. There are references to iPhones, texting to save the day, finding a prostitute by asking Siri, and Newt Gingrich’s account at Tiffany.

The cast is wonderfully multi-culti, featuring Alex Wyse as a Jewish boy who says that Todd is his slave name and insists on being called Cinesias, until the end when we discover his real name is Tevia. There is a nerd, Xander, who comes out of his virtual computer world to be the mascot, a Trojan complete with skirt and helmet, played with pathos and fancy footwork by Jason Tam. By the end the two players, who have dubbed each other Batman and Robin, come out and embrace to the applause of the cast and audience.

Lysi spends most of the play attempting to motivate the team to win a game; at least she wants them to want to win. She enlists the team’s female entourage plus the bright school library intern, the wonderful, curly redhead, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, whose pert body is endlessly referenced and sung about by her suitor.

The girls in return sing, “No more giving it up until you give up giving up”. A tad clumsy, but the sentiment is there. In fact many of the lyrics were far from lyrical, but there were many crude jokes, snide asides, and echoed guffaws. In the end, the real lesson for me was the importance to inspire and find the passion to overcome hetero-normative stereotypes and unearth “the angels of our hope.”

When I exited and made my way to the subway, I found I couldn’t recall a single musical thru line and was more drawn to a trombone player’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” echoing in the cavern. But still, I left uplifted by the power of hope and the talent of a young cast celebrating a Broadway show during the holiday season.

“Lysistrata Jones” enjoys at extended run at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St. For info or tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.lysistratajones.com/

 

Purchase With A Purpose

*published on Compathos

Even in a recession we all still want to give a trinket or something snuggly to those we love. How much better if these tokens of esteem and adoration also come with a helping hand to those less fortunate, but oh so talented.

Sometimes it is difficult to know if artisans and artists have been treated fairly, paid a good wage and work in safe conditions. But many producers have donned the mantle of doing well and doing good simultaneously and they are offering an array of wonderful gifts which can be purchased on the internet for the holidays. Or be smart and keep this handy guide for birthdays, weddings, Valentines Day or Mom’s and Dad’s Day.

JUST SHEA

Full disclosure here, I am one of the founders of this amazing company. I say that with pride as these high-end skin creams are made from the finest safely harvested, fair-trade shea butter. The women in Northern Ghana are the only ones who gather shea nuts, as shea is a self-sustaining crop harvested from the ground and hence the men consider it trash, and thus women’s work. The women use the money they garner from gathering shea to pay school fees for their children, often their daughters who are less often allowed to go to school than their brothers.

The women literally risk their lives gathering the shea nuts as black mombas and vipers abound and they have no protective gear. JUST SHEA was founded to provide women with hats, boots and gloves to protect against snakebites. JUST SHEA pays for this gear by selling high-end creams created to protect Western women’s face, hands and feet. It is a simple elegant solution for one set of women to help another.

All the products are available individually at http://www.justshea.com Each $55
And sets are available at the wonderful site AHA Life, which also offers other products that give back. Set of three $148

12 Small Things

The folks who began 12 Small Things also produce the beautiful HAND/EYE magazine and website. 12 Small Things, no surprise, offers a dozen quality, handmade, artisan goods from around the globe. The current collection features work form India, Peru, Ghana, Haiti, Africa and Guatemala. The collections support craftspeople working to improve the lives of their families and communities in some of the most challenging situations on the planet. Their stories are those of strength, hope, and beauty, and each product reflects these qualities in the design and craftsmanship. 12 Small Thingsstrives to assist these communities and artisans through commerce.

One of our favorites for holiday giving are the magical EBONY VESSELS (photo 2) crafted from sustainably sourced mpingo wood by artisans living in Mozambique’s vast woodlands, these sophisticated storage jars are both useful and beautiful. The unique lids of these stylish lathe-turned jars are a chance for the carvers to show off their skills. Mpingo is the Kiswahili word for the dark hardwood also known as African blackwood or Mozambican ebony and grows prolifically in Mozambique’s forests. Differences in tone and slight imperfections confirm the authenticity of materials and craftsmanship of every vessel.

Select from 3 different styles; Small (7 x 4″), Medium (8 x 4″) or Large (10 x 4). If out of stock, vessels can be special ordered at info@12smallthings.com. Availability: In stock – $65.00

carpenter company

Patti Carpenter was a big time designer working for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Timberland and Bill Blass, when at the flip of the Millennium she decided she needed a different mission. So she quit and began working with artisans, primarily women across the wide world. Her mission was and is to help the incredible artisanal women to hone the design elements of their craft to appeal to markets in the industrialized world.

Carpenter voyages to Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America to seek out crafts, clothes and home decor items, which will enrich your lives while helping workers worldwide. One of her most loved new items are JouJou Dolls.These Haitian dolls are made in conjunction with Haiti Projects, Inc., Cooperative D’Artisanat and Carpenter. The fair wages are set by the artisans, generate a sustainable income source that in turn support families and communities. A percent of retail sales and wholesale sales, beyond the purchase price, go back to artisans to update water systems, improve housing and schools. $27

Also check out the DIGS web site in general for other sustainable gifts that give back and offer modern design and eco-friendly ethics, sustainable style and fair trade. Shop their collection of essentials, accessories and gifts for contemporary living, and discover sustainable design for every occasion. They offer natural body care, eco-friendly home furnishings, organic cotton textiles and designer bath accessories to FSC certified woods, fashion accessories, votives and oil diffusers, and natural home accessories.

Every DIGS item is made from recycled, repurposed, sustainable or organic materials. Crafted in collaboration with artisans from around the world, DIGS products meet Fair Trade guidelines.

The Andean Collection

The Andean Collection was founded to bring sustainable change to impoverished communities in South America. They offer artisans the opportunity to participate in the global market while inspiring customers with access to the elusive world of the rural Andes. Their motto is – “We Create to Encourage Change”.
They also have a non-profit arm, Andean Project, to ensure that this change is productive and healthy and to address other poverty related social issues, all funded through sales and private donations.

The jewelry runs from $30 to just under $100 dollars. One we love is the Cloud Forest Choker made form Acai and panbil beads it is $54

GreaterGood

And for those of you who would like to make a donation in the name of a loved one as the gift for any occasion think about GreaterGood.org is committed to making the world a better place by using simple online ways to protect the health and well-being of people, animals and the planet. GreaterGood.org partners with and funds leading nonprofit organizations around the world in order to alleviate poverty and hunger, promote peace, address cancer and other widespread health problems, foster literacy and provide education, preserve vital habitats in peril, and provide protection and care to vulnerable animals.

Angel Votive Candleholders (photo) are from Croix des Bouquets, a world renowned center of artisanry outside Haiti’s capitol, Port au Prince. Each angel is hand-chiseled from sheet metal using time-honored Croix des Bouquets techniques. Metal sculptor Exuvare Jolimeau comes from a famous family of metal artists headed by his uncle, Serge Jolimeau. Serge studied with the great master of Haitian metalwork, Georges Liautaud, whose artistry catapulted Haitian “fer forge” to international attention.12 Small Things

Stick Fly – a review

*published on Dec 8, 2011 in EDGE

Lydia R. Diamond’ new play “Stick Fly” portrays a panoply of black, educated, solipsistic characters, with one white girl thrown into the mix, often for comic effect.

Mekhi Phifer as Flip and Tracie Thoms as Taylor in "Stick Fly" (Source:Richard Termine)

Similar to Eugene O’Neill’s family avatars of yore, the LeVay family represents a range of archetypes: the philandering overbearing father, played to the hilt by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the meek younger brother (called Spoon by his girlfriend), well wrought by Dule Hill, who I still adore from the much-missed “West Wing”.

Then there is the know-it-all swordsman older brother, who was usually pitch-perfect as interpreted by Mekhi Phiffer, but who falls down a bit when required to dip into his tool bag to find “sad”. Add to this mix a mother who never shows up. The maid Cheryl is, for my money, the star of the show, a highly-strung and with good reason young woman with questionable lineage. She is played wildly by Condola Rashad.

Now add to the salmagundi the girlfriends: Spoon’s girl is Taylor, a light-skinned upstart with a famous but absent political theorist father. Taylor is the emotional spinning wheel of the drama and Tracie Thoms brings it all: outrage, lunacy, love, hurt, abandonment, and a weird scientific whimsy. Rosie Benton is the WASPy sweetheart of older brother Flip. She is cool, calm, and outspoken about her work in the inner city and her love of a proud black man.

The Playbill jokingly identifies the locale as “Martha’s Vineyard, 2005, Not Oak Bluffs” Most of us know that Oak Bluffs is the traditional stomping ground of the upper class black folks. Many well-noted ethnographies have been written about this high-end enclave, and generations of people from the Obamas to Oprah and poets from the Harlem Renaissance have summered there.

So the gag before the play begins is that these are black people inhabiting an enormous summerhouse, away from others of their group. The set by David Gallo is a home so huge and complicated that before the play begins it threatens to overtake the audience.

But once the actions starts, with the scenes set and punctuated by Alicia Keys’ wonderful signature twangs and throbs, the decor works and seems perfect. It is within this sprawling mansion, attributed originally to the Wickham Family, (no relation to your scribe) that the drama of one family, which embodies so many of our families begins to unravel.

The direction by Kenny Leon usually holds all the scenes and characters together; it is only on occasion that scenes are played so far upstage as to lose some of the desired immediacy.

Everyone has converged for a summer vacation at the family home. The maid arrives first to spruce up the place, whipping off white linen furniture covers, mixing pitchers of lemonade and making a beeline for bedding and breakfast goodies.

Then the young, engaged couple, Taylor and Spoon, land and she begins cooing over the home’s grandeur, stating that she had intended to marry Spoon because she loved him, but now she is reconsidering marrying for money. These kinds of tweaks and jokes proliferate throughout the play.

The dad enters next, without his wife. This surprises everyone and we spend the next two hours wondering why. We can see that there is no mother in the program, so we are not in doubt about whether she will appear. We need to wait to find out why.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson plays the father with ice in his veins, as least in regard to his younger son, who although possessing too many advanced degrees from Ivy League institutions, decides to be a writer. There are so many echoes of O”Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in this play.

The two sons engage in the constant revisiting of unfinished fights and the reopening of old wounds and unfinished business. There is a lot of booze, and while the unseen mother is not addicted to morphine as Mary is in O’Neill’s version of family life, she is referenced as a constant shopper and someone who must be taken care of in the station to which she was born.

As well as tackling the family drama, “Stick Fly” attempts to deconstruct race, and more importantly, class. It investigates questions such as: Who is an outsider and does that come from color or money? How do we deal with class in America? Do we ignore it and consign it to other countries where Colonialism was more prevalent, or do we pull back the curtain on the vengeful class warfare being played out in the political arena today?

Ms. Diamond’s play has some poignant elements of drama stuck to comedy and soap opera like the fly on a stick in her title. You don’t need me to tell you who is related to whom, or who had sex years ago. You need to know that this is a big work, acted by some great talent that tackles the elemental issues we all face within families and society, but seen through the lens of African Americans: something of which we see too little.

“Stick Fly” enjoys an extended run at the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St. For info and tickets visithttp://stickflybroadway.com/