Monthly Archives: September 2012

Red Dog Howls: a review

*published on 23 Sept 2012 on The Edge

Kathleen Chalfant and Alfredo Narciso

Kathleen Chalfant and Alfredo Narciso   (Source:Joan Marcus)
The New York Theatre Workshop’s new season bows with the well-wrought, yet deeply disturbing new play“Red Dog Howls,” written by Alexander Dinelaris and directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. The plot follows Michael Kiriakos, a newly married writer, played with controlled pathos and edgy touches of humor by Alfredo Narciso. Michael finds a box of old letters while cleaning up after the death of his father. The box, Pandora style, leads to the unearthing of family secrets.

Michael’s digging propels him to the Washington Heights apartment of Rose, who it turns out is his grandmother. I will not untie any more knots because the terse 90-minute play relies on the periodic untying and retying of familial and historic threads. But, I will say that Rose is played with inspiring commitment, to character and content by Kathleen Chalfant. Chalfant turns in a truly bravura performance, one that will no doubt garner her new and much deserved awards.

In the program we see that “Red Dog Howls” went through extensive script iterations before opening the 2012 NYTW season, and the play has benefited from the time spent in development.

Dinelaris’ script is clean, well written and there are not extraneous journeys to detract us from the often-untold story of the Armenian genocide and the horrifying personal affects of that holocaust. Michael’s wife Gabby brings freshness to the otherwise heavy script by using her pregnancy to highlight the passage of time and transfer of generational information.

In the tradition of “Sophie’s Choice,” Dinelaris gives us one woman’s dilemma, which then resonates as universal, thanks to the incredible, ensemble acting and the clear direction of Ken Rus Schmoll. However, as with material this charged, there are moments when the production veers toward maudlin. The story, taken from the extreme realities of the 1915 attempted eradication of the Armenians by the Turks, is in reality over-wrought and tragic.

Sitting in the audience one cannot help but be drawn to the chronicles of modern day horrors unfolding in the Middle East, and Africa. We have not learned that eliminating a population or suppressing their freedoms will never yield positive results. And yet it continues.

The play allows us to be brought in slowly to the story of the Greek, Armenian, Italian and now Americans populating the stage. This methodical unfolding allows the work to culminate in a grizzly, explicit fashion. The simple, set by Marsha Ginsberg, further enhances the theater on Fourth Street with its open stage that always encourages voyeurism. The lights, by Tyler Micoleau and the costumes by Jane Shaw all add to the sense that we could or might know these very people.

“Red Dog Howls” is not a romp or a mindless night to escape; it is a serious work presented with three top drawer actors giving it their all. As an aside, one might eat before attending, as after, you may just want to digest what you have seen and heard.

 

“Red Dog Howls” runs through October 14 at the New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4 Street, between Bowery and Second Avenue. For info or tickets, call 877-487-2713 or visit www.nytw.org.

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Chaplin: a review

*published on 16 Sept 2012 on The Edge

Rob McClure, Zachary Unger and Christiane Noll in ’Chaplin’
Rob McClure, Zachary Unger and Christiane Noll in ’Chaplin’  (Source:Joan Marcus)

 

Charlie Chaplin is an icon. Like Mickey Mouse, Chaplin has a recognizable silhouette that has become a brand: the bowler hat, the tiny jacket, and the swinging cane. To this add the mugging and the mournful swagger and you have the embodiment of the early 20th century in flickering pictures. It was a time when movies were silent, women were not yet empowered, mechanization of production was gearing up and the world was between wars.

The new musical “Chaplin” at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on 47th Street has a book by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Curtis. Although the show is beautiful to look at featuring many original and reshot films and sets by Beowulf Boritt and costumes by Amy Clark and Martin Pakledinaz in cinematic shades of black and white, the gestalt of the evening was not as clearly wrought.

We learn that Charlie Chaplin came from humble London theatrical stock. His mum was a vaudevillian who took young Charlie (played so winsomely by Zachary Unger that for me he nearly stole the show) with her to her performances encouraging him to learn the craft.

Hannah Chaplin sings, “Look at people, see into their eyes, find a story, play your part.” Christiane Noll plays Hannah Mum Chaplin with pathos and clear-voiced pitch; she has a mental breakdown when Charlie is but a tyke and he is sent weeping and gnashing to the notorious workhouse.

Chaplin grows up and slips into the family business on stage. The grown-up Chaplin, realized by Rob McClure, is less endearing than his childhood self, but not untalented. It took this reviewer a while to warm to his version of one of the greatest stars of the modern pantheon.

McClure can sing and move and grin, almost manically, but I never loved him. True, Chaplin was a tyrant and womanizer, but he was a brilliant entertainer and provocateur. One scene cleverly shows his first three wives as combatants in a boxing match with Chaplin with each singing the fight and waltzing away with bags of alimony — one of the largest paid at the time.

Chaplin was the embodiment of the common man and his films drew heavily on the fear, sadness and destitution whirling in that class and about to bubble and engulf the country and world in a great depression. The Little Tramp character allowed Chaplin to introduce trenchant political ideas under the guise of pantomimed humor.

This is difficult meat for a musical to stew up and offer and Chaplin succeeds on occasions, but often I was unsure about the trajectory. There is no way this subject this can be glitter, sunshine and sugar, and yet often the production numbers and music, which until the finale was unmemorable, were too sweet.

Beyond the politics of the rise of Hitler’s Germany and America’s sideline sitting, the musical tackles Chaplin as exemplifying the early cult of celebrity and one who was finally hounded from the shores of California by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, played with terrifying certitude, chops and Fox Newsian vigor by Jenn Collella.

There is also a bravura performance by Michael McCormack who plays the producer Mack Sennet and Charlie’s drunken dad. Also sending in a fine performance as Chaplin’s brother Sydney is Wayne Alan Wilcox. And I was beguiled by Erin Mackey playing Chaplin’s fourth and final wife Oona O’Neill (yes, daughter of Eugene O’Neill) with gusto and grace.

These small roles do illuminate the life and times of Charlie Chaplin but even woven together they do not constitute as fine an evening as the glimpses of his films suggest. In the end it made me want to rush home to Netflix and make a Chaplin festival for myself.

 

“Chaplin” enjoys an extended run at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47 Street. For info or tickets, call 212-560-2189 or visit www.shubertorg.com/BarrymoreTix

Gutsy Friday Females: “Coming Into Your Own”

*published on Emme Nation

I need a disclaimer before I start on the path of parsing the benefits of  a program to increase women’s self awarness and power  called Coming Into Your Own, or in France, where I participated in the seminar, J’ai Rendez-Vous Avec Moi.  The disclaimer is this, programs with names like these, which seem to auger a touchy-feely , emotional high-jinx are usually something I rail against. And this is particularly strange to me, as in my life and work I think I am known as a very emotional, near to new-agey kind of partner, manager and friend. So what is it that makes me want to run in the other direction, when in fact this was exactly what I needed?

First I think there needs to be a better way to explain, market or as I said earlier, parse what these workshops, seminars, conferences are. Yes they are intensive and yes they do ask everyone to be present in a vital way. What does that mean? It means that you have to do every exercise even if you want to raise your hand and say TAXI and get the hell out of Dodge.  You can’t run away, you have to stay and attempt to be in the moment. and learn. And there seems to a lot of tears, and again I am normally a crier. Perhaps I am a contrarian, meaning I cry when no one else is and when all around are weeping, I am stoic. That said I did learn so much despite my misgivings.  

 CIYO (Coming Into Your Own) espouses that while women strive and struggle to succeed they (perhaps) developed only a part of who they are and made decisions, conscious or otherwise, to leave parts behind.

Here, this is from the CIYO website,
” In the midst of substantial achievement women often report feeling empty, burned out or invisible. Over the past 20 years we have helped women access their reservoir of presence, and a fuller expression of themselves in their work, family and relationships. Wholeness and balance in ourselves are crucial if we are to truly address the fragmentation in the world and the barrenness in so many workplaces.
The CIYO program engages the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimensions of each one. We look at how each woman has navigated her personal and professional life, what her struggles and successes have been. We work together to identify current challenges, address barriers to forward movement, and cross thresholds… all in a supportive, confidential and nourishing environment. Our groups are kept small to ensure one-on-one conversation, rich dialogue, and the transforming power of the circle.”

Perhaps now you see what I mean. I couldn’t really access what was going to happen from this description and yet I trudged off to a farm in Burgundy where I actually felt as if I had been placed in witness protection. I was tossed into my shaky second language and driven by van to an unknown location. In truth if I paid more attention I could have told you we were just kilometers from the famed Chateau Chenin of Burgundy wine fame. Alas we were in at an Ayurvedic farm retreat where no wine was served, but the setting hinted at the wonders of the vineyards and four days on veggies and herbal tea was as welcome as the extraordinary participants and the various workshops, walks and lawn lounges.

I was particularly gob smacked by a workshop on the four archetypes of personality. In short each of us possesses elements of all four archetypes, but tend much more toward one or a skewed combination. The four are, the Magician, the Lover, the Warrior and the King or the Sovereign. This theory is based largely on Carl Jung’s interpretations of personalities. It was formalized recently, incredibly so for this women centered program by Brett McKay for a program on developing men’s personalities more fully.

We had been asked in advance to bring things that might represent your family.  There is an in-depth entrance interview weeks before heading off, and I just learned, an exit interview, which is scheduled a few months after the workshop. In the advance talk one is asked about family, goals and desires and told to bring  representations of your life.

We were a full dozen in the group in France and some brought objects and others created representations from things they discovered on walks around the vast property. I brought a set of passport masks with me, one for each member of my family, which came from northern Africa where I work  (link to www.justshea.com and or the post I did for EmmeNation) I then augmented this with a variety of goodies from my suitcase and some found objects.

We all created mandalas of our lives.  My life, sometimes seems chaotic and too diverse, however, I found when viewed objectively viewing as I assumed the overview of the Magician, I was able to perceive saw rich, blessed and perfectly me the chaos was. And in fact it seemed as if no disorder prevailed. In the blink of an eye, like switching a lens from near ground to far ground and I vowed to allow myself to see my life more often with this new Magician perspective. I wanted to banish my too castigating Warrior and my squishy Lover self. I needed to occupy more archetypes and to develop them.

We learned that these different types exist within all of us, but like muscles we rarely use, they become atrophied and the more active muscles, or personality skills then prevail. The personality type exercises and definitions are often employed in the standard Myers-Briggs test administered by many human resource divisions in corporations and an understanding of where we stand is am important tool in maximizing the effectiveness of our lives from work to home.  


In order to see if this type of workshop would be right for you, in my case, great for you, please go the CIYO Website http://www.ciyowomensretreat.com

At the site they ask you to consider some questions:

* Are you considering new directions in you professional or personal life?
* Are you wanting to engage leadership challenges from a stronger 
ground of     personal authority?
*  Are you needing time for reflection, regeneration and support from a mature community of colleagues?

In fact this is all of us at different times in our lives. I returned, reentered my life with a really renewed desire to be grateful and proactive, a powerful stance.

 

The next retreat in the tri-state area is October 5-8, but there are many others all over the world, Turkey, Morocco, France, California, Arizona. Pick your location and immerse yourself.

http://www.ciyowomensretreat.com/documents/CIYO_NYCbrochure.pdf