Monthly Archives: November 2015

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom

*published on 23 Nov 2015 in The EDGE

Eric Folks and Madeline Mahoney play father and daughter in 'Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom'

Eric Folks and Madeline Mahoney play father and daughter in ‘Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom’  

Let me say from the get-go that I am not a fan of video games, but I am a huge fan of the Flea theater in TriBeCa and especially their program to encourage and utilize a young, resident acting troupe called The Bats. With that prejudice out of the way, I attended “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom” with trepidation and left feeling that once again this wonderful theater has a presence and a mission that never fails to, at the very least, shake its audience.

The action takes place on a raked stage evocatively painted to represent gardens and streets, well wrought by designer Simon Harding. This represents a quiet neighborhood ruled with an iron hand by a Neighborhood Association. Here, every aspect of life from lawn height to the position of garden gnomes is tightly regulated.

And yet behind closed doors, the adolescents of Neighborhood 3 are addicted to a video game, which recreates their own geography and personal iconography exactly. The GPS map allows teenagers to battle zombies in their own neighborhood, even in their own houses. Parents try with decreasing success to coax kids from their rooms with cars, hamburgers, interventions and affection; all to no avail.

The play, written with an acid tongue for dialog and great wit by Jennifer Haley, premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville; this is the New York City debut. It is directed with great aplomb by Joel Schumacher, whose wonderful work we know as a writer on “Car Wash,” “St Elmo’s Fire,” “Flatliners” and a few installments of the “Batman.” As well, he directed a number of episodes of the mega-hit “House of Cards.”

A narrator instructs the players on what to do to achieve maximum success in the level sets each scene. It is exactly like watching the gamers set their sites on getting a grenade, or a money clip or in this case garden shears, or a sugar fix. The teenagers all refer to their parents by their first names and seem unable to recognize the danger in being so detached from the linear world.

There are about eight different scenes or levels each artfully populated by a cast of 16, all excellent. The Flea has a policy of a one-sheet program that only lists the participants so I can’t delineate who played what character. They represent parents and children all involved in an elaborate game both in real life or AWK (away from keyboard) and on screen.

The issues raised by the play seemed terrifying to me as the mother to grown children attempting to tether them back to real life and away from screens of all sizes and ilks. However the very young audience thought that there were moments of grand hilarity.

I know from reading Bruno Bettelheim’s seminal work on childhood and the power of fairy tales, “The Uses of Enchantment,” that it is paramount for little kids to be able to envision killing their mothers or isolating their siblings thus Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and on and on. Perhaps video games provide the same kind of relief from an unempowered life for whomever plays them.

In “Neighborhood 3,” the Shakespearean contrivance of a play within a play finally unites as the kids reach the final terrifying level and one kid seamlessly segues from ignoring and excoriating his mother to actually murdering her with the hammer that was his final level weapon. We see the massacre in an off-stage shadow and when he returns to his game station he finally breaks down weeping. Curtain.

Again perhaps it is the confluence of slaughters in Paris and Mali, across the Middle East, and in movie theaters and elementary school across America, but playing at this level of violence is not entertaining or diverting to me, but rather a terrifying example of a world gone mad.

I applaud the Flea and the panoply of actors and creative stuff that brought this play to fruition, as many in the audience seemed tickled pink.

“Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom” runs through Dec. 20 at The Flea, 41 White Street in New York. For tickets or information, call 212-226-0051 or visit www.theflea.com

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The Illusionists — Live on Broadway

*published on 23 Nov 2015 in The EDGE

We all want the holidays to be magical, even if we sometimes balk at the commercialism sewn into every early advertisement and the blaring carols. But there is something to be said for celebrating the darkest time of the year, which was the original druid impetus for a yuletide, equinox celebration and of bringing trees and lights inside. So this year I kicked off the holidays with magic.

I carted my goddaughters, 9 and 7, to the “The Illusionists — Live on Broadway” for a Sunday matinee and we had a rollicking blast. From the moment you enter, the stage is filled with a video of smoke emanating from somewhere marvel filled.

The show has a modern electronic, yet vaudevillian inspiration. There are six magicians, illusionists, ventriloquists, daredevils, conjurers and a futurist. They are all introduced and artfully segued by the MC, Jeff Hobson, who bills himself as the Trickster.

The Trickster tells jokes that make the adults laugh and the kids just see him as silly and over the top with his sequins and platinum hair. And his occasional card tricks keep us occupied while the massive stage at the Neil Simon Theater is constantly transformed. After all fire, cross bows, straitjackets, and dancing girls all must move on and off in order for the next level of wonder to be revealed.

The show runs over two hours and it rarely seems to lag as the acts are interspersed so smoothly by director and creative producer Neil Dorwood. The work of these seven artists, because this really is an artistic pursuit when shown so beautifully, is inspiring. We all gasp and endlessly imagine how did they do every trick.

There is a very scary act by Daredevil, Jonathan Goodwin who is a creative, skilled, and crazy stunt performer. He is an accomplished knife thrower, archer, escape artist, fakir, martial artist, free diver and free climber. Goodwin is not a magician, but he left us breathless. So much so that when he lit himself on fire while inverted and trapped in a straitjacket, I turned to the older girl and said “I cant look.” She responded that she was sure he had done this before. Ahhh, jaded youth.

The show then moves to a serene, elegant series of balletic card tricks performed by Korean born, Yu Ho-Jin, who calls himself The Manipulator. He is touted as a rising superstar in the world of magic and was named the 2014 “Magician of the Year,” by Academy of Magical Arts and was the first Asian to win the Grand Prix at the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques, also known as the “Olympics of Magic.” His work is calming, soothing and yet still awe-inspiring.

A final favorite, and very Halloween, is the The Anti-Conjuror, Dan Sperry. He is Marilyn Manson meets David Copperfield, and perhaps could be described as a practitioner of black magic. His first act was to swallow razor blades and then swallow string and finally tug them all out of this gullet tied together. Gross was the response from my row.

Later in the show, he borrows a quarter from an audience member, and then inserts it into his eye. He then slits his forearm open, very bloodily and extracts the coin from his arm. In fact I don’t even want to know how he does it, and we all agreed, we wouldn’t want that coin back.

Another favorite was The Futurist, Adam Trent, who works with video and lasers and creates a beautiful synthesis of technological illusions, dance and comedy all interlaced with classic techniques.

The time seemed to zoom by, dare I say magically.

“The Illusionists: Live on Broadway” runs through Jan. 3, 2016, at the Neil Simon Theater, 250 52 Street. For information or tickets, visit www.theillusionistslive.com/tickets/broadway