Monthly Archives: December 2016

Dear Evan Hansen

THE EDGE Entertainment » Theatre
Dear Evan Hansen
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Monday Dec 12, 2016

“Dear Evan Hansen” brings adolescent angst, cheers and tears to Broadway and the brilliant, breakout star carrying these messages is Ben Platt. This is the show I predict will win the TONY for best new musical, and I am near to never drawn to make pronouncements like that. But I can’t help myself.

Evan Hansen is a lonely teen struggling to fit in and find himself in some vibrant way in the terrifying corridors of his high school and his blinkered life. He has no friends; he has tormentors and teasers and a single mom, the brilliant, big-voiced Rachel Bay Jones, loving him but working long hours and then studying to be a paralegal.

Evan is cut off from everyone. He seems to evince some symptoms of being on the autism spectrum: repetitive movements, an inability to engage with others comfortably, certain tics and motions — and Ben Platt has embodied all of this to perfection. When in the opening Evan Hansen and his mother sing “Anybody Have a Map” the shivers and tears begin.

Platt’s voice is enormous and then retreats to a tiny child’s whimper asking for help. How do I find myself, where do I go, is there a map to help me? This is what we have all asked time and time again. The mom, Heidi, also asks for a road map to rearing a very removed teenage son who wants distance and privacy more than anything, and the mom’s wild desire to connect is as painful as Evan’s is to find distance. This is the dance of this show: how to connect, how to protect and the lies and wrong steps we may take as we attempt to do this.

The show steps off when Evan writes an Atta Boy letter to himself, as per his therapist suggestions. You go Evan: You can do it, etc. The note is intercepted by the school bully Connor, who is well played with an unctuous air of threat by Mike Faist. Connor taunts Evan with the note, but in the next scene, we learn that Connor has his own lonely demons as he has committed suicide.

The rest of the play unfurls like a roller coaster ride involving Evan’s lies to Connor’s family, mom Cynthia, a wonderfully sad and silver-voiced Jennifer Laura Thompson and her stern husband Larry, who is brought to life by Michael Park and seems chiseled from a block of wood, until he melts, being the surrogate father to Evan.

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Yes, it’s complicated, and the machinations continue. Evan carries a torch for Connor’s little sister, the very lithe and lovely Laura Murphy. And the fights between the rich Murphys and the aspirational working-class Hansens never seem to muddy the emotional waters that spill over the stage at the Music Box.

Add to these nuclear families two more classmates, the uber-motivated Alana, the girl who joins every club, has Excel spreadsheets for college applications and tries so darn hard and yet is still scared and lonely. Kristolyn Lloyd brings her to life.

The final character in the high school yearbook is the goad and nerd Jared Kleinman whose Cheshire cat grin, and a willingness to falsify emails to create a trail attesting to a firm friendship with Connor and Evan. Jared is played by Will Roland with a fine voice and great acting chops.

The usual landscape of teen anxiety has been ratcheted up to a new high with the advent and ubiquity of social media. Bullying and cyber warfare continue 24/7, and many children succumb to suicide because of it. The producers of the play manage to portray technology as an integral character by the inspired use of screens and scrolls projecting texts and showing how information can go viral and completely transforming what should have been small personal moments into global explosions from which it is impossible to distance oneself. This is achieved with David Korin’s set and Peter Nigrini’s swirling projections.

This work is a musical and the sounds emanating from the small orchestra and the huge voices are haunting, lilting and just glorious. The composers and lyricists work together and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul I hope are basking in their creation. Of course the synthesis for a show like “Dear Evan Hansen” comes from directorial chops and an innate sense of rhythm and cohesiveness brought by a director like Michael Greif.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a show that makes us ponder and wonder and we may cry or cheer. We can see ourselves and our families on the stage, and certainly I hope that many teens will be in the audience to recognize as the anthem that closes act one says, “You Will Be Found.”

“Dear Evan Hansen” enjoys an extended run at the Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St. in Midtown West. For information or tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://dearevanhansen.com/

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Penny Arcade Longing Lasts Longer at St Ann’s Warehouse

Penny Arcade’s ‘Longing Lasts Longer’
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor THE EDGE
Wednesday Dec 7, 2016

Penny Arcade is a proud 66-year-old wunderkind who rocks the house, vibrates the walls and reduces audiences to tears and raucous giggles and cheers at St. Ann’s Warehouse until December 11 with her new show, Penny Arcade’s “Longing Lasts Longer.” Everyone — boomers, millennials, tweeners, tweeters, and if we could, our cats and dogs and parents — should run, limp, uber, bike or subway to see this show.

It is a mélange of a true prayer meeting, a barnstorming, a testimonial on living young for five decades and never conforming, but always observing life with a gimlet eye. Penny Arcade is a performer with whom many of us grew up. Often she was a first in the genre of “performance art.” And she never disappointed, but now she is at the top of her game and basking in Justin Townsend’s lights, which when they turn magenta just tickle her.

Arcade, whose real name is Susana Ventura, grew up in a traditional Italian immigrant family, left school when she was 13 and came to live on NYC’s Lower East Side. She performed with Wavy Gravy, was a superstar in Andy Warhol’s Factory and acted in many productions at John Vaccaro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous before launching into her long, lauded, solo performance career.

What is refreshing and compelling about Arcade’s work is her honesty and facility with language, academic concepts, (although she is an autodidact), and her ability to thread cultural observations across the decades seamlessly and lay them at our astounded feet. She begins the show in the gleaming St Ann’s Warehouse space by roaming the audience greeting old friends, doing a bit of chit-chat here and there.

She told the audiences one night that sitting with Marina Abramovic was like sitting with a dog who had been hit by a car, and yet everyone kept saying she was so brave. No one speaks more truth to power than Penny Arcade. And whether you agree with her take on modern art, the suburbanization of our beloved New York City, the solipsism of our youth or the way technology is absorbing our lives, you do not want her to stop coming at you with the force of a hurricane.

Arcade has been collaborating with Steve Zehentner for 25 years. He is on stage with her, albeit to the side, working the sound and collaborating on the direction. Arcade on occasion stops when she gets lost in her patter and asks Steve, where she is going. They banter, he restarts the music and Arcade fiercely forges forward. There is a never a moment when you feel she is anything but genuine, and firmly rooted in the moment. And so as the audience you go with her on her every tangent, gambol, and cultural perambulation.

Arcade says that some people say she is angry, but I identified the emotions as a righteous, yes longing, for what is and was good and amazing. She takes nearly everyone to task: the tourist zombies eating their way across New York bumping into the locals because they have not been inculcated into the art of “the dip” as a way of artful avoidance of collision on the streets and sidewalks; the curse of the Princess Plague, those women tottering along on sky-high heels, arms linked because they have seen “Sex in the City”; and the SUV-sized baby carriages toting giant children through life.

Arcade is never looking to be politically correct; she is looking to be genuine and honest. “I was queer before there was a queer theory. Now we are obsessed with getting pronouns correct. This is another way of distracting us from the loss of democracy.” Arcade’s preferred pronoun, by the way, is “your majesty.” You laugh, and you think. As Arcade says, “Thinking is tough, that’s why so few people do it.”

The show skewers what Arcade calls “The Tyranny of Fragility,” continuing, “There are generations of kids who have never been slapped. Nothing takes the zing out of feeling like a genius than getting slapped.” Yes tough love, but it is certainly what many of us have thought in secret parental or teacher, or avuncular hearts.

The show is seventy-five minutes of non-stop great cogitation, amazing music, a little dancing here and there, and a room crammed with intense feeling. One can feel the wheels turning as we all conjure memories, love, lust and ire, but as Arcade advises, never nostalgia. Only longing, because longing lasts longer and we all want the glow from this show to linger.

Penny Arcade’s “Longing Lasts Longer” runs through
December 11 at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 45 Water Street in Brooklyn NY. For tickets or information, call 718-254-8779 or visit http://www.stannswarehouse.org