Category Archives: reviews

Wallace Shawn’s Talk House

Evening at the Talk House
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 17, 2017

I have seen many of Wally Shawn’s plays from the tiny to the monumental. I have attended them as I had friends and theater colleagues who were involved in the productions. I often felt I might not be bright enough to fully understand all the nuance, intellectual excursions, sexual innuendos and comedy that inhabited his plays like “Aunt Dan and Lemon,” “Our Late Night,” “The Designated Mourner,” “The Fever,” or “Marie and Bruce.” But I persisted, as I was always challenged and provoked. “Evening at the Talk House” is no different.

Jill Eikenberry, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear, Michael Tucker in Wallace Shawn's 'Evening at the Talk House'

Jill Eikenberry, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear, Michael Tucker in Wallace Shawn’s ‘Evening at the Talk House’  

 

The cast is stellar and the work opens with a cocktail party in progress. As we enter audience members are offered sweets and a cocktail resembling either Windex or a coral-colored weak version of Tang. We shuffle in, and are not given programs, (I usually like that as there it eliminates rustling, but sometimes as a reviewer I like to know who is doing what to whom.)

The actors amble off except Wallace Shawn, looking as if he’d been recently beaten, wearing pajamas and a tweed sport coat. He sits to the side and Matthew Broderick, in a too-tight velvet jacket, begins a very long monologue, basically telling us what will happen.

We are at an inn called the Talk House. We are there for a reunion of sorts to celebrate the tenth anniversary of a play written by Broderick’s character Robert. The speech is long and nearly mind-dulling. Again, is this the purpose; to lull us into thinking that the entire evening is about exploring the complaints and indulgent musings of another privileged, middle-age, white man?

The work continues with a discourse between Shawn’s character Dick, (honestly, no one can be named Dick without some sinister side to him, right?) and Robert. It seems at one point that the aging Dick was in Robert’s circle, but they haven’t seen each other in years. Robert abandoned theater work, bemoaning that as an art form it is nearly dead. This elicits titters from a live audience.

Robert moved from theater to television and during this play everyone name-drops silly pretend shows like “Mouse Chatter” and the names of fictitious producers, writers, and actors, which must have been such a blast to invent. Dick begins his monologue revealing to Robert that his bruises are the result of a beating he received at the hands of his friends. He says that it wasn’t unpleasant and he enjoyed much of it.

They both keep intoning. “Where are the old days? They used to be great.” This is certainly a parody on the Trumpian notion of make anything great again, meaning, bring back the old days when straight white men were in power and held in a place of undeserved reverence.

As the two former colleagues banter, the rest of the party arrives. There is Tony, the always dry, witty Larry Pine who has been in Shawn’s work since the get-go and was an original member of Andre Gregory’s groundbreaking Manhattan Project. Tom is now a famous actor and a beloved TV star.

Jill Eikenberry and her actual husband Michael Tucker play Nellie the innkeeper and Bill, a well-heeled producer. The cast includes John Epperson as Ted, a composer from the play being feted. Many viewers know Epperson as his stunning drag character Lypsinka. It was a treat to see him with just a hint of eyeliner and his own lanky self, holding court both at the piano and doing some campy acting.

The cast is rounded out by Claudia Shear, a performer who wears many hats including a writer and actor; and finally the only young, non-white, cast member, Annapurna Sriram, who works with Jane the innkeeper and reveals plenty of secret talents as the party heats up.

At first the play seems like an investigation of sophomoric indulgence regarding older, white, privileged, rich folks assessing their lives as swathes of things gone marvelously well, or a tumble into heinous failure. But as the platters of shrimp cocktail and towering cheese trays are consumed and cocktails morph from scotch to champagne, a quiet dystopic trope invades and like a body snatcher appears, and slinks back into a candlelit discussion of who slept with whom, who is crazy and oh yes, by the way, who has signed up to be either a murderer or a “targeter.”

The admission by Annette, the former costume designer, that what she really does for her living is “target” those who should be eliminated. She believes she is making her country safe by having those she deems dangerous in Malaysia or Indonesia killed for the greater good. It is the biggest game version of collateral damage ever imagined and it is chilling. And if you dozed off, like some of the folks snuffling around me, you might have missed this first militaristic confession. You see the play then closes ranks and we again talk about TV shows and who is alive or dead.

And then the darkness descends. Ted the piano man announces that he too dabbles in working as a targeter and while it brings good money, he also feels he is helping his country. You don’t need, as Dylan, postulated, “a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.” This can easily be the intellectualized, dramatized extension of Trump’s exclusionary politics.

In reality we have: the wall, the travel ban, the ginning up of hatred of one group against another and the politics of fear of the brown people vs. the bring back the real America, white folks. We all see it everyday and it is augmenting.

So this play, written before the Trumpian rise and premiered in London in fall 2015, sensed what might be a plausible arc of fear leading to the murder of anyone we deem dangerous. And why wouldn’t regular underemployed folks not take up the mantle of murder in the name of protectionism and safety?

We learn that the only one in the group who actually has stuck targets with poison pins is the youngest member of the group. In a stage lit only by candles, we see young Jane and rich Robert huddled drunk on the couch talking about their affair, which seems as if it might have tended closer to rape. Robert recalls it as a wonderful interlude and yet Jane says it was horrible and she now only thinks about killing herself. They embrace. And Jane continues to ramble on about suicide.

Off stage we hear cries from Nellie. They are a rhythmic patter, which earlier we learned were the specific death rattle of a new disease attacking many in this thespian circle. The screams mount and yes of course we learn that right there in the very safe space of the Talk House, where the table is littered with crystal and a celebratory cakes, the ever kind and generous Nellie is dead. Lights out.

The cast takes a bow, each holding a votive candle and we walk out to be greeted by our programs. The evening is neither uplifting nor a place to forget about the horrible swirl that is our personal political caldron of late, but as usual Shawn’s work does provide grist for every brain cell you have and then asks you to look for a few more.

“Evening at the Talk House” runs through March 12 at The Signature Theater, 480 W 42 Street. For tickets or information, call 212-244-7529 or visit http://www.thenewgroup.org/evening-at-the-talk-house.html

Othello

Othello
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Dec 23, 2016

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We live in a time of treachery, tyranny and deception when false news, mendacity and racism rule our rulers and cloud our lives. Welcome to “Othello.” Written in 1603 Shakespeare’s Moor and his goad Iago are an equal pack of villains who are manipulated by hatred and insecurity and then act upon gossip and concocted scenarios to create a world filled with havoc and writhing bodies.

Are you ready for this? The New York Theater Workshop’s excellent version of “Othello” will leave you wrung out, speechless and begging for more. This modern-day production converted the theater on East Fourth Street into an environmental set of roughshod, wood-hewn army barracks. Andrew Lieberman’s set announces itself before you walk in, as the aroma of fresh cut pine wafts through the air.

Once inside, a conscript lies on his bunk, comprised of mattresses tossed willy-nilly on the floor of the stage. He plucks his guitar. Another soldier joins him, as do more, including a former actual Vet who removes his prosthesis and lolls on his mattress, all this as the audience wanders in to find their seats and be instructed by the eager ushers to carefully stow your own gear and keep aisles open. The play will rush past you at times, so do not step into the center of the field of play.

The room is brightly lit and then darkness falls and lingers and we hear murmurs from the soldiers and see them furtively looking at their electronic devices, which for an instant light their faces and portions of the room. The play begins as the Duke, played with grand nature diction by David Wilson Barnes, unfolds a portion of the premise.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure and terror of reading or seeing “Othello” recently, let me attempt a short synopsis. Othello is a Moorish ( meaning black and Muslim) captain in the Venetian army. The play opens in the midst of an argument between Roderigo, who is a wonderful, lisping comic diversion in this production (Matthew Maher) and our master villain Iago, played by Daniel Craig.

Craig enters, almost unnoticed in khaki shorts, a ball cap and a ratty green T-shirt. He speaks and the room vibrates with his command. This first scene shows that Iago has many fish to fry with his cunning. He has convinced Roderigo to sell everything he owns to get money so that Roderigo can woo Desdemona and marry her. When Roderigo learns that Desdemona has married Othello, a general whom Iago serves as a lowly ensign, a fight ensues and the brawls continue.

Iago is juggling, pitting men and woman against each other. He entreats his wife Emilia, the strong, snappy Marsha Stephanie Blake, to unwittingly plot against her mistress, the limpid-eyed, lovelorn Desdemona, Rachel Brosnahan. The audience titters as Iago is referred to endlessly as honest Iago. We know what lurks in his heart and brain. We watch as Iago sets up a sweet-faced Cassio, played so well by Finn Wittrock, to be the imagined lover to Othello’s wife Desdemona.

As we watch the mark, Othello be set up by Iago, we observe the tyranny of false news setting a fire of hatred among individuals and a community. David Oyelowo as Othello is a pillar of ebony perfection. He takes the stage at first as a man beset with love and we watch him devolve into a monster infected by “the green-eyed monster” of jealousy.

In the scene where we see him lose his countenance the lighting designer, Jane Cox, lights the stage in green LED lights and uses the light of cell phones and devices to create a ghostly pallor. At times with the stage lit by devices rather than theatrical lighting I wanted to see more clearly, but I applaud the creative use and the metaphor of all the machine lights in our modern life that flood us and yet perhaps divert us from the real life and light around us.

And so the story unfolds. The audience returns after intermission and the actors roar back onto the stage and alas we know what will greet us. Desdemona is murdered, strangled viciously by her Moorish husband; all the while Iago is setting about killing Cassio, Roderigo and finally shoots his own wife Emilia. Cassio’s sweetheart is dispatched (the very affable Bianca played by Nikki Massoud, an actor I hope to see more of in the future). The floor is littered with bodies and blood. The screams have subsided and yet there is more.

Craig and Oyelowo surge at each other wrestling, thrashing on the floor, certainly earning the knee and elbow pads worn for this very athletic production. Then Othello finds a knife hidden under his mattress and stabs himself, leaving only the wretched Iago heaving in horror. The soldiers cover the bodies and silence descends. Iago moves across the stage and touches Othello’s back and we are pitched into black.

The audience rises to their feet and the cast runs out for curtain calls. We are so close, we sense and share their exhilaration and exhaustion. This play is a Herculean event that leaves nothing, as they say, on the field.

“Othello” runs through January 18, 2017 at the New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. Fourth St. in New York. For information or tickets, call 212-460-5475 or visit nytw.org

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/

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

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

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow

*published on 12 Aug 2015 on The EDGE

Summer theater abounds in NYC; it is a time to wander the edges and find places, companies and plays that might elude us during the year. One such offering shining brightly in TriBeCa is The Attic Theater Company’s production of “the dreamer examines his pillow,” mounted at The Flea Theater and artfully directed by Attic’s artistic director Laura Braza.

The play was written nearly 30 years ago by consummate New Yorker John Patrick Shanley. Shanley surmounted a thug-tough

Summer theater abounds in NYC; it is a time to wander the edges and find places, companies and plays that might elude us during the year. One such offering shining brightly in TriBeCa is The Attic Theater Company’s production of “the dreamer examines his pillow,” mounted at The Flea Theater and artfully directed by Attic’s artistic director Laura Braza.

The play was written nearly 30 years ago by consummate New Yorker John Patrick Shanley. Shanley surmounted a thug-tough childhood and draws upon it liberally in all his writing. He garnered accolades in film, TV, and theater winning every prize imaginable. Many know him for “Moon-Struck” and “Doubt” on Broadway and film.

“dreamer” is described as a “comedy of anguish” and The Flea is the perfect intimate space for the play’s dreamlike exploration of tragedy and exuberant connective tissue between two lovers.

Donna and Tommy grope their way through lust, love and art. Donna, played with gusto by Lauren Nicole Cipoletti, has an on again, off again relationship with Tommy, the wonderful Shane Patrick Kearns, who will be seen opposite Jacqueline Bisset in the upcoming feature film “Peter & John.”

In three scenes wrought in ramshackle rooms well-designed by Julia Noulin-Merat, we follow the couple as they fight about the meaning of life and fidelity. Tommy is also having an affair with Donna’s 16-year-old sister. These endless conversations lead Donna to return to confront her Irish father, embodied by Dennis Parlato who galvanizes the stage as a drunk in a regal-red robe.

Donna refers to him as a piece of red lint and accosts him until he finally agrees to answer her questions about her own life. This charged conversation leads her to insist that he talk to Tommy “to get him to marry me, or beat him up.”

The play alternates between the surreal; it opens with a Tommy praying to his small refrigerator, and poetic; a monologue delivered by Donna extolling the transformative nature of amazing sex is glorious. As ever, Shanley can write; his dialogue is pitch-perfect and his musings can transport audiences. Occasionally the mix of rat-a-tat-tat dialogue and long monologues can seem off-kilter, but Shanley quickly ropes us back in to the yin and yang dissection of love.

“the dreamer examines his pillow” runs through August 25 at The Flea Theater, 41 White Street in Tribeca. For information or tickets, www.theattictheaterco.com.

Mummenschanz: theatre review

*published 24 Nov 2014 on The EDGE

The wordless magic of 'Mummenschanz'

The wordless magic of ‘Mummenschanz’  (Source:nyuskirball.org)

 

Mummenschanz is a Swiss mask theater company that perform a series of skits or acts all done wordlessly and without music. It is not mime; it is so much better. In fact they are so good that they had a Broadway run from 1977 to 1980 and today the work is wonderfully fresh.

I wanted to introduce ‘Mummenschanz’ to a new generation, so I invited a 7-year-old pal to join me. This is a smart kid who on our walk over regaled me with news of her own iPad and the games she plays on it. I was a tad worried by the low-tech, OK really, no-tech aspect of our planned afternoon, I needn’t have been. She was enthralled.

This year’s show is entitled “The Musicians of Silence” and it is part dance, part puppet show and part theatrical wizardry. The skits are short and so inventive. A giant green pea slithers onto the stage to devour a stuffed animal and then detesting the flavor, attempts to wipe its tongue clean to the giggles of every kid in the packed house at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

Enormous tutus transform into seahorses and swimming fish, a day-glow ribbon dances against a black backdrop to the sound of the whipping fabric moving in increasing swirls and orbits until your eyes continue the images even after the dance is done.

There are moments when the company wisely brings up the house lights, which for the most part are very dim, so that the performers can run through the audience creating a wonderful havoc with antics. They are clad in black velvet bodysuits that even cover their faces, so they can invisibly manipulate the puzzle pieces, or puppet arms and legs, to stunning results. One loses track of the human and only sees the fun.

The company is comprised of Floriana Frassetto, one of the company’s founders, and Philipp Eglie, Raffaella Mattioli, Pietro Montandon and a duo of tech directors, Eric Sauge and Dino de Maio. These six make real magic come to life on the stage. In one skit, two performers arrive on stage wearing gray masks and they proceed to have both a fight and a competition.

One performer in a scary-looking mask attacks the other pulling his ears down into long dog-like appendages. The seemingly injured party rebounds by manipulating her face to create a sweet dog snout, thus trumping the attack. They continue back and forth, pig to owl, to fish to bull, to sheep to hedgehog, to monster and we are thrilled. All of this is done in full view of the audience with no mirrors, only hands to guide and reshape masks on the spot.

Another encounter with transformation has an enormous yellow tube similar to plumbing apparatus in which a dancer cavorts with a big red rubber ball on its base. It rolls and then tosses the ball to the audience. On our afternoon the kids in the front row tossed the ball back dutifully every time. The tube made it clear that it wanted the ball to circulate; I have seen it do that before eliciting much oohing and ahhing. Finally the tube with no face, no words, only a body language, made it clear how dejected it was, and took the big ball and went off stage.

Mummenschanz was founded in 1972 and it is a testament to the power of wordless art and theater that is remains so fresh and can still captivate audiences for the first or the umpteenth time.

Mummenschanz runs through Nov. 30 at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Pl. in New York City. For information or tickets, call 212-992-8484 or visit nyuskirball.org/calendar/mummenschanz2014