Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Octoroon @ The Polonsky Shakespeare Center @ The Theatre for New Audience

Rarely have I seen theater perfected in the way Sarah Benson delivers Branden Jacob-Jenkins adaptation of An Octoroon.  The Theater for a New Audience has given this returning melodrama a new home and has given you a second chance to not miss this masterpiece.  Jacob-Jenkins hands us Dion Boucicault’s original story in a lively modernized rendition while keeping the classic themes and voice intact.
An Octoroon takes place at Terrebonne, a southern cotton plantation.  Here we find George, heir to the estate, newly arrived from Paris.  He finds the plantation in financial ruin but rich with beauty.  Foremost in beauty for him is Zoe, the Octoroon.  Zoe and George fall quickly in love, but there love is threatened by the evil overseer M’Closky.

Both George and M’Closky are given life by Austin Smith.  Smith is a dynamo.  His melodramatic portrayal of each character is hilarious and yet truly believable.  In addition to these two characters, he also portrays the plays adaptor, Branden Jacob-Jenkins.  His remarkable delivery made me question more than once the honesty of the playbill in my hand.
Haynes Thigpen and Ian Lassiter are an amazing pair.  The two put on numerous faces in this production and with each, bring the stage to life with their wit, chemistry, whimsy and charisma.  Another amazing pair is hilariously handed us in the duo of Maechi Aharanwa (Minnie) and Pascale Armand (Dido).  These two sass their way into our funny bone while they helping to ease some of the difficult content our way.  This eases the heavier drama of Amber Gray (Zoe), who wears her heart on her sleeve and tears at all with her anguish.
The rounding out of the melodrama for the evening is wrapped up in a bow in the form of Mary Wiseman as Dora.  Wiseman introduces herself with at least eight put on caricatures in half as many minutes.  She is hilarious and owns the stage.
The mono-chromatic set by Mimi Lien is a perfect setting for the silly and soulful drama that director Sarah Benson sets up, leaving room for surprises at all corners.  Lester St Louis adds all the color the set needs with his cello off to the side and in case some real color is needed, Wade LaBoissonniere’s costumes are a delightful spectacle.
This is your second chance to see An Octoroon through the eyes of playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins.  It is funny, witty and thoughtful, and it would be to your detriment if you miss it.

Review By: Paul Morin
Photos By: Gerry Goldstien

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Brooklynite @ The Vineyard Theater

This electrifying world-premiere musical helmed by director Michael Mayer (Hedwig And The Angry Inch, Spring Awakening), with music and lyrics by Peter Lerman (winner of the Jonathan Larson Award), book by Peter Lerman and Michael Mayer, and choreography by Steven Hoggett (Once, American Idiot) will be a must-see theatrical event. In Brooklynite, Trey Swieskowski is an idealistic hardware store clerk who dreams of becoming a superhero. Astrolass, Brooklyn's most celebrated superhero, is determined to throw in the cape and live like a normal Brooklynite. When they meet they hatch a plan that will change their lives forever. But can they save Brooklyn when it suddenly teeters on the brink of disaster? Brooklynite is inspired by the real Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company located in Park Slope, with characters created by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman.

Brooklynite also offers a chance to check in with some familiar talents and discover new ones. Cordero, the bullseye of Bullets Over Broadway, is delightful here, as is the veteran Ann Harada in a number of small roles. Doyle is sweet and disarming, though his voice sometimes sounds a little thin, and Robinson, who has few stage credits, is fantastic. She may have superpowers of her own.

The rest of the super heroes Gerard Canonico, Andrew Call, & Grace McLean were a well oiled machine that made you want to laugh and love this group of misfit heroes. The rest of the ensemble was hardly your ordinary ensemble, each person developed a quirky and honest character just to round out an already stunning cast!

Brooklynite opened at The Vineyard Theater on February 25 2015 and plays through March 29th, 2015. Hurry up and get your tickets for this Broadway ready performance. 
Review By: James Russo
Photos By: Carol Rosegg

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The World of Extreme Happiness @ New York City Center Stage I

In our modern, everyday life we constantly see forms of media telling us all to follow our dreams and reach for the stars. And in most of those forms of media, following one’s dreams leads to the those dreams happening or at least happiness along the way. “The World of Extreme Happiness” by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club tells a different sort of story.
The play tells the story of Sunny Lin, a peasant girl born in communist China, trying to make her way in the city to provide for her family and find happiness. Sunny encounters cynical managers, manipulative bosses, and enthusiastic friends in her search to be the best that she can.
The show does a fairly good job of balancing the fun comedic moments of the show with the more depressing and hard hitting, almost depressing dramatic beats, which comes of the fine and light-handed direction by Eric Ting. The tension and storytelling beats flow smoothly and makes the 95 minute show fly by in a greatly compelling way. The comedic moments soften the lows in such a way that doesn’t completely distract the audience from the low points, but makes the darker moments even darker by contrast, and vice versa.
The cast is steadily led by Jennifer Lim, who plays the main character, Sunny. Lim passes through a range of emotions and situations in such a way that her arch from shy wallflower to an unexpected revolutionary to her heartbreaking last scene seems so natural and easy, even though it certainly isn’t. The rest of the cast do a wonderful job playing two or three characters in vastly different ways that sometimes it would be hard to tell that a character was played by the same actress. In particular Frances Jue and Jo Mei each played the most characters and each of those characters were wonderfully different and interesting.
All of the production elements came together in a minimal and cohesive way that gave enough detail about the story to let the audience know what the setting was and yet still gave the audience enough to imagine on their own. The scenic design by Mimi Lien was appropriately stark and cold with just enough personality peeking through. The costumes by Jenny Mannis were distinctive for each character, but not too out of the range of reality. The lighting design by Tyler Micholeau and the sound design by Mikhail Fiksel was appropriately subtle and still enhanced each setting.

“The World of Extreme Happiness” is a great play that makes the audience think about what the cost for following dreams in a place where that is not the norm really means. The play will be running at New York City Center until March 29th. See it soon!
Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Alastair Muir

Thursday, February 19, 2015

One Day @ The 3LD Art & Technology

The trials and tribulations of puberty, the struggle for independence, and the discovery of one’s personal identity are experiences to be wrestled with by all teens as an essential right-of-passage into adulthood. But for many, those difficult milestones are tainted with the toxicity of neglect and abuse. One Day, the Musical, co-directed by author and songwriter, Michael Sottile and choreographer, Ray Leeper, takes us through a heart-wrenching journey of the American “troubled teen”.
    With two decades of stories from the real-life journal entries of teens, we’re allowed into their hearts and minds through music and dance performed by Brenna Bloom, Chase O’Donnell, Marco Ramos, Honey Ribar, Aaron Scheff, Austin Scott, Ben Shuman, Andy Spencer, Aliya Stuart, Nyseli Vega, and Charlotte Mary Wen accompanied by musicians Keith Harrison, Justin Rothberg, Matt Cusack, Michalina, and Madeline Meyers.
    As a mother of three children who have all nearly made it through to the other side, I was gutted by the emotional devastation relayed by these performers who so kindly and compassionately portrayed the human suffering with a vulnerability that is quite gutsy. I was particularly moved by Honey whose rawness was beautifully balanced by Chase’s self-deprecating oblivion. “Golden Boy”, Austin Scott and “Faggot”,  Marco Ramos encapsulated what I’ve observed to be the reality for so many young men today- basically told by their parents and society that they are not enough no matter what they are if they don’t confine themselves to the tiny little box of accepted norms.
    Video production designer, Andrew Lazarow, added tremendous value in the story-telling aspect of the musical, incorporating the words written as journal entries of these teens and displaying social media posts that serve to connect us and sadly sometimes wreck lives behind the safety of a screen.
    They say that “youth is wasted on the young”. On the contrary, only the young can possibly endure youth. With life rushing at you, particularly in a society driven by social media, agility, adaptability and most of all, idealism, forgiveness, and hope are what get you through the angst, loneliness, and despair that bombard the fragile hearts and minds of the not-quite-fully-developed fledglings who yearn to fly.
    With a limited engagement until March 1, #OneDayTheMusical is being performed downtown at 80 Greenwich in the fantastic space, 3LD Art & Technology. It is an honest portrayal of the American youth in crisis with the resounding truth that love is the answer to all of the questions.

Review By: Michele Seven
Photos By: Bob Degus

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Events @ New York Theater Workshop

The Events grips you with the expertly woven contemporary telling of a massacre that mirrors the 2011 killings in Norway, when a young man open fired on a Youth Camp.

Often combative and vulnerable, Neve McIntosh brings to life the quickly dissolving character of Claire, the community choir leader and protagonist whose journey follows through the stages of grief after a gunman opened fire on her choir. Playing all of the other characters, whether real or imagined, is Clifford Samuel. The two backed by local choir East 4th Street Singers, bring together classic and contemporary.

In Greece, it was counted as a civic duty for the community to attend theatre to consider important issues. Amateur choirs joined the professional actors onstage and here is where our world’s meld. Creative minds Ramin Gray and David Greig capture the delicacy of the event with the tentativeness of a new ensemble at every show.

Neve’s abrasiveness, coupled against Clifford’s more often calming masculine energy clash, helping the audience realize that what we are experiencing is the inside of Claire’s mind as she interviews the killer’s parents, friends; fights with her partner, and then finally speaks the The Boy himself. She tackles this character with such strength and vulnerability, it’s easy to relate even as you find yourself repulsed by her crumbling moral. Clifford Samuel plays his characters, switching with such subtlety that it highlighted his more manic co-star, leaving the audience at times confused as to who is the real villain of this story.

We are left at the end, with unanswered questions, a normal occurrence for such a tragic event as this. If you’re looking for theatre that makes you think, go see The Events.

Review By: Aziza Seven
Photos By: Matthew Murphy

Application Pending @ The Westside Theatre (Upstairs)

Application Pending is a witty one woman show starring Christina Bianco, Christina Bianco, Christina Bianco and Christina Bianco….

Application Pending is a new comedy about the hilariously cutthroat world of kindergarten admissions at a New York private school. One actress portrays rookie admissions officer Christine and over forty other roles, including all the wild personalities that she has to deal with on her first day on the job.

If you are at all familiar with Christina Bianco, you may have a grasp of her extraordinary talents for celebrity impersonations and vocalizations. Application Pending showcases her gifts in 75 minutes of clever banter! Bianco plays over a dozen characters, all of which interact with her principal character –Christine. Bianco transitions seamlessly between each character regardless of the rapid repartee.  She is engaging, endearing, enjoyable and completely entertaining.  What makes her remarkable is not only how her voice shifts between each character but also how distinctly her body engrosses each persona.  Though solely on stage without an intermission, Bianco approaches the piece with driving energy and unwavering charisma.  The only disappointment was the lack of singing in the production; it would have been nice to hear more of her great voice paired with the zany cast of characters.

Co Authors Andy Sandberg and Greg Edwards are a dynamic writing duo. The material of Application Pending is stocked with keen quips and tender moments that tug at the heartstrings.  The witticism of Application Pending spans from pop culture to religion - with punches reminiscent of a good Saturday Night Live sketch. The writing is smart, contemporary and just flat out funny!
The scenic, sound and costume design of Application Pending is also worth noting. Colin McGurk’s scenic design is clean and comprehensive of a grade school admissions office and is accented perfectly by Jeff Croiter’s lighting design. However, Croiter’s lighting is most prevalent during the character transitions in the play. Croiter defines each character or mood with a specific light, often swiftly switching at the drop of a hat. Bianco’s costume was designed by Michael McDonald. 

Although there are no costume changes, McDonald came up with a simple business casual ensemble for Bianco to wear that flattered the main character of Christina but also supported all of the other characters regardless of age or sex.

Application Pending is a delightful 75 minutes, and Bianco’s unique genius for vocal flare is worth the trip to the Westside Theatre. 

Review by: Staci Morin
Photos by: Joan Marcus