Monday, May 11, 2015

The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek @ The Signature Theatre

Despite the title of this play, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek is so much more than just rocks. The story is based around a farm worker/ artist, Nukain. He is at the end of his life and Bokkie accompanies him while Nukain tries to find inspiration for his last flower. Throughout the first act we see these two different generation bond over songs, life lessons, and personal stories. Late in the first act we are introduced to Elmarie, the landowner, who despite her pleasant stories about Nukain, is not a fan of the newest flower and asks them to wash it away.

The chemistry between Bokkie (Caleb McLaighlin) and Nukain (Leon Addison Brown) is effortless. Even when the actors were sitting in silence you could see how connected they were. One moment that was breathtaking between both actors was when Nukain taught Bokkie an old traditional song. You felt the joy Nukain had passing down this tradition, and saw how excited and happy Bokkie was learning this new song.

Caleb McLaighlin, despite being only thirteen, was enjoyable to watch. I found myself watching him when he didn’t even have lines. He seemed so at peace being on stage, playing in the dirt, and he takes you on a roller coaster of emotions. One minute we are laughing with him, and the next minute we are crying with him because his anger towards Elmarie.

Leon Addison Brown does a fantastic job portraying Nukain. He takes us on an enduring ride filled with little gems that he has learned throughout his life. One that stood out was when he talks about all the walking he does, and how you must tie your shoes around your neck, let your feet get tired, not your shoes. Then Leon takes our emotions and throws them out the window when he paints his entire life story on the rock and says, “Now you can finally see me!”

Act two takes place 22 years later. We see a young man named Jonathan, who we learn is Bokkie, and he has returned to restore Nukain’s painting. We also see Elmarie who almost doesn’t recognize him and almost killed him! We see the struggles both face in 2003 in South Africa.

Sahr Ngaujah who portrays Jonathon did an amazing job capturing the youth we saw in Bokkie, and seeing the man he has become. The attention to detail is unchaining, from the way he sat to the way he held the paintbrush, it was as if we saw one actor grow up within 90 minutes.

Bianca Amatato who played Elmarie took us on quite an adventure. We see her transform from a woman with no worries and power, to “a frighten white woman.” Her performance was so realistic and not forced at all. Her subtle movements, and reactions to Jonathon were perfection. By the end of the play we see how the violence in South Africa affects everyone not just one race.

This production was a powerful peace of theatre that explores all aspects of race, life, age, and so much more. Nothing about this production is forced or makes you sway to feel a certain way. I left the theatre crying and smiling at the same time. This show has quickly become one of my favorites!

Review By: Briana Burnside
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dinner With the Boys @ the Acorn Theatre @ Theater Row

Ever wonder what happens to the guys that leave the mob family, or rather
get kicked out? Well all you have to do is go to the Acorn Theatre and see, Dinner
with the Boys. From the moment you walk into the theatre classic Italian songs blare
and you instantly feel the sense of home.

The entire show takes place in Dom and Charlie’s kitchen and patio. Dom,
being the cook, naturally has a full kitchen of vegetables, fruits, and wine. The real treat is the actors use real food so you have the aroma of fresh garlic.

The story is simple. Charlie, an old hit man, failed at killing his mark, which happened to be his best friend. With that Charlie and Dom were sent away into hiding. Dom being the nice, friendly guy who “just cooks” begs Charlie to talk about past hits. Charlie being a true storyteller gets swept up in his stories and will tell anyone who asks.  We learn a lot through the stories that Charlie paints; the most important is the fear they both have for Big Anthony Jr. The banter between Richard Zavaglia (Dom) and Dan Lauria (Charlie) is enjoyable to watch and makes you grin from ear to ear. They are almost the Italian version of the Odd Couple.

 But the story really takes off when Ray Abruzzo who plays Big Anthony Jr comes on stage. From his entrance he brings an energy that is undeniable and so much fun to watch. He takes physical comedy to another level, be careful sitting in the front row you might get some lettuce on you!

Dan Lauria who also served as the playwright did a great job filling the script with witty one-liners and classic jokes poking fun at the mob and a classic Italian family. Director, Frank Megna, did a fantastic job building the jokes to make sure they would land and all audience members would understand them. Comedy comes in threes! This play was at its best when all organized chaos was occurring. The witty jokes with the physical comedy were golden, and I wish I had a replay button so I could watch each characters reaction!

Dinner with the Boys could have ended at intermission, and I really had no idea what the rest of the story had in place for us. But the boys get a surprise visitor, which is both suspenseful and hysterical. Again, Ray Abruzzo does impressive character work, which is so enjoyable to watch.  All in all I was glad there was a second act to see where these wise guys ended up.

This play really makes you feel like you are at a family dinner filled with stories you have heard before until someone lets out a secret and all hell breaks loose. Dinner with the Boys is full of ups and downs and twists that sometimes you can predict but in the end still give you a good chuckle.

Review By: Briana Burnside
Photos By: SuzAnne Barabas

Monday, May 4, 2015

Two Gentleman of Verona @ The Polonsky Shakespeare Center @ The Theatre for New Audience

Two Gentlemen of Verona is a pastel, hipster worshipping, indie contemporary version of an already shallow classical piece full of misogyny befitting the era.

Walking into the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, one is guaranteed an almost perfect view, unless one of course is banished to the top balcony, and then in that case, you won’t see half the play anyway without dangling over the edge. Nevertheless, we move on. The FIASCO Theatre Company could have examined Shakespeare’s arguably more immature work, heavy laden with the classism and sexism of its time and turned it on its head by a subjective interpretation that battled the flimsy plotline and two dimensional characters. Instead, the audience is left with a overbearing dosage of sugar and nothing of substance.

A comedy, Two Gentlemen of Verona asks the “serious” questions of youth through tales of first love’s woe, and friendship betrayal with all the flirty whimsy of nothing being quite too serious.  When performed by what looks like a cast in their forties, it becomes a farcical mid-life crisis with a heavy dose of melodrama and none of the tender compassion that adults view childish behavior spurred by first love’s thorny kiss. A piece of eye candy to be sure, with their pretty indie guitar playing and pastel costumes, this piece tries to modernize Shakespeare by turning it into another shallow RomCom.

Zachary Fine’s Valentine is stilted at times, but his stint as a dog pulls laughter with well timed grins and begging. Actors Paul Coffey and Andy Grotelueschen steal the show with their portrayals of all of the secondary characters. Thank goodness for without them, I fear myself and the audience would have continued to sit in the awkwardness created by the interactive group.

Alas, the set as beautiful as it was, could not be enjoyed from the upstairs or at any sort of angle other than directly in front of. So please, if you do make the trek to Brooklyn, do yourself a favor and don’t buy the cheap seats. As is with all shallow pretty things, they’re enjoyed, but you’re left none the wiser, nor the better.
Two Gentlemen runs through May 24th.

Review By: Aziza Seven
Photos By: Sara Krulwich

Forever @ the New York Theatre Workshop

Forever, a poignant semi-autobiographical piece written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith at New York Theatre Workshop, is a harrowing yet somehow uplifting piece on the family you are given, the family you make, and how not one of them ever truly leaves you.

Forever is a stream of thoughts which follow Orlandersmith’s journey through her life, focusing primarily on her oft drunk and always complicated mother. Orlandersmith passionately and eloquently details her abuse, her growth, the lessons she’s learned, and her journey from a young girl into a woman.  She speaks to the greats who most believe are lost (Morrison, Balzac, Piaf, and many others) and encourages the audience to listen for their voices.  She encourages you to believe that those who have died are always there, watching, interacting, whispering to you.  If you let yourself become comfortable, you will believe with her, and the journey through Forever will be all the more rewarding.

Vital to bringing the entire piece together is Orlandersmith’s powerful performance.  The version of herself she presents is brutally honest and open, but somehow still battling for that confidence to which she’s already laid claim. She finds a way to engage and mystify the audience as she weaves her tale through monologues, starting at the Pere Lachaise cemetery, trekking through Harlem, and back to the cemetery, where she converses with those who have gone before. At points, Orlandersmith evokes her mother so strongly you can almost smell the scotch and cigarettes, even though she’s been dead since 1989.

Though at times tough to listen to, Forever brings a realness and power to the stage through Orlandersmith’s words and performance that makes it, unlike anything you’re likely to see in any other theater.  The wide-open set (designed by Takeshi Kata), adorned with photos of her and her mother’s past, brings you into Orlandersmith’s world, where she welcomes you with open arms.  The invitation to post notes on the walls in honor of those who are gone but still touch your life allows you to become a part of a shared world, where the dead still have voices.

Overall, Forever is a dark but touching piece about the ways people can touch your life, even long after they’ve passed.  It is powerful, engrossing and thought provoking, and not to be missed.
Orlandersmith’s journey has the capacity to both touch and break hearts and connect to audience members on a deeply personal level, and that’s exactly what makes it such a unique journey, and one worth taking.

Review By: Jacob R. Hines