Monday, November 21, 2016

Othello: The Remix @ The Westside Theater (Upstairs)

In recent seasons where hip hop seems to be dominating musical theater, The Q Brothers’ Othello: the Remix fits right in. But these brothers are no strangers to infusing the style into their work.  In the past decade and a half, the production group has created several hip hop adaptations of Shakespeare’s most famous works: The Bomb-itty of Errors, Funk it Up About Nothing, Q Gents, and I <3 Juliet have been produced around the country and Off-Broadway. John Leguizamo’s presentation of Othello the Remix brings the Q Brothers back to New York.
The re-imagining presents Othello (Postell Pringle) as a hip hop mogul, about to embark on a cross country tour to promote the new album for pop-rapper Cassio (Jackson Doran). Fellow artist Iago (GQ) feels betrayed to be the “opener for the opener” on the tour, and sets out to get revenge by ruining Cassio’s career and Othello’s new marriage. Though the plot is modernized, Shakepeare’s themes of jealousy and betrayal are still very apparent.
The Q Brothers incorporate a unique style of comedy into their work. Like a sketch group, there are many characters played by the company of four actors. Wigs, shirt fronts, and hats are used to differentiate the characters. Like an improv troupe, the actors break the fourth wall and make out-there jokes that incite heavy laughs. But where they differ: they do all this in the middle of catchy beats and smart rhymes, just like a hip-hop crew. Move over Hamilton, looks like you have some competition.
JQ stands out as the character actor of the production. In 80 minutes, he becomes tennis-obsessed record producer Loco Vito, Rosie Perez-like groupie Bianca, and lovesick Dungeons & Dragons player Roderigo. Doran’s Cassio is an endearing comic relief: the guy you want to laugh at and feel bad for at the same time. GQ’s Iago is earnest and jealous; he’s the puppet master villain who you almost want to see succeed. Pringle carries the show as leading man Othello, and your hearts breaks right along with him.
Equal parts Shakespeare, Hip hop, and sketch comedy doesn’t sound like a formula that should work. Oh but it does. Even the elderly ladies in the front row were raising the roof.
Othello: The Remix performs at the Westside Theater.

Review By: Kelcie Kosberg
Photos By: Carol Rosegg

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A DOG STORY @ The Loft at the Davenport’s Black Box

A Dog Story, music and lyrics by Gayla D. Morgan is a new musical comedy about a career-driven lawyer and his quest to marry a woman in less than a month in order to secure a promotion. The plot left much to be desired and the character development was almost remiss throughout the show until its final moments.

The play was performed in the Loft at the Davenport’s Black Box theatre. The set was clever. Designed by Lauren Mills, it featured large white cabinets on either side of the stage whose cubbies were opened to reveal different signs to signify scene changes and storage for characters to interact with. A Dog Story was choreographed by Shannon Lewis and directed by Justin Baldridge.

Roland (David Perlman) is our career-driven lawyer that is unable to make partner at his firm. From faulty logic, Roland realizes that others have been promoted before him because of their recent marriages. The rest of Perlman’s performance was filled with his attempt to pull more depth out of an otherwise shallow character.

Roland’s best friend, Guy (Brian Ray Norris) is a womanizer that, despite being in his late thirties, acts as if he is scarcely eighteen. His lewd comments and aggressive nature toward women did not come across as endearing--his creepiness did not set well with the audience either. Norris was unable to harness many defining moments.

Guy and Roland make a trip out to the Hamptons where Guy believes Roland will find his wife, but he must “get a dog!” first. Shortly after his endeavor of obtaining his new companion, he is in pursuit of Blair (Stefanie Brown), a beautiful hedge fund manager that Roland believes is perfect for him. Brown was captivating when she was on stage.

Lastly, realizing that Blair will never love him if his dog misbehaves, Roland hires MIranda (Lindsie VanWinkle) to train his new puppy. VanWinkle is faced with a more developed character surrounded by thin ones and she does her best to compensate.

A Dog Story did what it could to win the audience with its imaginary dog and shaky premise. The cast lacked chemistry and some of their interactions came across as awkward. The show itself had some special moments, that, as a dog lover, I did appreciate.

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Jeremy Daniel

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

PARTY PEOPLE @ The Public Theater

Writing this review has been one of the hardest things I have had to do. Not because the show, but because what it stands for and how relevant it is today.  With that being said excuse me if this review is a little scattered.

Party People takes place now. We follow the Journey of Malik and Jimmy, two millennial’s who are putting on a show to celebrate the party. (The party meaning Black panthers and Young Lords) The opening scene we see Malik (Christopher Livingston) practicing a monologue expressing his anger of never being good enough to be a Black Panther like his father. Enter his right hand man Jimmy (William Ruiz) who has an alter ego Primo but we will get to that later. Jimmy gives Malik a pep talk on how they are prepared for this show and just like that we find ourselves back in the 60’s in the middle of the civil rights movements.

We see Black Panthers and Young Lords fighting together using slam poetry, jazz, hip hop to have their voices heard. It took everything in me to not chant with them. IT AINT JUST! Throughout these flash backs we come to see each revolutionary and all the struggles they went through with the corrupt world we live in and with each other in the party. By intermission we come back to the present and we see the revolutionaries enter the show, which is all about them. They make small talk, until deep secrets rise. 

Act two we learn about spies and betrayal in the party, but we mostly focus on our new generation. How are we fighting for what is just! Do we just hide behind a hashtag and a keyboard? The party calls us weak, lazy, because we use a Facebook status to voice our opinion. What will we DO! How will we make Black lives matter?  “They don’t want us truly free, that’s how a man like Donald Trump is elected president”.

Party People is the most honest, truthful, realistic show in New York right now. The cast is filled with an amazing talented ensemble. And is truly an ensemble piece. The use of multi media is used to perfection and helps show the difference between generations and how we are all evolving.

Leaving the show I was emotionally drained. Walking down the stairs at the Public I heard some people say, “it was good, but really long”. I don’t know why but that stuck with me. It was long, yes, but it was necessary. Just like how these next four years will be long. Just like how we are still fighting for people to be equal. When will it end? IT AINT JUST!

All my babbling aside, I encourage every human to see this show. It is so powerful, inspiring, and important! I promise you will leave the theatre fired up and ready to make a change, and not hide behind a hash tag.

Review By: Briana Burnside
Photos By: Sara Krulwich

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Taste of Things to Come @ The York Theater Company

A Taste of Things to Come has enjoyed its first New York debut at The York Theatre Company at St. Peter’s. Taste is a welcome adventure through time—exploring the dichotomy of a woman’s life in the 1950’s vs. the 1960’s. The book, music and lyrics by Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin brought the pervasive experiences of women; friendship, desire, marriage, societal pressures, oppression and more—to life.

Director/choreographer Lorin Latarro utilized Steven C. Kemp’s fully stocked kitchen with moving blocks of counters mirroring the style of their respective decades. In Act I we are greeted with the 1957 kitchen, complete with a window/computer screen that accompanied the cast with television clips from the 50’s and more.

In Act II, the scene opens up to reveal the all-women band behind the counters (Gillian Berkowitz/Piano and Conductor, Ann Klein/Electric and Acoustic Guitar, Barbara Merjan/Drums and Percussion, Sue Williams/Upright and Electric Bass), a living room complete with a shag rug and other iconic 60’s pieces. Lighting Design by Nathan W. Scheuer and Costume Design by Dana Burkart was notable throughout the performance.

The play explores the lives of four women, Joan Smith, Agnes Crookshank, Dottie O’Farrell, and Connie Olsen. Each one represents different personas of the time periods. While Act I was quite whitewashed, Act II hit home with a touching exploration of the issues of women, race and status; creating a much deeper connection to the heart of the audience.

Joan Smith (Paige Faure) is the ring-leader—the organizer of the Winnetka women. Highly intelligent but limited as a woman—Faure does not struggle to personify her character’s growth into the age of feminism. It is Faure that is the glue of the performance.

One of Joan’s best friends (just don’t tell the others) is Connie Olsen (Autumn
Hurlber). Connie is blonde haired and blue eyed with the “perfect” marriage. Faced with the ultimate form of “limbo,” Hurlber explores interracial issues in the second act. Her connection with her character was as powerful as her chemistry with the cast.

Agnes Crookshank (Janet Dacal) is the forever-single woman of the group. Refusing to accept the overall zeitgeist of the 1950’s, Crookshank pushes all of the envelopes she encounters and Dacal encompasses the early dents in the glass ceiling in the form of defiance. This blossoms into success in finding her place in the world outside of Illinois and Dacal more than just “passes” in her role.

Dottie O’Farrell is the personification of feminine zeitgeist. A suburban mother of four (or was it six?), Allison Guinn hilariously pulls the proud mother almost left behind in the 1960’s to the forefront of the play. As an audience, we are reminded that motherhood is just as powerful as any other life path; and that the sexual revolution did wonders for everyone. Guinn was perfect for the role.

A Taste of Things to Come hit almost every major social and political event for women of 50’s and 60’s—from “Dear Abby” to the pill. It was an incredible journey that I was charmed to be a part of. Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin created a play that is not only reflective but inclusive.

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Carol Rosegg

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Coriolanus from Man to Dragon @ Italy Time Theatre

Coriolanus from Man to Dragon adapted by Omri Kadim and presented by Shakespeare in the Square and Combative Theatre Co. is an interesting look at Shakespeare’s Ancient Rome.

The play was presented in somewhat of a thrust fashion and the audience was made to stand and be a part of the production for roughly 65% of the play. Cast members utilized the stage and space in front of it, with a ramp leading down. Members of the Fight Core frequently spoke to audience members as if they were Roman citizens, ushering them to different parts of the floor. It was an immersive dynamic experience that director Yuriy Pavlish attempted to utilize to bring a different element to Coriolanus. Also I must note that the cast was a healthy mix of genders, another new take on the play.

We begin with dozens of fight scenes, the cast in tattered togas with strips of leather to accentuate a character’s status. It seems costume designer Fan Zhang worked with a budget as best as possible. At times it was a struggle to tell which group fighting were Roman soldiers and which were the Volscians. This issue was not assuaged by the passage of time and the lessening of violence—this made the play somewhat muddled.

Members of the cast entered the scene from three different points, one at each portion of the thrust. Sounds of battle were heard behind the curtain shielding audience members from the seats they would gain access to when the performance allowed. Every avenue was used to express different portions of the play.

The combat scenes were filled with death and the scathing sound of metal on metal or metal to spear. The cast was able to utilize a host of weapons—swords, spears, hidden daggers and dirks. The theatrics were well placed, the stances and fighting style commensurate with warriors of Ancient Rome. However, most cast members found it difficult to fight at speed and many moves came across as contrived. The exception were battles between Coriolanus (Jefferson Reardon) and Aufidius (Chris Dooly)—both men were very well suited to battle at speed and it was a pleasure to watch.

Each cast member had a solid hold of the Shakespearean prose, not faltering with its heft. The play also had a healthy dose of comedic relief mostly doled out by Menenius (Felix Birdie). Other notable performances include Volumnia (Patricia Black) and Brutus (Oliver Palmer). Black was engaging and each time she entered the stage she was welcome. Palmer held many roles aside from Brutus and in each he excelled at bringing the audience in. Reardon (Coriolanus) channeled his rage and anger very well, his performance palpable.

In all, the performance was difficult to follow at times because of the similarity of costume but was a unique take on Coriolanus.

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Emilio Madrid-Kuser