Posted in absurdist, Anne Washburn, Apocalypse, Bart Simpson, cartoon, The Simpsons

Surviving With Bart In Anne Washburn’s "Mr. Burns…"

 Survival may well be in the smallest of small details.

In “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play,” those details are found in re-enacting what can no longer be seen on TV since the grid exploded. It’s clearly a generational thing. Fans of the Simpsons will no doubt enjoy the retelling of episodes in all their arcane context, the rest of us will happily head for the exits.

Photo by Joan Marcus: Susannah Flood, Gibson Frazier, Matthew Maher, Sam Breslin Wright & Quincy Tyler Bernstine in Playwrights Horizons production of Anne Washburn’s “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play.”

The campfire at which “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” opens is dominated by Matt (Matthew Maher), whose knowledge of uall things Simpson is unrivalled. And impressively boring. Matt is a raconteur who must recall every detail. “No, no, wait, it’s….”

From “Mr. Burns…” Jennifer R. Morris, Sam Breslin Wright, Gibson Frazier, Colleen Werthmann & Susannah Flood in a photo by Joan Marcus.

Who knew that a world after a nuclear apocalypse would be enlivened by live reruns of old TV shows and commercials? In the universe of “Mr. Burns…,” there is nostalgia for diet coke and endless unsubstantiated counting of how many have survived.

Matthew Maher, Jennifer R. Morris, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Sam Breslin Wright, Colleen Werthman,  Nedra McClyde & Gibson Frazier in “Mr. Burns…” by Anne Washburn. Photo by Joan Marcus.

All this makes “Mr. Burns…” an odd one-joke kind of tragedy. The characters are recognizably drawn from life. Many of them are the type who tease meaning out of trivia. There are the democracy-hungry, like Quincy (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), looking for a concensus on what will be agreed upon. The nitpicker for whom every suggestion seems like too much to do is Matt, ahead by a nose in front of Gibson (Gibson Frazier) who suffers from some of the same qualms.

The horror of end-times is trivialized, or maybe Samuel Beckett-ized a la Mod if not lite,  in “Mr. Burns….” The troupe of Simpson impersonators at the center of “Mr. Burns” never really gets our sympathy for their plight.

Steve Cosson directs “Mr. Burns…” to bring out the ordinary in these extraordinary circumstances.  BTW, The characters in the play are use the given names of the actors portraying them which makes one wonder if future (or past) productions will (have) rename(d) them for their starring casts.

Anne Washburn’s vision in “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play,” is depressing. Not because radiation is annihilating humanity. It is depressing because we cannot be roused to care.

To state the obvious, “Mr. Burns…” is cartoonish. Well, duh!

For more information about “Mr. Burns…,” visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/mr-burns-post-electric-play/

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Posted in ambition, George Kelly, going to New York to be a writer, playwright, young man rebelling against his father

Finding his own path, "Philip Goes Forth"

Striking off on one’s on is a privilege and a rebellion in which the young often indulge, heading out to find their own success.

Philip (Bernardo Cubria) and his father, Mr. Eldridge (Cliff Bemis) have a fundamental disagreement as Mrs. Randolph (Christine Toy Johnson) looks on in Geroge Kelly’s “Philip Goes Forth” at the Mint extended through October 27. Photo by Rahav Segev.

“Philip Goes Forth,” at the Mint Theater in an extended run through October 27this about one young man’s contention with his father over his future .

Mrs. Randolph and Philip in the Mint production of “Philip Goes Forth.” Photo by Rahav Segev.

In this classic generational dispute, Philip Eldridge (Bernardo Cubria) is in a fine pique over his father’s (Cliff Bemis) high-handed dismissal of his ambitions. When Philip appeals to his aunt, Mrs. Randolph (Christine Toy Johnson)  she tells him, “You may be able to do wonders, Philip ,—I know nothing at all about it . And if I did know—that you had it in you to succeed even moderately at it ,…..—I should be the first to encourage you.” She is sympathetic, but worried, “.. I’ve read so much of the disappointments and heartbreak of writers; and I’m sure the majority of them must have ridden away wit h very high hopes.”

Mrs. Oliver (Carole Healey) pays Mrs. Randolph (Christine Toy Johnson) a visit. Photo by Rahav Segev.

George Kelly’s play gets off to a slow start, but as “Philip Goes Forth,” by the second act, it gains momentum and the power to captivate. Philip’s adventure takes him to New York City, where he feels an endeavor like his to write plays should prosper.

Mrs. Oliver (Carole Healey) and her daughter, Cynthia (Natalie Kuhn) both support Philip’s desires to become a playwright. Cynthia expresses her delight that he is planning to try his hand at writing. Mrs. Oliver says, “Why not?—I mean, after all, it ‘s your life. And if it’s unexpressed, remember there’ll be nobody to blame but yourself.”  And it is with that encouragement that Philip sallies off to Mrs. Ferris’ (Kathryn Kates) boarding house. There his college roommate, Tippy Shronk (Teddy Bergman) further fuels his aspirations. The other housemates gatherred in Mrs. Ferris’ drawing room include Miss Krail (Rachel Moulton) a delightfully absent-minded poetess and the tormented Haines (Brian Keith MacDonald.)

Philip (Bernardo Cubria) shares his dreams with Cynthia (Natalie Kuhn) in “Philip Goes Forth.” Photo by Rahav Segev.

Ironically, in New York, Philip finds great success at what you would call a “day job” where he labors in a novelty business. He is on the verge of a promotion when he receives visits from family and friends.

The direction, under Jerry Ruiz, seems a bit uneven, as Philip, Shronk and Mrs. Oliver are given free reign to be over the top, while the rest of the cast seems to take a more naturalistic approach. However, both Bernardo Cubria as Philip and Carole Healey as Mrs. Oliver find their place in our hearts as “Philip Goes Forth” proceeds into the later acts. Rachel Moulton is extremely fetching as the resident versifier, who “stress[es] the necessity of beauty unduly.”  Natalie Kuhn is sweet as Philip’s girlfriend; her enthusiasm for the romance of a writer’s life is comic and touching.

George Kelly, who was wildly popular in the late 1920’s, is seldom staged today.  Go forth, and enjoy this reclaimed little gem from a mostly forgotten master of stagecraft.

Visit http://minttheater.org/currentproduction.php for more information and tickets to the Mint’s production of “Philip Goes Forth.”

Posted in academia, director Adam Fitzgerald, Kevin Cristaldi, literary subjects, love and loss, love story, Margot White, Rachel Reiner Productions, Victor L. Cahn

Love and regrets in "A Dish For The Gods"

“The Portrait of Dorian Grey” comes to mind, in which Dorian’s youthfulness is dependent on his portrait’s aging.

Kevin Cristaldi as Greg and Margot White as Julia in Victor L. Cahn’s “A Dish For The Gods” in a Rachel Reiner Production at Theatre Row’s Lion through October 5th. Photo by Jon Kandel.

In Victor L. Cahn’s new play “A Dish For The Gods,” at The Lion in Theatre Row through  October 5th, the balance of success is scaled so that the acolyte’s career soars while her mentor’s fails.

Julia (Margot White), invited to lecture on women writers, reminisces about her one great love, Greg (Kevin Cristaldi,) who nurtured her growing ambitions and interests as a writer and academic.

Remembering her first encounters with the charismatic Greg, she says “A lot of people assumed that his manic energy manifested some demon inside. Young women were especially prone to this judgment. Our pipeline also clarified that he was single and … how can I put this … energetic. As at least three women in our offices could testify personally.”

Julia found with time that she blossomed into a world-renowned writer and lecturer under Greg’s inspiration. But as she flourished, Greg floundered.

Margot White as Julia with Kevin Cristaldi as Greg in “A Dish For The Gods.” Photo by Jon Kandel.

Director Adam Fitzgerald does Cahn’s excellent play credit, seamlessly bringing the past into the present as Julia winds her tale of  love and loss. A simple set, designed by David Arsenault, serves the many venues “A Dish For The Gods” inhabits.

Margot White and Kevin Cristaldi are both excellent in this two hander. She tells her story so naturally that it feels as if it were ex-tempore. He gracefully swings from mood to mood, first the manic popular professor then the defeated drunk.

You will have no regrets seeing “A Dish For The Gods.”

For more information about “A Dish For The Gods,” visit www.RachelReiner.com, or www.theatrerow.org/. For tickets, go to www.Telecharge.com. At the box office, you may purchase the tickets for the bargain rate of $19.25.

Posted in caste, dentist, George Bernard Shaw, Gingold Theatrical Group, love story, Sean McNall, Shavian, socialism, The Pearl Theatre Company

Flaunting convention: GSB’s specialty

The polemical isn’t always preachy.

Sean McNall as Mr. Valentine is demonstrative with Amelia Pedlow’s Gloria Clandon. Dan Daily as Walter Boon, the waiter aka William in The Pearl’s production of GSB’s “You Never Can Tell.” Photo by Al Foote III.

Sometimes, as in George Bernard Shaw’s  “You Never Can Tell,” in a charming production by The Pearl Theatre Company in cooperation with the Gingold Theatrical Group whose Artisitic Director David Staller directs this presentation at the Pearl’s home on W42nd through October 17, it’s keen and cheeky.

Sean McNall, Ben Charles, Emma Wisniewski, Zachary Spicer, Dominic Cuskern. Photo by Al Foote III.

One expects a George Bernard Shaw play to avow socialism and eschew class, and uphold the view that women rule over men; these POVs show up in so much of what he wrote, even “Pygmalion,” the play on which “My Fair Lady” rests. They are on display also in the seldom-seen and lesser known “You Never Can Tell.” 

Robin Leslie Brown is Mrs. Margaret Clandon in GSB’s “You Never Can Tell.” Photo by Al Foote III.

In “You Never Can Tell,” Mrs. Margaret Clandon (Robin Leslie Brown) returns from an eighteen year exile in Madeira to an English seaside town. With her are her children Dolly (Emma Wisniewski), Philip (Ben Charles) and Gloria (Amelia Pedlow.) The two younger, Dolly and Ben are untamed and wild. It is an unabashed pleasure to watch newcomer Emma Wisniewski scampering about.

Mrs. Clandon earns an esteemable income and some celebrity from a series of books about 20th century manners in which she flaunts convention and espouses liberation for women. She has attained some of that liberation for herself, as she has succeeded in separating from her marriage without actually ending it.

Sean McNall as the dentist Mr. Valentine with Emma Wisniewski as Dolly Clandon in “You Never Can Tell” by George Bernard Shaw. Photo by Al Foote III.

Mrs. Clandon has raised her children to be independent. Her eldest, Gloria was brought up with a belief in her emancipation as a woman. Gloria’s self-reliance does not hold up so well when Dolly introduces her to her  new dentist, Mr. Valentine (Sean McNall.)

Mr. Valentine (Sean McNall) and Miss Gloria Clandon (Amelia Pedlow). Photo by Al Foote III.

Mr. Valentine, reduced to dentistry after several failed attempts at other medical practices, suffers from an excess of levity and a shortage of funds. He is so poor that he is forced to dupe his landlord, Fergus Crampton (Bradford Cover), in order to cover his past rent.

The first act of “You Never Can Tell” tends to mystify. But oh, when it all becomes clear in the second act, what a delight.

Rounding out the superior ensemble are Dan Daily as Walter Boon, called William by Miss Dolly; Zachary Spicer as Walter Bohun, a distinguished attorney brought in to mediate a case for Mrs. Clandon by her solicitor, Finch McComas (Dominic Cuskern). Barbar Bell has designed a plethora of lovely costumes for
the cast to wear in Harry Feiner’s lovely sets.

L-to-R, seated Dolly (Emma Wisniewski), Fergus Crampton (Bradford Cover), Gloria (Amelia Pedlow), Mr. Valentine (Sean McNall), Mrs. Margaret Clandon (Robin Leslie Brown), with Philip Clandon (Ben Charles) directly behind her. Standing L-to-R, Finch mcComas (Dominic Cuskern), Walter Bohun (Zachary Spicer), and Walter Boon (Dan Daily). Photo by Al Foote III. 

“You Never Can Tell” is as sparkling a production as the champagne uncorked for all to sip at the curtain.

For more information about “You Never Can Tell,” please visit The Pearl’s website.

Posted in Cassius Clay, Fox Studios, Lincoln Perry, Liston-Ali Fight, Muhammed Ali, Stepin Fetchit, The Nation of Islam, Will Power

When Cassius Became Muhammed

Nikki M. James as Sonji Clay, K. Todd Freeman as Stepin Fetchit, Ray Fisher as Muhammad Ali, and John Earl Jelks as Brother Rashid in Will Power’s “Fetch Clay, Make Man,” at NYTW. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Image is more about politics than substance. How you present yourself is not necessarily who you are.

Unless of course, you’re Muhammad Ali, for whom the image was a sincere reflection of who he was. In Will Power’s drama, “Fetch Clay, Make Man,” at the New York Theatre Workshop through October 13th, while everyone around him may be cynical, Ali (Ray Fisher) is earnest in all his beliefs and his desire to be a shining example of the best a black man can be.

Ray Fisher is Muhammad Ali and K. Todd Freeman is Stepin Fetchit in Will Power’s “Fetch Clay, Make Man,” at NYTW. Photo by Joan Marcus.

So why did this proud and powerful black man invite Stepin Fetchit  (K. Todd Freeman), a man whose comedy portrayed a shuffling Negro servant, to his training camp. Stepin Fetchit seems like an odd associate for Ali to bring into his inner circle right before his second bout with Sonny Liston.

Power’s tale is based in truth, however, and Ali did invite Step to his training camp in Maine in 1965. While Will Power and Wikipedia have quite different views on the genesis of the relationship, Power’s story is a much-researched and nuanced look.

In “Fetch Clay, Make Man,” Muhammad Ali is far more mercurial than Step, whose ambition is to clear his name of the blemish it bears. Co-opting the character of a shiftless Negro was Lincoln Perry’s act of subversion. He was obliged to stay in character his whole life, however, and at the end he was famously Stepin Fetchit.

K. Todd Freeman as Stepin Fetchit with Richard Mazur as William Fox in “Fetch Clay, Make Man,” at NYTW.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

“No no no, look I know your real name.  But to the world you are Stepin Fetchit.  Now and forever,” William Fox (Richard Mazur) tells him in one of the flashbacks to the Hollywood of the ’20s and ’30s.
“You’re Stepin Fetchit.  And when you talk like this in the New York Times, speaking of your fondness for concert recitals, Step you confuse the people….” Playing to the stereotype was Stepin Fetchit’s way to turn the prejudice on its head.

Ray Fisher as Ali and Nikki M. James as Sonji Clay in NYTW’s production of “Fetch Clay, Make Man.”
Photo by Joan Marcus

Muhammad’s wife Sonji Clay (Nikki M. James) is delighted to meet him.”Your father liked his movies?,” Ali says. “He did.  And he would always talk about ‘em.  How you made him laugh his head off when you would act lazy, you know so you didn’t have to do the white man’s dirty work,” Sonji says. “But still get paid for it,” Step retorts. Concerned with his legacy and eager to rekindle his career, Step hopes to use his association with Ali to change perceptions.

“And see I’m tryin’ to tell people that that’s not who I am, I ain’t the enemy.  But I ain’t about to pick up no gun, or put on no bow tie,” Step tells Sonji, “that ain’t me.  I fight on the screen, that’s my battlefield.  And pretty soon, I’m gonna go back there and take back my title, as the greatest negro picture star that ever lived.”

John Earl Jelks as Brother Rashid with Nikki M. James as Sonji Clay in “Fetch Clay, Make Man,” at the NYTW through October 13th. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Lots of fancy footwork goes into Fisher’s portrayal. Literally and theatrically. He is Ali. Freeman’s Step is a dignified man who has played the clown too long. Nikki M. James is completely lovable as Sonji, Ali’s first wife. His betrayal of her is disappointing, but the Nation of Islam have him enthrall. He is an acolyte and Sonji is a victim of Ali’s orthodoxy. John Earl Jelks is also excellent, rounding out the cast as Ali’s body guard from the Nation of Islam, Brother Rashid. Jelks reserved thuggishness is a study in disciplined militancy.

Will Power’s “Fetch Clay, Make Man” is a smart, well-written portrait of a man whose life has charmed his fans and detractors. Well, really it’s a thoughtfully-written, portrait of two very different men whose lives have charmed and entertained.

For more information about “Fetch Clay, Make Man,” go to the New York Theatre Workshop website.

Posted in 1st Irish Fesitval, Irish drama, Ross Dungan

Missed connections in the sad "Life… of Eric Argyle"

Davey Kelleher and Manus Halligan in “The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle,” a 15th Oak production. Part of 1st Irish at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Lucy Nuzum

That old saying about “living lives of quiet desperation” comes to mind from time to time.

In Ross Dungan’s “The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle,” a 15th Oak production. Part of 1st Irish at 59E59 Theaters, through September 29th, it is a constant theme.

Katie Lyons, Karen Sheridan and Erica Murray in “The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle,” a 15th Oak production. Part of 1st Irish at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Lucy Nuzum

The construct in “…Eric Argyle” is sort of a death council, gathered to judge him on the basis of the contents of a book he has written. That book is as disorganized — he began it on page 231 and moved on to page 656–  as the plot of the play that houses it. The lilt of the Irish has great appeal so they can say “shite-all” and still charm. Nonetheless, the story here is more than a bit murky.

Dave McEntegart and Karen Sheridan in “The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle,” a 15th Oak production. Part of 1st Irish at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Lucy Nuzum

Narration to further exposition is static, and the use of the countdown of time fails to create the intended urgency.

The cast of eight are fine, muddling gamely in and out of a variety of characters. The two Erics (Dave McEntegart as the older and James Murphy as the younger) are preeminently sad sack.

There is also background music to “The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle” strumming on random occasions. The fantastically messy set, designed by Colm McNally, is dispatched for multi-purpose by the hard-working ensemble. 

For more information about “The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle,” visit www.59e59.org. 

Posted in based on an actual life, Brendan Behan, Chelsea Hotel, drama based on real events, drinker, famous, iconclast, Irish, Janet Behan, literary lion

Hear Him Roar: "Brendan at the Chelsea"

It seems that torment often comes with great talent.

Photo courtesy of The Lyric Theatre (Belfast). Adrian Dunbar as Brendan Behan and Samantha Pearl as Lianne in a scene from Janet Behan;s “Brendan at the Chelsea” at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre through October 6.

Brendan Behan, iconoclast, playwright, writer, documentarian of life in New York, Irishman, genius, and hard drinker, is a case in point. Behan came to New York for the opening of his play, “The Hostage” in September 1960 and soon moved from the Algonquin to the Chelsea Hotel. There he narrated his book on New York, which was published after his death at the age of 41, and caroused mightily with New Yorkers of all stripes.

It is at the bohemian hotel that we meet up with Behan (Adrian Dunbar) in  his niece, Janet Behan’s tribute “Brendan at the Chelsea,” on tour at the Acorn in the Lyric’s production through October 6th. Brendan Behan was a literary lion, and welcomed in the city’s literary, theatrical and boho circles that he embraced so wholeheartedly.

Drink was his nemesis and he also embraced that with all his heart.  Dunbar, who also directs “Brendan at the Chelsea” is a marvelous Behan.  He gives a full-throttle performance as a force of nature. Matching him, but with the appropriately quieter intensity, is Pauline Hutton who is a very fine Beatrice to his roaring Behan. The ensemble, rounded out by Richard Orr as his song-writing neighbor George (and others), Samantha Pearl as Lianne, a Katherine Dunham dancer who is charged with caring for the wayward Behan, and Chris Robinson as Don, whom Behan meets on an excursion with his wife, Beatrice, to Fire Island’s Pines, (and in other roles), do excellent work in the narration of the plot.

The play takes on the large project of conveying genius and torment with intelligence, although “Brendan at the Chelsea,” is an uneven work. There are moments when it strays too far in exposition, having taken on perhaps a bit more than is easily managed. Something one could also say of its central character.

The production holds more than just interest for those who know Behan’s work. “Brendan at the Chelsea” is a welcome entertainment.

For more information about “Brendan at the Chelsea,” visit www.BrendanChelsea.com.