Posted in 50 Shades of Grey, comedy, february 2014, Henry Houdini, new works and old, off Broadway, parody, Twelfth Night, what's on

Shakespeare, Houdini, and 50 Shades….Coming in February and March 2014

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play? Maybe one in each category — tragedy, comedy, history like that?

Twelfth Night or What You Will is always fun, and Pig Iron Theatre Company aims to make it even more loveable in their accessible production, beginning February 4th at the Abrons Center. A Balkanized musical score seems like the perfect backdrop to Shakespeare’s crazy mistaken-identity saga.

“Experimental theater is about opening up new ways of seeing,” says Pig Iron’s director Dan Rothernberg; “could we sneak this into a Shakespeare play without deconstructing the thing? All our experiments with clown theater, with cabaret, and with dance theater inform the way people speak and move in this production, resulting in a rough, wholly American Twelfth Night.” This production of Twelfth Night premiered at the 2011 Philadelphia LiveArts Festival and was recently revived for Philadelphia’s 2013 FringeArts Festival.

For more information, please visit  But wait, there’s more….

While “Twelfth Night” easily qualifies as a favorite comedy, “King Lear” has to be this writer’s most beloved Shakespearean play. There is a production of the tragedy, we are told, currently at BAM, with no less a Lear than Frank Langella. You can catch it through February 9th.

For information, visit

Shakespeare, as befits an artist working under Royal patronage, wrote many a histoy of Kings. “Henry IV, Part II” is being presented at The Pearl as a special event from February 13th through 16th. The readings are in collaboration with The Shakespeare Society. More at The Pearl 

More happenings in February….

If you have been swept into the mania for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” you should pay a visit to 50 Shades! the Musical – The Original Parody. In this musical, a book club’s three girlfriends turn from the usual fare to the more titilating best seller. With their interest piqued, Christian and Anastasia’s affiair comes to life on the stage. Directed by Al Samuels, one of the many co-writers, and Rob Lindley, previews begin on February 21st at the Elektra Theatre, and 50 Shades! for a March 12th opening.

For more about 50 Shades!, go to

The Wild Project has a “Shades of Love” series of poetic readings in February, from the 3rd through the 16th. Poetic License 2014: Shades of Love  is Produced by Poetic Theater Productions and features work from both emerging and established poets, including Mahogany L. Browne, Yadira De La Riva, Judith Sloan, Craig muMs Grant (HBO’s “Oz”), Staceyann Chin (Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway) and the presentation of an original theatrical work by the legendary Ntozake Shange (for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf). The festival also includes a performance from the renowned music group The Mighty Third Rail.

Learn more by going to

And, not necessarily in honor of Valentine’s Day…

Randy Sharp delves into the mysteries of Henry Houdini at the Axis Theatre in Nothing on Earth, opening on February 27th for a 2 month run. Sharp, the Artisitc Director at the Axis, has been directing plays for  30 years, most recently the Drama Desk nominated Last Man Club.

For this production, Axis Company worked closely with William Kalush, Executive Director of the Conjuring Arts Research Center, Houdini scholar, and author of The Secret Life of Houdini, to re-create some of Houdini’s most famous illusions.

To learn more about Nothing on Earth, please visit

Posted in Civil War, dark comedy drama, Gettysburg, Re-enactors, trauma dogs

"Row After Row" Is Billed as Dark Comedy

By Sallicio (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Civil War was about a lot of things.

It was not primarily about equaility as Jessica Dickey seems to suggest in “Row After Row,” a Women’s Project Theatre production at City Center’s Stage II through February 16th. Mostly the war between the states was a horrific slaughter, made more awful because it pitted a once united people against each other.

It’s hard to say what motivates anyone to want to re-enact these battles. In “Row After Row,” the motives vary. Tom (Erik Lochtefeld) is a history teacher/nerd/buff. He and Cal (PJ Sosko) are both Gettysburg natives. Leah (Rosie Benton) is new in town and thought this might be a way to get to meet.

Clearly, it’s an intense experience for all three of the protagonists.

As directed by Daniella Topol, “Row After Row,” transitions smoothly but jarringly from the present day back to the scene of the battle in 1863. Clint Ramos’ costumes and sets — the scenery is strictly minimalist– with a mostly bare stage edged all around by fallen timbers– are arresting. The stage design plays more towards the tragic, however, while the text is a sloppy mix of romance, comedy and pagentry.

Rosie Benton has exhibited charm in roles at the Mint Theatre and Broadway’s “Stick Fly” in the past several years. Here she can’t help but be affable even when she’s cornered into gratuitous silliness about “history” being “his story.” That is not to say she doesn’t embody called for fiereceness as Leah. Erik Lochtefeld is a wimpy and harrowed intellectual. His Tom dithers and vacilates, telling a truth about the uneven sweep of history. PJ Sosko’s Cal, on the other hand, is a doer. His sensitive good old boy with a platinum heart is compelling. “I did not see that coming,” Leah says when he waxes sophisticate.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the talent in “Row After Row,” the play is an unsatisfying work. It’s neither fish nor fowl, as drama and tragedy lurk in the Civil War flashbacks, while touches of “meet cute” infect the post reenactment drinks at the tavern.

The distraction of having “trauma dogs” in the first row, practically participating in the play’s proceedings, is unhelpful to the play’s cause.

Posted in based on a true story or event, drama, serious subject

"Miss Lead"

Dawn Jamieson, Dylan Carusona, Nancy McDoniel,
Tyree Giroux, Tanis Parenteau, and Michelle Honaker in
“Miss Lead”
at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Steve Bartel

As EPA standards lessen, land and water, as in the headlines about West Virginia, is polluted by companies safely unaccountable for their misdeeds. Going back to recent history, in the 1940’s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was able to use WWII as an excuse to allow mining for lead on Native grounds. In that case, as in the current headline events, the government is complicit.

Mary Kathryn Nagle’s “Miss Lead,” at 59E59 Theaters, in an Amerinda production, through January 26th, looks at a combination of the historic mismanagement by the BIA and the fact that large companies have been allowed to ride roughshod over communities, particularly Native American ones, around the country.  Unfortunately, all the sympathy for those vicimized cannot make sense of the jumbled plot.

Tanis Parenteau in “Miss Lead”  at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Steve Bartel

It is nearly Thanksgiving in a mining town, and the family owned Tri-State Mining Company is trying to put a brave spin on impending law suits and EPA SuperFund excavations. Meanwhile, the effects of lead poisoning may already have hit close to their own home.

The device of using a writer, Katie (Tanis Parenteau), as the central character and sometime narrator only serves to distance the viewer from the tragedy at the heart of the story. “Miss Lead” is an unconvincing drama.

Kudos to Elizabeth Rolston, who as Rebecca, has to deliver a polemic with fluidity and ease. Among the large cast, Stuart Luth, both as Fred and as David, and Claire Louise Burke as Ruth are the most natural.
Also in a dual role, as Glenda and Aunt Mallory, Nacy McDoniel gives some broadly comic relief.

For more information about “Miss Lead,” please visit 59E59 Theaters.