Posted in 1987 Pulitzer Prize nominee, A Walk in the Woods, cold war, detente, disarmament, Kathleen Chalfant, Keen Company, Lee Blessing, Paul Niebanck, peace talks, Tony winning play, USSR vs USA

Peace in our time

Peace is elusive. Not the concept of peace. Everyone buys into that. The actual absence of war or threats of war is difficult to find. In part, it’s hard to come by because war and peace are so much about posturing: “How dare they!” “We have to defend our values.”

Paul Niebanck as John Honeywell and Kathleen Chalfant  as Irina Botvinnick in “A Walk in the Woods”
by Lee Blessing. At the Keen in a production directed by Jonathan Silverman. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

In Lee Blessing’s vision in “A Walk in the Woods,” at the Keen through October 18th, arms negotiations are a game leading to “Nyet” on one side, and “No” on the other.

Paul Niebanck as John Honeywell and Kathleen Chalfant  as Irina Botvinnick in “A Walk in the Woods”
by Lee Blessing. At the Keen in a production directed by Jonathan Silverman. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Irina Botvinnick (Kathleen Chalfant) understands this. John Honeyman (Paul Niebanck), her naive counterpart from the USA, expects to save the world from itself.

Detente is an old-fashioned word. It melted with the ice of the Cold War. Blessing’s play, ably directed by Keen’s Artistic Director, Jonathon Silverstein, is about people–specifically about two people whose business is politics and whose mission is useless. The two are negotiators for the great and well-armed superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States of America.

Chalfant’s Irina is charming as she eggs Honeyman into trivial conversations as they walk and talk in a Geneva park.  The play, which was nominated for both a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, echoes he futility and frustration of arms-race peace talks. It also drags to a point where it loses focus and our interest.

Is “A Walk in the Woods” dated in the post-Cold War era? Much of what it has to say about the unwillingness to scale down and give up weapons rings true. The opponents have changed shape and geography, perhaps. Despite its real-politik plot, however, the play lags. The leads are never anything but compelling to watch, but the outcome is evident and protracted.

The costumes by Amanda Jenks and Jennifer Paar are lively, and provide a nice rhythm to the seasons of the plot.
For more information on “A Walk in the Woods,” and the Keen Company, please visit http://www.keencompany.org/.

          

Posted in pub crawl, ShakesBeer, Shakespeare

An excuse to raise a glass

As if you needed a reason to drink, the Bard’s 450th birthday is being toasted all around town.

The New York Shakespeare Exchange (NYSX) originated the beer and performance festivities, aka ShakesBEER, along with The Sonnet Project, as a way to infuse our culture with the classical. They want to bring Shakespeare alive to a modern audience.  

ShakesBEER is a three hour pub crawl, with scenes from the Shakespearean repertoire breaking out at each location. October’s ShakesBEER features scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Henry IV, Part 2; Romeo & Juliet; and Twelfth Night. The featured actors, who will be cheek by jowl with you, include Harry Barandes, Chris Corporandy, Phil Mutz, Sarah Nedwek, Katherine Puma, Colin Ryan, and Katelin Wilcox.

There are so many things you could debate after enjoying your ShakesBEER outing: Was William Shakespeare the Neil Simon, Arthur Kopit, Arthur Laurents, Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller rolled into one of his generation? Has any contemporary playwright come along to rival his efficacy in conveying the human condition? Did Marlowe write Shakespeare? Why isn’t Tamberlaine performed more often? Is Lear or Hamlet WS’s most iconic hero? Are his comedies funnier than The Big Bang Theory?

Book in advance for ShakesBEER. A schedule of the October outings can be found here: http://shakespeareexchange.org/content/shakesbeer-2014


Posted in Cliff Bemis, Cynthia Darlow, George Kelly, Jesse Marchese, Kristin Griffith, Patricia Kilgariff, romantic comedy, Sean Patrick Hopkins, The Mint Theatre, Victoria Mack

"The Fatal Weakness" afflicts us all

As human beings, we are all to a greater or lesser degree, sentimental creatures.

Before the curtain rises on “The Fatal Weakness” by George Kelly.
Set design for The Mint Theater production by Vicki R. Davis.
Photo by Richard Termine.

“The Fatal Weakness,” written by George Kelly in 1946, in revival at The Mint Theater through October 26th, is man’s (and woman’s) essential romanticism.

Kristin Griffith as Mrs. Ollie Espenshade in “The Fatal Weakness” by George Kelly.Photo by Richard Termine.

It leads Mrs. Ollie Espenshade (Kristin Griffith) to attend random weddings and her husband Paul (Cliff Bemis) to find a little extra kick in his step.

Cliff Bemis as Mr. Paul Espenshade and Victoria Mack as Penny Hassett
in George Kelly’s “The Fatal Weakness,” at the Mint. Photo by
Richard Termine.

On the other hand, their daughter, Penny Hassett (Victoria Mack) wears a veneer of cynical bravado. Can her free-thinking views on marriage be upended by her husband Vernon’s (Sean Patrick Hopkins) staunch fidelity?

“The Fatal Weakness” is a top-shelf drawing room comedy.Under Jesse Marchese’s direction, George Kelly’s upper crust comedy is perfectly paced. The actors, all outstanding, bring this charming play to life. Kristin Griffith, as Ollie, is centerstage, and gives a wonderfully nuanced performance.

Kristin Griffith as Ollie, Cliff Bemis as Paul, and Cynthis Darlow
as Mrs. Mabel Wentz in “The Fatal Weakness” by George Kelly.Photo by Richard Termine.

Ollie’s friend Mrs. Mabel Wentz (Cynthia Darlow)  delights in carrying tales. She has no illusions about why Paul has begun whistling and paying such careful attention to his wardrobe. Hers is a kind of inverse of romanticism.  Unlike Penny or Ollie, Anna (Patricia Kilgarriff),  the household maid, may be the only one completely clear-eyed about how relationships prosper or end.

Patricia Kilgarriff as Anna with Kristin Griffith as Ollie in
“The Fatal Weakness” by George Kelly. Costumes by
Andrea Varga. Photo by Richard Termine.

As “The Fatal Weakness” opens, a lace curtain rises to reveal a stunningly opulent room, designd by Vicki R. Davis, with mirrored walls and plush furniture.

The Mint Theater has once again rediscovered a lively and enjoyable jewel of a “forgotten” play.

For more information about “The Fatal Weakness,” please visit www.minttheater.org.

Posted in Benja Kay Thomas, Booty Candy, Jesse Pennington, Jessica Frances Dukes, Lance Coadie Williams, Phillip James Brannon, Playwritghts Horizons, Robert O'Hara

The intoxicating mix of "Bootycandy"

Phillip James Brannon and Jessica Frances Dukes
in the openiing scene in Robert O’Hara’s
“Bootycandy” at Playwrights Horizons
through October 12th. Photo (c) Joan Marcus.

To say “Bootycandy,” written and directed by Robert O’Hara, at Playwrights Horizons through October 12th, is brilliant is an enormous understatement.

It’s hard to say which episode of the seven vignettes O’Hara created was funnier, brighter, crisper as “Bootycandy” unrolled. Suffice it to say that each segment, standing alone, had its own kind of sparkle.

If there are not enough roles (and you know there are not) for black actors to display their talents, Robert O’Hara has tried to remedy the deficit, providing ample opportunity for this wonderful group of players to shine. In a phenomenally talented cast, with Phillip James Brannon taking the lead as Sutter, it is hard to pick a stand out. All these men and women put themselves whole-heartedly before us. In one uprroariously funny and incisive scene, Jessica Frances Dukes and Benja Kay Thomas dazzle as they play four disparate characters. The one white performer, (Jesse Pennington) in the ensemble of five gets to strut his stuff too, playing a range of parts.

“Bootycandy” exposes both its process and artifice as the chapters of Sutter’s life emerge and merge as one. Sutter’s progress from boy to man in a homophobic world is about sense and sensuality. “Have you lost your mind in the real world?,” is a phrase his mother inherits from his grandmother, and uses to answer many of his life questions.

Sutter (Phillip James Brannon) with his granny (Lance Coadie Williams) in a scene from
Robert O’Hara’s “Bootycandy.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

‘I don’t write about white people,” Sutter says definitively in the “Writers Conference” sketch that closes out Act I. Sutter, the stand in for the author, is a mixture of innocence and understanding. O’Hara, too, writes about all people. His central character happens to be a young gay black man, finding his way.

Sutter (Phillip James Brannon) with his sister (Benja Kay Thomas), mother (Jessica Frances Dukes) and stepfather (Lance Coadie Williams) in a scene from Robert O’Hara’s “Bootycandy.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

“Bootycandy” is a heady cocktail of styles and wisely observed details. The fact that its humor is gently satirical does not mean that it lacks bite and insight. Did we mention that Robert O’Hara’s play is brilliant? It truly is.

For more information on “Bootycandy,” please visit www.PHnyc.org.

Posted in artist, boys and girls, Hilla von Rebay, Louise Bauer, mordern art, risque, Rudolf Bauer, Solomon Guggenheim, the Guggenheim Museum of Art

Who was Rudolf Bauer? and "Boys and Girls"

Why would a prolific modernist painter suddenly stop making art?

“Bauer,” Lauren Gunderson’s drama at 59E59 Theaters through October 12th, is based on a true art mystery: what made Rudolph Bauer  (Howard Sherman,) the leading modernist of his generation, quit? He abandoned his legacy to Kandinsky, who is better known today as a master of modern art.

Did Hilla Rebay (Stacy Ross,) once the love of Bauer’s life, betray him when she made him sign over all his work and his future artworks to Solomon  Guggenheim?

Howard Sherman and Stacy Ross in Lauren Gunderson’s “Bauer” at 59E59
Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The play begins thirteen years after Bauer began his self-imposed exile in New Jersey. His wife, Louise (Susi Damiliano) has engineered a meeting between the former lovers who have not spoken in all those years.Modern art was in defiance to the Nazis, who abhorred it. Bauer seemed to like to defy. Guggenheim was his patron, who not only rescued him from the Nazis but also gave him a house, a Dusenberg, and a stipend, none of which satisfied Bauer.

It seems like  there should be drama in the anticipation of this meeting. Will they resolve their difference? Can Bauer return to his easel and create new masterworks? Despite decent performances, it’s hard to get engaged in Bauer’s ruined career or his motives.

As Louise, Susi Damiliano gives a resilient performance. Howard Sherman is convincing as the stubborn and perhaps broken artist. However, as the story unwinds,  it barely keeps our interest.

 Rudolf Bauer (Howard Sherman) welcomes Hilla von Rebay (Stacy Ross)
as his wife Louise (Susi Damiliano) stands by  in Lauren Gunderson’s “Bauer” at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

“Bauer,” originally produced at the San Francisco Plyhouse, is mostly talk, although the staging attempts to enliven. There are some nice projections (design by Micah J. Stieglitz, with scenic design by Ewa Muszynska), showing the artist’s work and setting recollections.

The Weinstein Galleries are showing of Bauer’s art to coincide with the New York production of the play. Sotheby’s is auctioning off works by Bauer from September 22nd to October 10th.

Also at 59E59 Theaters: “Boys and Girls,” written and directed by Dylan Coburn Gray, is part of Origin’s 1st Irish 2014. Confessedly, it was the promise of the risqué that brought me to the theater, and the failure to fulfill it that had us take an early departure, not awaiting the climax as it were.

“Boys and Girls” is billed as being “naughty” — if having  a young and pretty girl utter the dreaded “c” word can be considered ribald, then “Boys and Girls” is that.

Seán Doyle, Maeve O’Mahony, Claire O’Reilly, and Ronan Carey Seán Doyle in “Boys and Girls”written and directed by
Dylan Coburn Gray, part of 1st Irish at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The format of the play is a series of monologues in which the eponymous quartet take turns telling their love stories. Sweet young foul-mouthed things they are, too.

For more information on “Bauer” and “Boys and Girls,” please visit 59e59.org

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Posted in 1st Irish Fesitval, George Bernard Shaw, Irish theatre, Samuel Beckett, Yiddish Waiting for Godot

Vahr ist Godot?

Poster from 1st Irish website

Samuel Beckett gets a fresh start as New Yiddish Rep renders his seminal absurdist masterwork “Waiting for Godot” in Yiddish for the first time, at the Barrow Street Theatre beginning tomorrow, Thursday, September 4th.  The play is translated by Shane Baker, and returns to New York for 12 performances only through September 21.

“Vartn Auf Godo” is presented in New York  on the heels of its European premiere in Northern Ireland where it opened the 3rd annual Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival, which ran from July 31 to August 10. Beckett wrote the play in ’48-’49 although its world premiere at the Théatre de Babylone in Paris did not occur until 1953. 

This production of this Irish born playwright’s work is presented as part of Origin’s 1st Irish Festival.

Not part of the 1st Irish, but an Irishman nonetheless, and an oft-quoted playwright, George Bernard Shaw is the Gingold Theatrical Group’s “project” on Mondays at Symphony Space. 

GBSwas never shy about the breadth and places in which his ideas played out. His “Village Wooing,” written in 1933,is a romance set on the high seas. See the seldom-seen play for two voices at GTG at Symphony Space on Monday, Sep 29th. 

For more on “Vartn Auf Godo” and the Origin’s 1st Irish Festival, please visit http://1stirish.org/. To find out about GTG’s Shaw Project and “Village Wooing,” please visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/.