Posted in based on a true story or event, drama

“Henry V to the Rescue” A review by Mari S. Gold

"The Angels of Mons" featuring Ben Stroman, Christopher Basile, Sophia Speigel, and George Hider Photo credit Laura Archer
“The Angels of Mons” featuring Ben Stroman, Christopher Basile, Sophia Speigel, and George Hider Photo credit Laura Archer

Early in World War I, a story published first in a London newspaper and later in numerous parish magazines, described the Battle of Mons in which phantom bowmen from Agincourt came to aid badly outnumbered British soldiers. The actual outcome of this fight in which advancing German troops were overcome by the British was thereby publicized beginning to make the British public realize that winning the war would not be easy.

"The Angels of Mons" featuring Jeffrey Roth, Christopher Basile, and Dario Caudana Photo credit Laura Archer
“The Angels of Mons” featuring Jeffrey Roth, Christopher Basile, and Dario Caudana Photo credit Laura Archer

This back story is the central motif for The Angel of Mons, a two-plus hour play under the auspices of FRIGID New York in a March Forth Production at Under St. Mark’s Theater through April 4th. The setting is spare–dark walls, a few boxes and some blankets– and feels very appropriate for this tiny theater. Six British soldiers have been separated from their company and fall into the ruins of a house where, in a root cellar, they find an eight-year-old boy and his dead parents.

"The Angels of Mons" featuring Michael Broadhurst, Jeffrey Roth, Ben Stroman, Christopher Basile, Sophia Speigel Photo credit Laura Archer
“The Angels of Mons” featuring Michael Broadhurst, Jeffrey Roth, Ben Stroman, Christopher Basile, Sophia Speigel Photo credit Laura Archer

To kill time before the next morning’s assault, the men play cards, drink and read Shakespeare, notably Henry V. At one point, the boy runs away causing the soldiers to rethink their feelings about him until they see him not as an annoyance but as a figure to be protected and almost revered. They also find their feelings for their default leader, George, turning from dislike to admiration.

In Act II, many philosophical truths are told –that enemy troops are men who dislike war just like British soldiers; that kings are regular people albeit cloaked in the robes of ceremony; that war deaths weight heavily upon both commanders and fighting solders.

"The Angels of Mons" featuring Michael Broadhurst Photo credit Laura Archer
“The Angels of Mons” featuring Michael Broadhurst Photo credit Laura Archer

Much of the play makes use of Henry V verbatim, beginning with the version staged by George to amuse Harry, the boy, as King Henry was known. It’s hard to compete with the Bard which make the words of playwright Eric C. Webb less gripping. As soon as the St. Crispen’s Day speech begins, my mind drifted to the wonderful productions I’ve seen going back to Lawrence Olivier in the 1944 film. These young actors try hard but their performances can’t match classic eloquence and their British accents slip.

"The Angels of Mons" featuring Sophia Speigel and Michael Broadhurst Photo credit Laura Archer
“The Angels of Mons” featuring Sophia Speigel and Michael Broadhurst Photo credit Laura Archer

The play is well-staged making the most of the cramped space and actors Michael Broadhurst as George, Christopher Basile as Frank and Ben Stroman as Alfred get high marks. Eleven- year- old Sophia Spiegel works hard as Harry to make a convincing young boy. Laura Archer gets a shout-out for direction as does Tim Bell whose fight directions result in credible tussles.

The last fifteen minutes cry out for editing but overall there are affecting moments. The historical events are worth the attention and my guess is that playwright Webb’s career is on an upward trajectory.

To find out more about March Forth Productions’ The Angel of Mons, please visit their website.

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Posted in dance, modern American dance

Taylor’s Spring Repertory Continues – and ended

 

A new work by Paul Taylor is always an event, even though he has diligently created two a year and #142, Death and The Damsel, until recently simpley entitled New Work, was much anticipated by these old Taylor enthusiasts. Its arrival did not disappoint. Following the tag line “The City is of Night, perchance of Death,” attributed to James Thomson, Santo Loquasto clothed the night visitors in Dracula-esque costumes while James F. Ingalls bathed the scenes in a dim obscurity.

Sometimes you are outnumbered, as is the maiden in Death and The Damsel. There are 9 of her many tormentors to her one sunny self (Jamie Rae Walker, clad in pink.) The sets of a tenement and a dance club are engaging, as is the Sonata No. 2 by Bohuslav Martinů, and the choreography which blends in a little MMA with its movement.

On this last weekend’s program, we also caught Last Look, a kind of Bosch like work from 1985, which uses mirrors, colorful costumes (sets and by Alex Katz) and darkness to tell its haunted purgotorial tale. Death and The Damsel puts one in mind of the dystopian Last Look. In the former and newer work, the battle is livelier and the sets more colorful, with the pink dress and graffiti-like backdrops contrasting against the gloom.

LastLook 4 Esplanade is one of the “fun” Taylor pieces; first performed in 1975, it is a pretty romp, with everyone chasing and racing and falling to an infectious Bach score. As with everything this season, these last looks at Taylor’s repertory were greatly enhanced by the live music.

The Word 1As long-standing fans, we were surprised to find that Diggity and The Word are two of Paul Taylor’s works which we had never seen. Pleasantly surprised and glad to catch both on this first afternoon of Spring. (We thought we had seen everything after all these years of PTDC performances.)

In Diggity, a cast of 9 gambol amidst a dogs- on-a-lawn set (by Alex Katz), in sporty day-in-the-park casual costumes (also by Katz) to music specially composed for the piece by PTDC Musical Director, Michael York. Heather McGinley races through while Robert Kleindorst, Michelle Fleet, Eran Bugge, Francisco Graziano, Laura Halzack, Aileen Roehl and George Smallwood frolic agreeably in the sunshine of the dancepiece. (Overheard from a man in the audience, “It’s nice to think of this piece being created as Taylor’s dog was getting underfoot in the studio one day.” For what it’s worth.)

The Word 1The dance vocabulary of strength, threat and aggression in The Word is matched by David Israel’s commissioned musical score. Santo Loquasto has dressed the cast in schoolboy short pants with suspenders and ties, and the “God,” (or demon–cause where there are gods there are demons) who “is a consuming fire” in a leotard. The men and women in this community are easily led, and their ardor is both decorous and licentious. They are unthinking adherents, who take devotion to extremes. Taylor often exercises a sardonic or wry wit in his works; here his commentary seems somehow purer.

Esplanade 4Like everything in this Spring’s repertory, Esplanade benefits from the presence of a live orchestra. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s played the Bach music with Krista Bennion Feeney as soloist in the Concerto in E Major and Ms. Feeney with Mitsuru Tsubota as soloists in the Concerto in D Major. Esplanade is a lovely and lively work, in the Taylor repertoire since 1975.

Paul Taylor American Modern Dance is at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center through March 29th. For tickets, please visit www.ptamd.org/tickets.

See more on the rest of the repertory and on the future of Paul Taylor Dance Company here.

Posted in modern American dance

Paul Taylor, America’s Modern Dance-maker

Ruminations on a wide variety of subjects is the Taylor imprimatur.

"Sea Lark" had its NYC premiere on March 11, 2015.
“Sea Lark” had its NYC premiere on March 11, 2015.

These musings in dance, such as Syzygy, which is defined as the almost straight-line configuration of three or more celestial bodies, can be happy or dark.  Syzygy, as it happens is light-hearted, but nothing is strictly linear about this heavenly piece.

Jaunty and nautical, with a sailboat for its centerpiece, this new work by Paul Taylor is indeed a Sea Lark.

I expected sandpipers, but got a romp on the waters. Sea Lark had its world premiere in 2014, and its first NYC outing on March 11th at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, where the season continues through March 29th.

For Paul Taylor- the swimmer turned dancer- Sea Lark is an apt addition to a brilliantly diverse repertoire. This is another upbeat and sunny modern dance, set to selections from Francis Poulenc’s “Les Biches.” The colorful costumes and set are by Alex Katz.

Performed to recordings of the WWII canon of the Andrews Singers, "Company B" has energy, and an element of nostalgia.
Performed to recordings of the WWII canon of the Andrews Singers, “Company B” has energy, and an element of nostalgia.

Company B, set to songs from WWII sung by the Andrews Sisters, has a dark side to its sunshine, on the other hand. War takes its toll on us, even if we dance and smile through it. This work is a personal favorite, with its “Rum and Coca Cola,” danced by Eran Bugge and the male cast, section at the top of the list. The dance has many layers and reveals more of them with each viewing.

(Syzygy and Company B are reviewed from the 2012 season, here.)
The costumes by Santo Loquasto are neat, pressed and very 1940s-forward.

Except for Company B on the weekend’s programs we witnessed, the dances were all accompanied by live music performed by Orchestra of St. Luke’s, with Pablo Heras-Casado as its principal conductor. The Paul Taylor Dance Company is under the musical direction of Donald York. The live music added a full-throated sophistication to the proceedings.

Cloven Kingdom 3Cloven Kingdom was among the dances that benefited greatly from the live orchestra backing it.

Cloven Kingdom discloses the beast beneath the white tie and tails. The ladies come in dancing the sacred and the profane– working jazzy club alongside their more classic movements.

A Paul Taylor dance is like no other, and each is an entity onto itself. His dances, other than being American and modern are uncategorizable.

His Eventide has the feeling of an homage to Agnes De Mille. It’s an elegant portrayal of life in farm country; in the darkening gloom of dusk, the dancers follow the movements of the Vaughan Williams Suite for Viola and Orchestra and Hymn-Tune Prelude 1 in fluid succession. (Maureen Gallagher is the viola soloist on Eventide.) The work is languid and romantic.

The beautifully executed Brandenburgs demonstrate clean lines and balletic movement. Set to Johan Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos #6 (parts 1 & 2) and #3, the dance is stylized and lovely.

For more information and tickets for the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance season, please visit http://www.ptamd.org/ and click-through to Lincoln Center tickets.

Posted in acrobatics, dance

With the Greatest of Ease…

by Mari S. Gold

Actually, the only thing the Golden Dragon Acrobats don’t do is aerial acts. What they do is dazzle with skill and finesse using all kinds of familiar objects—balls, parasols, chairs, hoops, hats and jump ropes–in a variety of ways. The twenty-three members of the troupe make it look easy, even as they bend, stretch and balance in poses that boggle the mind.
The costumes are bright, the recorded music a blend of “ancient” and contemporary and the precision of the performers a tribute to both skill and what is clearly years of arduous practice.
In Act 1 of the two-hour show, a woman stands in an upright split, one leg stretched taught against her body, foot flexed. On it, she balances a tray with stacked glassware. A feat in itself, she lowers herself to the ground and adds trays so that almost every limb supports another. At the very end, she dismantles one tray so we can see each element separate (look ma, no glue) and then she pours water from one of the glasses. Don’t try this at home.
The Thousand Arms Dance has five women standing in single file, arms stretched sideways ending in gold-encased fingertips. As they move, it’s close to psychedelic. In Act ll’s Solo Pole, a man with abs of steel pulls off balances that are unbelievable, a sort of sideways Pilates on steroids. There is lots of juggling using feet including a number in which women lie on their backs passing a ball up one side, over to a partner and down the other.
Once in a while, (maybe twice in the entire performance), someone misses so a ball drops or a toss fails to connect. It’s reassuring to know these amazing athletes are humans just like us albeit more fit than most.
The Golden Dragon Acrobats come from Hebei and Henan province where the performers have trained since childhood. Impresario Danny Chang joined the troupe at age ten and has led the group in tours throughout the U.S. and more than sixty-five countries.
This is an eye-filling spectacle that provides great fun for all ages.

For more information about the Golden Dragon Acrobats, visit http://www.goldendragonacrobats.com/

Posted in comedy-drama

Elegant and sophisticated: Ferenc Molnár’s “Fashions for Men”

Extended to April 12th!

Ferenc Molnár was a sophisticated Budapest-raised playwright who enjoyed international renown from the start of his career in the 19aughts through the 1920s and ’30s.

Mark Bedard, John Tufts, Annie Purcell, Joe Delafield, Maren Searle, and Jeremy Lawrence in "Fashions for Men" by Ferenc Molnár. Photo: Richard Termine
Mark Bedard, John Tufts, Annie Purcell, Joe Delafield, Maren Searle, and Jeremy Lawrence in “Fashions for Men” by Ferenc Molnár.
Photo: Richard Termine

The Mint Theater Company, which has made it its mission to revive and remount plays that are no longer part of the standard canon, presents   Ferenc Molnár’s Fashions for Men through March 29th. Benjamin Glazer’s original translation has been tweaked in this production; Mint Artisitc Director, Jonathan Bank says he made adjustments for the sake of modernity and to dispense with Glazer’s “Britishisms.” Bank’s collaborators in translating the Molnár text are the playwright’s great grandson, Gábor Lukin and Agnes Niemitz of the Hungarian Translation Services.

Mark Bedard and Joe Delafield. Photo by Richard Termine.
Mark Bedard and Joe Delafield. Photo by Richard Termine .

The production, like so many of the Mint offerings, is sumptuous and extremely well-acted. In fact, when we say that the Mint has outdone itself in creating the sets, courtesy of Daniel Zimmerman, and costumes, by Martha Hally, you should know that it was an astonishingly high bar they had to surpass.

The story centers on the fate of the haberdashery owned by Peter Juhász (Joe Delafield.) He is a man of boundless goodness and generosity, and therefore often abused by friends, customers and patrons. His wife, Adele (Annie Purcell) betrays him with his best salesman, Oscar (John Tufts.) Her duplicity nearly bankrupts him, and the Count (Kurt Rhoads) rescues him from an abysmal situation, only to throw him into an even more untenable one.  The pure of heart see no evil, and Juhász labors faithfully, infatuated with his former shopgirl, Paula (Rachel Napoleon.) Complications abound in this simple and cosmopolitan tale.

Kurt Rhoads as the Count  with Rachel Napoleon as Paula in a scene from "Fashions for Men."  Photo: Richard Termine
Kurt Rhoads as the Count with Rachel Napoleon as Paula in a scene from “Fashions for Men.”
Photo: Richard Termine

The acting is faultless and charming. Kurt Rhoads is a personal favorite, but Rachel Napoleon and Joe Delafield are marvellous as well, as is John Tufts whose swarmy self-interest is delicious.  Everyone from Philip (Jeremy Lawrence), the gossipy shop assistant to Mate (Michael Schantz) the ne’er do well on the Count’s estate is credible and completely convincing in their roles. The smaller parts are also splendidly inhabited.

Davis McCallum directs with an artfulness and at a pace that is perfectly suited to the material. In the course of three acts we are transported to Budapest at the turn of the last century, where we feel completely at home.

For more information about Fashions for Men, please visit minttheater.org

Posted in comedy-drama, dark comedy drama, dark drama

Going off the rails?

Moral ambiguity is familiar territory to Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose most recent play, The Motherf***er with the Hat received 6 well-deserved Tony nods, including one for Best Play.** His work is edgy, funny and thought-provoking. His heroes are flawed. Guirgis’ genre is noir.

His latest work, Between Riverside and Crazy, directed by Austin Pendleton, runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre through March 22nd. The production originated at The Atlantic Theater, where it premiered this past summer, and most of the original cast is intact. (Junior is the main exception, being played by the excellent Ron Cephas Jones in the midtown re-mount.)

Walter “Pops” Washington (Stephen McKinley Henderson) is a recently widowed ex-cop, whose beef with the NYPD has the city kicking in on the side of a landlord seeking his eviction. His former partner, Det. Audrey O’Connor (Elizabeth Canavan) is engaged to the ambitious Lieutenant David Caro (Michael Rispo) who wants to negotiate with Walter and help settle the long unsettled case.

Photo © Carol Rosegg
Cast of “Between Riverside and Crazy” in a photo © Carol Rosegg

Walter has the impulse to do good. As Dave Caro puts in police-speak “Doing right by doing wrong.” Walter’s sense of honor and cry for justice — or retrinbution– are marred by his personal shortcomings. Walter is an imperfect man. He has made some poor choices. Everyone in Between Riverside and Crazy, even Church Lady (Liza Colon-Zayas) who visits Walter, is pulling some sort of con.

Walter tolerates odd lots of his son’s friends and acquaintances as guests in his spacious home on Riverside Drive. His son Junior lives with him along with Junior’s girlfriend Lulu (Rosal Colon) who calls Walter dad, as does Junior’s old partner in crime and fellow parolee, Oswaldo (Victor Almanzar.)

Stephen McKinley Henderson and Victor Almanzar in a scene from Guirgis' play. Photo © Carol Rosegg
Stephen McKinley Henderson and Victor Almanzar in a scene from Guirgis’ play. Photo © Carol Rosegg

Walt Spangler’s scenic design creates the sense of a generously appointed apartment, over furnished, and circling around the kitchen which is at its heart.

Between Riverside and Crazy is a powerful play. The acting is uniformly superb, with Stephen McKinley Henderson as the lead standing out in the ensemble.

To find out more about Between Riverside and Crazy, visit the 2ndStage website.

(**We anticipated that The Motherf***er with the Hat would win the Tony as is clear from our review at http://www.vevlynspen.com/2011/05/poetic-is-motherfker-with-hat.html)

Posted in drama, family drama, theater

Love is a many-splendored and oft-confusing thing

Love forces us to make leaps of trust and engages us in uncertainties of the heart. It is blind in so many ways, and all-knowing in so many others.

Mamoudou Athie as Jonny with Gayle Rankin as Charlotte in a scene from Bathsheba Doran's "The Mystery of Love & Sex." Photo © I. Charles Erickson
Mamoudou Athie as Jonny with Gayle Rankin as Charlotte in a scene from Bathsheba Doran’s “The Mystery of Love & Sex.” Photo © I. Charles Erickson

In Bathsheba Doran’s new drama, The Mystery of Love & Sex, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater through April 26th, love trumps all.

Jonny (Mamoudou Athie) has loved Charlotte (Gayle Rankin) since they were kids of nine. His love is not unrequited; it is returned. Charlotte’s parents, Howard (Tony Shalhoub) and Lucinda (Diane Lane) have mixed feelings about their daughter’s relationship. Do they really have any cause for concern?

Doran’s “Kin” which premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 20111 also focused on relationships that were not entirely what they seem. (Reviewed at http://www.vevlynspen.com/2011/04/in-kin-enduring-relationship-problems.html)

Diane Lane as Lucinda and Gayle Rankin as Charlotte share a moment.  Photo © I. Charles Erickson
Diane Lane as Lucinda and Gayle Rankin as Charlotte share a moment. Photo © I. Charles Erickson

Jonny and Charlotte’s love has its ups and downs, too, but unlike the earlier work, The Mystery of Love & Sex is more tautly written and more concise in its conclusions. Like “Kin,” The Mystery of Love & Sex is full of surprises.

Mamoudou Athie as Jonny with Tony Shalhoub as Howard in a scene from "The Mystery of Love & Sex."  Photo © I. Charles Erickson
Mamoudou Athie as Jonny with Tony Shalhoub as Howard in a scene from “The Mystery of Love & Sex.” Photo © I. Charles Erickson

In this cast, Diane Lane’s ascerbic drawling mom is a standout but the ensemble are universally excellent. The drama is so engrossing that one feels like staying all day with them. Rounding out the cast is Bernie Passeltiner as Howard’s father.

Sam Gold’s deft direction makes the time spent with Howard, Lucinda, Gayle and Jonny fly.

Like love itself, Bathsheba Doran’s The Mystery of Love & Sex is unexpected and very welcome.

 

To learn more about The Mystery of Love & Sex, please visit lct.org.