Posted in 59E59, dark comedy drama, musical

Don’t Renew My Passport

BY MARI S. GOLD

Under a hanging scimitar, a wall projection reads 1981. This sets the stage for Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at 59E59 Theaters through October 25th.

As a call to prayer issues, a handsome, bearded Arabic man in a white thobe and red-and-white checked keffyieh enters. He claps. The prayer stops and contemporary music begins while he breaks into a “penguin dance,” legs akimbo. He’s grinning, having a wonderful time and the audience loves him.

L-R: Christopher Michael McLamb and Joey LePage in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova
L-R: Christopher Michael McLamb and Joey LePage in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova

Enter American ex-pats Tina Murphy-Brown and her husband, Hank, drawn to Saudi Arabia by financial rewards promised by Aramco. Tina, who invokes God a lot, isn’t sure how she’ll cope with being covered from head to toe and not eating pork but, like her husband, wants to get out of the oil hell hole of Pasadena, Texas.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a “dark musical comedy” about barriers raised by gender and culture, developed by Monk Parrots, a NYC-based experimental theater company.

L-R: Christopher Michael McLamb, Jessie Dean, Sarah Grace Sanders, Ruthy Froch, Joey LePage, John Gasper and John Smiley in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova
L-R: Christopher Michael McLamb, Jessie Dean, Sarah Grace Sanders, Ruthy Froch, Joey LePage, John Gasper and John Smiley in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova

Most of the music is highly forgettable and, in many cases unintelligible, odd as the theater is very small and the actors use mics. The exception is Jessica Dean, who does a fine job as Tina, singing about her love of air conditioning and citing scripture. Joey LePage may have been cast as Hank for his buff physique; he lacks affect, even in the slightly disgusting episode when brown motor oil is poured over his briefs-clad body. Randy, the Brown’s stillborn son, is played by the talented John Gasper, wearing a baggy union suit and white facial makeup with tufts of hair sprouting from his otherwise bald head.  His role is confusing, including when he strangles himself, but so was much of the production that reminded me of TV’s long-gone Laugh-In, laden with talented people reveling in unrelated jokes, skits and musical numbers.

L-R: John Smiley, Sarah Grace Sanders and Joey LePage in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova
L-R: John Smiley, Sarah Grace Sanders and Joey LePage in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova

Act Two, (another too-fast wall projection sets it in 1991), has a far grimmer tone as relationships fray and the Gulf War begins.  I thought the drunken neighbor and his sexy wife had returned to the U.S but there they are, she in bikini bottom and a half-burqua; later–for a reason I couldn’t grasp– bound and gagged by her husband in a Spiderman costume. Abdullah’s daughter, Zillah, (Ruthy Froch), wears a burqua while she tells jokes and sings until at the very end she abruptly appears in a tight sequined dress and belts “I am dark energy; I do not dilute even as my universe expands.” Huh?

The set is made of plastic cutouts with flopping hands that seemed more Halloween than Saudi.  There are a few effective numbers, mostly those performed by The Descendants of Abraham, a trio played by whichever company members are not already onstage, in superb camel costumes by designer Alison Heryer.

For more information on Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, please visit www.59e59.org.

Posted in 59E59, Short plays, theater

Keeping it short

Clea Alsip and J.J. Kandel in 10K written and directed by Neil LaBute, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Clea Alsip and J.J. Kandel in 10K written and directed by Neil LaBute, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Leave ’em wanting more is a mantra for many of us..

Looks like the folks, like producer J.J. Kandel of Throughline Artists at Summer Shorts, in rep as Series A and B at 59E59 Theaters each year, share that attitude, playing through August 29th.

In this year’s short program offerings, Series A features playlets from Neil LaBute, Vickie Ramirez and Matthew Lopez.

Interestingly enough, the elipses in a short play often tell a story too. Interesting, because there is so little time to convey the whole tale.

Neil LaBute, in 10K, definitely relies on the pauses to move along this story of fidelity and choices. The unsaid adds to the mystery and the tension, but it does not mystify, it clarifies in so many ways. Man (J.J. Kandel ) and Woman (Clea Alsip) meet while jogging out in the woods. How much can be learned about their lives? As acted by Kandel and Alsip, under LaBute’s directorial hand, 10K is amusing and tightly-wrought.

Tanis Parenteau and W. Tre Davis in Glenburn 12 WP by Vickie Ramirez, directed by Kel Haney, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Tanis Parenteau and W. Tre Davis in Glenburn 12 WP by Vickie Ramirez, directed by Kel Haney, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Vickie Ramirez’ Glenburn 12 WP, on the other hand, does mystify, and not with what it leaves out, but with the way in which its story unravels. It, too, is about choices.  Robrta (Tanis Parenteau) encounters Troy (W. Tre Davis) in an empty Irish bar near Grand Central. She asks him why he isn’t protesting police killings of black men. He says he’s tired and reminds her that you don’t have to be black to join in the demonstration.

Unfortunately, Glenburn 12 WP devolves from its promising beginning. Despite the best efforts of the two charming actors, under the direction of Kel Haney, the mystery in Glenburn 12 WP makes an uncompromising choice  that is less than credible.

Meg Gibson and Michelle Beck in The Sentinels by Matthew Lopez, directed by Stephen Brackett, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Meg Gibson and Michelle Beck in The Sentinels by Matthew Lopez, directed by Stephen Brackett, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Rounding out the program is Matthew Lopez’ excellent The Sentinels. In the opening scene, Alice (Meg Gibson) and Kelly (Michelle Beck) are sharing photos at a coffee house in 2011.
The Sentinels moves backwards in time. Here’s a spoiler alert, though it should be clear early on, these are the anniversaries of September 11th. Over the years, the missing Christa (Kellie Overbey)–dubbed the Whiskey Dragon by the waitress (Zuzanna Szadkowski)– is at one of the reunions, while Kelly is not. Alice’s husband, Charlie, was Steve’s and Peter’s boss at a financial firm in one of the Towers. The Sentinels is engaging, and extremely well-acted. Lopez’ play has a lot of power, and is actualized by Stephen Brackett’s adept direction.

For more information on Summer Shorts, please visit 59e59.org.

 

Posted in 59E59, drama, love story, political drama, theater

Three’s a crowd: two plus one just doesn’t add up

Karan Oberoi, Alia Attallah and Quinn Franzen in Threesome, part of the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Hunter Canning
Karan Oberoi, Alia Attallah and Quinn Franzen in Threesome, part of the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Hunter Canning

Having  problems in your relationship? It’s pretty unlikely that bringing a third person into your bed will solve them.

In Threesome, written by Yussef El Guindi, and directed by Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman, at 59E59 Theater A, through August 23rd, the discords between a couple are exacerbated when they try this awkward fix.

Leila (Alia Attallah) and Rashid (Karan Oberoi) choose to bring a relative stranger into their relationship, and not surprisingly this proves disruptive.

Quinn Franzen, Alia Attallah and Karan Oberoi in Threesome,/ part of the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Hunter Canning
Quinn Franzen, Alia Attallah and Karan Oberoi in Threesome, part of the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Hunter Canning

Leila and Rashid are Americans of Egyptian descent. Doug (Quinn Franzen) is intrigued by the exotic possibilities of the Arabian nights he envisions. Doug’s seeming insensitivity can be forgiven. He is no more clueless about the core issues between Leila and Rashid than they themselves are.

El Guindi’s cogent and often perceptive story is well-executed by the ensemble, who all premiered their roles in Portland and are under Coleman’s direction here as well.

The interactions between the characters create a cringe-worthy atmosphere that elevates this tale beyond the “funny” with which it starts, and carries us deeper into Leila’s life, which is not an open book.

What looks at first like a romp is more like an exorcism. Women may find Leila’s heavy-handed attempt to restore fun and equilibrium to her relationship with Rashid improbable. The excellent Attalah makes it credible.

Threesome is about giving voice to our realities not our fantasies. “Fantasies fuck things up,” Leila says.

The design team, which includes Erinn McGrew (scenic design), David McCrum and Seth Chandler, further the tenor of the play.

Be advised that there is full frontal nudity in Threesome. For more information, visit 59e59.org.

 

 

Posted in 59E59, Alejandro Rodriguez, baseball, Bronx, championship, Gregory Simmons, Michael Mejias, Rodney Roldan, Talia Marrero

Play Ball! Three strikes in "Ghetto Babylon"

There are some things so fundamental, they really don’t involve choice For instance, you don’t choose to breathe, do you?

Malik Ali, Alejandro Rodriguez, and Sean Carvajal in “Ghetto Babylon” at 59E59 Theaters.
Photo by Lisa Silberman

Worried about disappointing his “boys,” — the thuggish Spec (Sean Caravjal) and the tender Felix (Malik Ali)– Charles Rosa (Alejandro Rodriguez) is in a fourteen-year-old’s quandry. In “Ghetto Babylon,” at 59E59 Theaters through August 18th, Charlie Baseball is the star pitcher on the West Farms Warriors. The team, after many seasons, seems finally destined to win the Bronx championship.  And Charlie, if he stays the course, is likely to get them there.

It’s not everyone’s dream to get out, even when the getting is out of poverty and ignorance. Spec, for instance, expects to have Rikers in his future. “I keep havin’ this dream,” he tells Charlie. “It be ten years from now. Felix be Felix, he all right, and we still tight. He like a captain at one of those fancy restaurants…. I be out from another bullshit bid upstate, Rikers, whatever….” 

Alejandro Rodriguez and Talia Marrero in “Ghetto Babylon” at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Lisa Silberman

Charlie is a reader. His downstairs neighbor, Sarafina Santo (Talia Marrero) calls him Honor Rolls. For Charlie’s cousin Felix, wearing the jacket the Warriors would win is a ticket to being recognized when they get to Theodore Roosevelt High School in the fall. Charlie has his own, very different ticket out, but it means ditching the final game for the Bronx-wide win. 

Alejandro Rodriguez acquits himself fairly well as the narrative figure in “Ghetto Babylon.”
He is adequately supported by his castmates, especially the alluring Talia Marrero as Sarafina.

Michael Mejias has written a memory play with an extremely porous dilemma. His language alternately fascinating and downright uninspired. Mejias likes to sprinkle expressions such as “Anywho,” in use by Sarafina and Spec. Or, “the wide wide world,” which is used repeatedly as if it were an incantation. Mixing the mystical, the mythical and the magical by ijnvoking Charlie’s dead mom, a hot love interest in Sarafina, and bringing in the Catcher from “Catcher in the Rye” just unfocuses “Ghetto Babylon.” There is also some unfortunate ghetto stereo-typing in “Ghetto Babylon” that probably shouldn’t get a pass. 

For more information about “Ghetto Babylon,” please visit 59e59.org.



Posted in 59E59, Brits Off Broadway, Bull, bullying, domination, humiliation, Mike Bartlett, teamwork, work environment, work place

Work is a special kind of hell in "Bull"

Sam Troughton and Eleanor Matsuura in Mike Bartlett’s “Bull,” part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

If the only intriguing thing about Mike Bartlett’s “Bull” were that he had a recent success off-Broadway with a play called “C**k,” it might be enough for some of us. But “Bull” is far from a mere companion set-piece, offering the cutely indulgent possibility of being labelled “C**k” and “Bull.” 

Eleanor Matsuura and Adam James in Mike Bartlett’s “Bull,” part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

“Bull,” in a Sheffield Theatres production at 59E59 Theater’s Brits Off-Broadway festivities, through June 2nd, is in fact, a rather brilliantly brutal study of humiliation and dominance.

Sam Troughton and Adam James in Mike Bartlett’s “Bull,” part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Thomas (Sam Troughton) is alternately bewildered and out-manned by his co-workers, Isobel (Eleanor Matsuura) and Tony (Adam James) as he struggles to survive at work. The team is about to be pared down by their boss, Carter (Neil Stuke) whose visit the three are anticipating in an office made to look like a fight ring, designed by Soutra Gilmour.

Sam Troughton, Neil Stuke, Adam James, and Eleanor Matsuura in Mike Bartlett’s “Bull,” part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg


“Bull” is a cage match, with Carter as reluctant referee. Thomas’ being cut is a foregone conclusion. Carter, unctious and self-assured, describes his mission to downsize as “a cull to save the species, by which I mean the rest of us, from extinction.”

Eleanor Matsuura, Sam Troughton, and Adam James in Mike Bartlett’s “Bull,”, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg. Choreography by Allistair David and Fight Direction by Christian Thomas.

The actors move about aggressively– or in Thomas’s case defensively– with choreography by Allistair David and Fight Direction by Chrisitan Thomas, in a Darwinian dance of death. The ensemble, under Clare Lizzimore’s direction, is superb.

“Bull” creates the very definition of a hostile work environment.

For more information about “Bull,” visit www.59e59.org.