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/

Posted in 6 extremely short plays, absurdist, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2012, Neil La Bute, politically inspired, serious, theatre with a lofty and worthy goal, tragi-comic, Victor Sloezak

Protesting on Stage in "Theatre Uncut"

250 groups in 17 countries have put on “Theatre Uncut” productions.

Moving, intelligent, tightly-written, politically-inspired and inspiring art is not commonly to be found.

In “Theatre Uncut,” in a Traverse Theatre Edinburgh production courtesy of The Carol Tambor Theatrical Foundation at the Clurman on Theatre Row through February 3rd, the emphasis is on art.

World-wide fiscal crises and budget cuts for social services are the impetus for “Theatre Uncut,” an international movement of stage professionals, dubbing themselves “Theatre Uncutters.”

“Theatre Uncut” are plays of protest.

The fantastic U.S. cast all volunteered their time, artistry and talent to perform the six short works on the program.

“In the Beginning” by Neil LaBute. Gia Crovatin and Victor Slezak  Photo by Allison Stock

As might be expected from Neil La Bute, his “In The Beginning” does not tow strictly to a line. He examines the Occupy Movement as it might play out in the living room of an occupier (Gia Crovatin and her well-heeled dad (Victor Slezak.) La Bute questions, and does not come up with any easy answers. “In The Beginning” is thought-provoking and not in the least polemical.

Not that any of the other excellent playlets are polemical.

In Clare Brennan’s “Spine,” Amy (Robyn Kerr) befriends a brilliantly dotty old lady whose library is appropriated from the stacks of all the closed libraries in the district.

“This situation,” says Jack (Brian Hastert) in “Fragile” by David Greig, “is all fucked up and it has to stop.” Greig addresses the financial issue in the prologue to his piece (read by Robyn Kerr.) For budgetary reasons, “Fragile,” under the direction of Catrin Evans, written for two characters– Jack and Caroline– is performed by only one. The audience will cue Jack by reading Caroline’s lines.

Tyler Moss in “The Birth of My Violence” by Marco Canale Photo by Allison Stock

“The Price” by Lena Kitsopoulou paints an absurdist tragi-comic picture from the Greek economic meltdown. A Man (Carter Gill) and his wife (Shannon Sullivan) argue over every drachma — now in Euros– of expenditure while shopping in a gulag-like supermarket.

The playbill suggests that one request the works for private reading but that would not be half as much fun as watching these superb actors.

Go see “Theatre Uncut” during its short stay. Enjoy the performances in these short offerings. Along with those actors already mentioned, there’s Tyler Moss as a disaffected writer in Spain in Marco Canale’s “The Birth of My Violence,” directed by Cressida Brown, as are both “The Price” and “Spine.” Lou (Ali Ewoldt) and Ama (Jessika Williams) are reluctant escapees in “The Breakout” by Anders Lustgarten, and directed by Emily Reutlinger, who also directed “In The Beginning.”

The run at the Clurman is a preamble for the “Theatre Uncut 2013 week of international action” scheduled for November. 250 groups in 17 countries have put on this show case of protest everywhere from stages to kitchens.

“The idea began in the U.K. in October 2010, as the Coalition government announced the worst cuts to public spending,” co-Artistic Directors Emma Callander and Hannah Price, say in the program notes,” since WW2. Fast forward to 2013. Austerity is a buzzword.”

To learn more about “Theatre Uncut” or to join the “Uncutters,” go to www.theatreuncut.com or email getinvolved@theatreuncut.com. Tickets are available at the Clurman box office at Theatre Row on 42nd Street.

Posted in 2-hander, absurdist, comedy, drama, Festival Fringe-bound, monologues, musical theater

A Pitstop On Route To The Venerable Edinburgh Festival Fringe

In 1947 eight theater groups turned up uninvited to the then brand-new Edinburgh International Festival. These pioneering 8 went ahead and staged their shows; in 1959 these “fringe” players were made official by the Festival Fringe Society. The policy The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society established at the start was that “anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them” could present on the annual programs.

59E59 Theaters offers some of those heading out to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe a place to tune up and refresh for the long trip. At “East to Edinburgh 2012,” there are sixteen new shows prepping for the competition at the Festival Fringe to delight and intrigue.

Catch up with some old favorites, or meet up with some completely new productions, as the pre-Festival starts on July 10th and runs through July 29th.

Sarah Ruhl’s “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” rings in from the 19th to the 21st with a young cast. Teen angst set to 1960’s Brit-pop rocks “MOD” in performances beginning on July 21st.

“Captain Ferguson’s School for Baloon Warfare” makes another appearance at 59E59 before going across the pond to Scotland. (See our review from the eccentric Captain’s earlier visit to 59E59.)

From monologues and standup to serious drama, East to Edinburgh showcases a taste of what the big Festival offers.

To find out more about East to Edinburgh and the other productions at 59E59 Theaters, visit, http://www.59e59.org/.

Posted in 2-hander, A Chamber Opera, absurdist, chamber music, funny-sad, music, singing, The Hunchback Variations

The intersection of Beethoven and Quasimodo is Chekhov

Is it only the idealists among us who search for the unattainable? Can the melancholic also pursue it?

The premise in “The Hunchback Variations, A Chamber Opera,” at 59E59 Theaters through July 1st, is a doomed collaboration between Ludwig von Beethoven (George Andrew Wolff) and Quasimodo (Larry Adams) to find a sound that will fulfill a stage direction in Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.”

Quasimodo and Beethoven, both deaf and more than a touch ornery, are holding a series of panel discussions on the inevitable failure of their project. The attempt to create “the Impossible, Mysterious Sound” and “the Effects on Love and Friendship of Rehearsing the Creation of the Impossible and Mysterious Sound” are the subject for “The Hunchback Variations, A Chamber Opera.” The sound is “impossible” because it is one of nostalgia for something lost or missing or not existent. Beethoven and Quasimodo are trying to find something that eludes the senses.

Mickle Maher, an original member of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck which brought the musical play east, adapted the chamber opera from his eccentric little play “The Hunchback Variations.” His libretto is set to Mark Messing’s score for cello (played by Paul Ghica) and piano (Christopher Sargent.)

Adams and Wolff both have a wry demeanor and pleasant voices. They tell the tale well, revealing the details of the relationship between Quasimodo and Beethoven over the course of eleven “variations.”

Quasimodo asks, “Where do we put the happiness that has not been forged?… Where is the room for keeping all the nothings?” Beethoven responds “I would like to think that such a room exists.”

For a schedule of performances, visit www.59e59.org To learn more about the producing company, Theater Oobleck, visit http://theateroobleck.com

Posted in absurdist, biology, Evolution, gaming, music, serious clowning, solo show, three-hander, You are in an open field

Geeks to Whales: Can Devolution Be Progress?

Evolutionary biology has somehow become controversial.

Sets and video design by Jim Findlay. Patricia Buckley as Minnie, one of the characters she portrays in “Evolution.” Photo © Russ Rowland

Darwinism battles creationism in “Evolution” at 59E59 Theaters through May 20th.

Minnie is overmedicated and living with her mother. Minnie was the bright sister, but it’s Pammy whose career as an evolutionary biologist has made her the family star in “Evolution.”

All three women, and Minnie’s nurse Sherry, are intelligently played by Patricia Buckley, who is also the author of this funny and poignant new play.

Patricia Buckley is Pammy, an evolutionary biologist, one of the characters she portrays in “Evolution.” Photo © Russ Rowland

Sea mammals, as Pammy drolly lectures, can only be explained as land animals regressing back into the ocean. Minnie, whose name teases the word minnow, seems to be drawn to water. She may be a victim of devolution and the sea.

Jim Findlay’s sets and video designs for “Evolution.” project dynamic marine scenes, enhancing the production.

Meanwhile, downtown on Here’s stage, the New York Neo-Futurists present “You Are In An Open Field” on Thursdays -Saturdays through May 19th.

Steven A. French and Cherylynn Tsushima. Photo © Anton Nickel

Marta (Marta Rainer) in “You Are In An Open Field” has a similar compulsion to Minne in “Evolution” for breathing under water. Marta is one of the geeks riffing on game theory in this musical slash video game entertainment.

“You Are In An Open Field” is written and performed by Kevin R. Free (Kevin), Marta Rainer and Adam Smith (Adam) and Eevin Hartsough. Rounding out the cast are Steven A. French (Actor) and Cherylynn Tsushima (Dancer) who add to the air of absurdity and whimsy. Music is created by the Neo-Futurists’ frequent collaborator Carl Riehl who leads a live hip hop band. Christopher Dippel directs this off-beat and amusing theatrical event.

To download tracks from the New York Neo-Futurists new musical “You Are In An Open Field” go to SoundCloud. Two songs, “I’m The Boss” and “Do It,” are available on SoundCloud at the direct link http://soundcloud.com/ny-neo-futurists/sets/music-from-you-are-in-an-open.

Visit www.59e59.org for a schedule for “Evolution.”

To find out more about “You Are In An Open Field”, visit www.here.org

Posted in 2-hander, absurdist, drama, politics

"The Door" Slams

Two men are sitting in an anteroom as a door bangs incessantly.

The story they unwind in Tony Earnshaw’s “The Door,” part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters running through December 11th, seesaws in search of the truth.

Tom Cobley and Chris Westgate in “The Door” by Tony Earnshaw. Photo by Tony Earnshaw

“The whole system collapses if you don’t obey orders,” Boyd tells Ryan. Ryan’s answer is “The whole system is pointless if you do.” What appears to be random disagreement over politics, tabloids news, and the existence of God, turns out to be very personal.

Ryan (Chris Westgate) and Boyd (Tom Cobley) are waiting to justify an incident that happened during their service in Iraq.

The tension between the two men is punctuated by the explosively slamming door. “Drives you round the loddy bend, doesn’t it. Round the bloody bend,”
is a refrain that gets passed from hand to hand as the noise unnerves each man in turn.

Tom Cobley and Chris Westgate in Tony Earnshaw ‘s“The Door.”. Photo by Tony Earnshaw

The taut fifty minutes play, under Anna Adams able directions, goes from Beckettian absurdity to a surprising animated ending.

For more information on Brits Off Broadway and a schedule of performances for “The Door,” visit www.59e59.org.

Posted in absurdist, comedy, renowned playwright

That’s Absurd! The Surreal Worlds of Ionesco and Rapp

Legend has it that Eugene Ionesco was so taken by the phrase book when he tried to learn English that he decided to create a play, originally to be named L’anglais sans peine (or English without toil ), in honor of the strange dialogues the Assimil method offered.

“The Bald Soprano”, on stage at the Pearl Theatre Company’s home at City Center Stage II, through October 23rd, is a rare sighting in the United States. (Since 1957, it has been performed at the Théâtre de la Huchette so it has become one of the most frequently staged plays in France.)

As a playwright, Ionesco revels in the absurdity that comes out of (mis)communication. He is one of the premiere proponents of the theater of the absurd. The genre comes out of existentialism, and is meant to be nihilistic and gloomy. In Ionesco’s hands, it is genial and cheerfully good-natured.

The text in “The Bald Soprano” resembles more a conversation between Burns and Allen than one with Jean Paul Sartre or Camus.

The Smiths, an ordinary couple, enjoying an after dinner chat, talk at cross purposes as if everything they say is lost in translation. Mrs. Smith (Rachel Botchan) rattles on about what they had for dinner. She seems to be reciting the menu by rote. Mr. Smith (Bradford Cover) grunts and reads his paper.

Bradford Cover as Mr. Smith and Rachel Botchan as Mrs. Smith Photos by Jacob J. Goldberg 

The dynamic between words and meaning, and even identity and meaning, seems to be lost. Nothing and everything is what it seems. The Fire Chief (Dan Daily) is hunting fires, and invites Mrs. Smith to confide in him as if he were her confessor, as he puts it. The play, like its title, is judiciously absurd.

Jolly Abraham as Mrs. Martin and Rachel Botchan as Mrs. Smith Photos by Jacob J. Goldberg 

The Martins, (Brad Heberlee and Jolly Abraham) who come to visit the Smiths, recognize each other by all the coincidences of where they live, the child they each have, etc. but Mary (Robin Leslie Brown), the Smith’s meddlesome maid, interrupts to let us know that despite the coincidence of same domicile they are not who they think they are.

Dan Daily as The Fire Chief and Robin Leslie Brown as Mary Photos by Jacob J. Goldberg 

The production, directed by Hal Brooks, paces itself to savor all the incongruity in the text. “The Bald Soprano” offers a welcome touch of life and confusion to the Fall theater season.

Heir to Ionesco?

Adam Rapp has a much darker absurdist vision in his new play, “Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling”.

“Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling”, on stage at Classic Stage Company in an Atlantic Theater production through October 30th, skewers reality with subtle hints that everything is awry.

There are Canada geese falling like large hail from the skies, which are an unhealthy color. The predatory Sandra (Christine Lahti) flirts pornographically with her husband’s, Dr. Bertram Cabot’s (Reed Birney) old college chum, Dirk Von Stofenberg (Cotter Smith) even before her husband leaves the room.

Reed Birney as Bert, Christine Lahti as Sandra, Cotter Smith as Dirk, Betsy Aidem as Celeste, Shane McRae as James, and Katherine Waterston as Cora Photos by Kevin Thomas Garcia  

Dirk and his wife Celeste (Betsy Aidem) are at the Cabots to celebrate their son James’s (Shane McRae) release from a psychiatric institution.
The Cabots daughter, Cora (Katherine Waterston) flirts with James while the parents are touring the reconstructed basement.

Wilma (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), the family’s live in maid from Red Hook, walks in on James and Cora. Wilma takes it in her stride; nothing seems out of the ordinary in this household or in this play. For instance, it’s a kind of play on the concept of a French maid, that Wilma is expected to serve drinks and dinner in French, under the auspices of Sandra, who bullies everyone with equal joie de vivre.

Shane McRae as James, and Katherine Waterston as Cora Photos by Kevin Thomas Garcia  

“Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling” adds a malignant twist to its comedy. The actors all acquit themselves well but Christine Lahti’s vicious Sandra, is a rare treat; she is deadly serious and very very funny. Her behavior surprises but does not shock even in this staid Connecticut setting.

“Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling” soars.

For performance schedule and to learn more about the Atlantic Theater Company, go to http://www.atlantictheater.org/

For more information on The Pearl Theater Company, visit http://www.pearltheatre.org/