Posted in #classism, #dystopia, #PRIDE, Center for Performance Research, Chris Cragin-Day, Classic Stage Company, CPR, Earth Day, Emily Daly, environmental degradation, Lauren DiGiulio, Marc Blizstein, Orson Welles, racism, social media, The Cradle Will Rock, unions, workshops

Troubled times

Natalia Plaza and Zac Owens in The Rare Biosphere

Sometimes, we need a little CPR as a theriac for snakebitten times.

The CPR in question here is the Center for Performance Research which is presenting its New Voices in Live Performance programs for 2019. Their announcement appropriately crossed our desk on Earth Day today, April 22nd, so Walking with Water, which centers around environmental issues, questions of racism and justice, and restoring our planet sounds like the balm we need. It is what Aya Lane + Jess Jupiter are curating for June 1 -2. (Re)Patterning Performance is Lauren DiGiulio’s curation on June 7-9.

Workshops, explorations, multi-media performances all appear on the bill.
(We’ve sent you to the Center for Performance Research in the past.) Details can be found at the CPR website.

Photo by Gabriel Frye-Behar from #yourmemorial

The shock of our dystopias seems to be wearing us down with diurnal injustices. Artists among us continue to struggle to make sense of it all. And to help us make our way through.

Theater artists in particular are organizing tales for our edification. Their efforts are appreciated, if sometimes fraught.

The Rare Biosphere is a “ripped from the headlines” story about a teenager who comes home to find her parents have been deported. Playwright Chris Cragin-Day intends to give the political a personal face in this timely new work, playing from April 25th through May 19th at Calvary St. George’s.

Despite the fact that we consider ourselves a class-less society, classism is an enduring issue in American life. Classic Stage Company (CSC) is staging an endictment of capitalism’s greatest flaw, inequality, The Cradle Will Rock written in 1937 and originally produced by Orson Welles. Marc Blizstein’s play in music was shut down by federal authoriites who feared its pro-labor stance just prior to opening night . CSC’s Artistic Director, John Doyle is at the helm of this 10-person production.

The internet has no real precursor in our lives. #yourmemorial by Emily Daly reacts to issues that only arise from what we so laughably call social media. This world premiere is produced by Pigeonholed from May 9th through 26th.

A series of PRIDE events at the Educational Alliance in association with the 14th Street Y celebrate diversity as Live Free, Love Fierce from May 31 through July 1.

This is a short list of a very few upcoming shows meant to cure what ails us. The sideshow in government and performed by a parade of politicians continues. You can follow that mostly on CNN and other cable news outlets.

Posted in #whatdoyouthink, actors, African-American playwrights, artist, based on a novel, based on a true story or event, based on a true story or event and historical documents, based on true events, brutality, chronicle, deep South, empowerment, ensemble acting, famous, film, Fox Studios, historical drama, history, honky, husbands and wives, KKK, meditation on life, movie, new work, opinion, poignant, race, racism, riff, sci fi, serious, serious subject, showcase, timely, TV, Valentine's Day

Serially entertaining

Actors and screen-writers are busier these days than they have been in some time. There are “streaming” shows, 100s of cable outlets producing both series and movies, and of course Hollywood and the Indie scene all requiring their talents and services.

We are the beneficiaries of all this production. We will be enlightened, entertained and excited by the films they produce.

What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than binge watching Divorce?

Gifted, the movie with Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace, and not so incidentally Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan, and Elizabeth Marvel, is touching without being maudlin. It is generally intelligent, with a sterling performance by young Ms. Grace, and until we saw it last night on HBO, I had not heard much about it.

The assignment for Black History Month can include the excellent Get Out, Jordan Peele’s genius defies and reinvents the “horror” genre. It should also feature a viewing of Birth of a Nation, perhaps both in its regressive D.W. Griffith 1915 version and Nate Parker’s 2016 “remake.” The contrast between a paen to the Ku Klux Klan and to Nat Turner’s slave rebellion may prove edifying. Add Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (although not our personal favorite) to your list of films for 2018. (In the New Yorker, Vinson Cunningham expresses a different view, especially of Parker’s film.)

Art is meant to engender controversy, stimulate and even incense and enrage. We should not be passively diverted in its presence. It is here to help us ponder life’s (and history’s) biggest issues.

Thanks to films and serial dramas we have a lot to consider and enjoy. And we are treated to some terrific performances in the bargain.

Posted in a pill to end racism, advertising, comedy, comedy about a serious subject, crises of the soul, Greg Kellares, honky, marketing, profiling, racial profile, racism, serious comedy

The Incidental Racist: "Honky" at Urban Stages

Existential crises come in varied forms.

There may be medical cures for many of them.

Kid 1 and 2 ( Reynaldo Pinella and DeLance Minefee) approach Davis (Philip Callen) on a subway platform in a scene from “Honky” by Greg Kellares at Urban Stages. Photo by Ben Hider.

For Peter (Dave Droxler), being white is the major embarrassment. White guilt, straight-out racism, both white and black, all rear their ugly little heads in “Honky.” As each pops up, “Honky” blows it up and shoots it down.

Here is a comedy for the post-racial age. Until that comes to pass, “Honky” uses the tropes of advertising and marketing, in which profiling is professionally de rigueur. “Honky” explodes myths and slurs in a soft sell with a hard edge.

Emilia (Arie Bianca Thompson) counsels Peter (David Droxler) in a scene from “Honky” by Greg Kellares at Urban Stages through November 17th. Photo by Ben Hider.

Advertisers target their markets by demographics of lifestyle, income, race, something many of us prefer not to have our police do. In “Honky,” the product is the SkyMax basketball shoe, designed by Thomas (Anthony Gaskins.) The SkyMax in it’s various iterations aims to sell to “urban” youth, “code for black,” the company’s president, Davis (Philip Callen) freely admits.

Andie (Danielle Faitelson) meets Thomas (Anthony Gaskins) at a SkyMax party in a scene from “Honky” by Greg Kellares at Urban Stages through November 17th. Photo by Ben Hider.

While Peter goes to Emilia (Arie Bianca Thompson) for therapy to cure his guilt over an ad he created for the shoe, her brother Thomas beds Peter’s girlfriend, Andie (Danielle Faitelson) to cure his own guilt and rage. Davis goes to Dr. Driscoll (Scott Barrow) for a cure that will save his job.

Greg Kellares, the ex-ad man who wrote this intelligent and serious comedy, takes aim at some of our society’s most sensitive spots. Consumerism is another of his well-chosen targets in “Honky.” The cast, led by Anthony Gaskins’ conflicted hero, Thomas, and Peter Callen’s unapologetic Davis, as well as the superlative Arie Bianca Thompson, is all first rate. Luke Harlan’s gentle touch gives tribute to the subtle perspicacity of the script he’s directing.

“Honky” is an amazingly insightful look at race, marketing, advertising, stereotyping and Dostoyevsky.

The 80 seat theater will fill up fast, so please go to http://urbanstages.org/honky to learn more about “Honky.” 

Posted in courtroom drama, deep South, John Grisham, KKK, lurid, murder, race, racism, rape of a child, Rupert Holmes

"A Time To Kill" also offers a time to heal

John Grisham is a masterful story teller. His plots are full of intimate and expert details of the workings of courtroom proceedings.

Ashley Williams, Sebastian Arcelus and Tom Skerritt in Broadway’s A”A TimeTo Kill”. (c) Carol Rosegg

In “A Time To Kill,” based on Grisham’s classic best-selling novel written in 1989 and turned into a blockbuster movie in 1996, the plot is a scintillating mixture of  racism, rape, and murder.

Set in Ford County, Mississippi in the early 1980’s, “A Time To Kill”  revolves around Carl Lee Hailey (John Douglas Thompson), the father of a ten year old rape victim who kills the two men who raped his little girl. Carl Lee is black and Billy Ray Cobb (Lee Sellars) and Pete Willard (Dashiell Eaves) are white.

As  adapted by Rupert Holmes for the stage, “A Time To Kill” moves quickly from the men’s admission of the crime to Carl Lee’s dramatic courthouse killing.
Jake Brigance (Sebastian Arcelus) agrees to defend Carl Lee. His defense centers on the testimony of an unreliable psychiatrist, Dr. W.T. Bass (John Procaccino) brought in by Jake’s old disbarred mentor, the drunken Lucien Wilbanks (Tom Skerritt).

Jake reluctantly takes on help in the form of an ambitious liberal Boston law student, Ellen Roark (Ashley Williams in an auspicious Broadway debut) as a de facto law clerk.  Judge Omar Noose (Fred Dalton Thompson) predictably refuses them the change of venue they request, and the trial is on.

 Tijuana Ricks as court reporter Norma Gallo, Patrick Page as
District Attorney Rufus R. Buckley, Fred Dalton Thompson as Judge Omar Noose,
 and John Douglas Thompson as Carl Lee Hailey
in Broadway’s “A TimeTo Kill”. (c) Carol Rosegg

Their unctuous opponent, Rufus R. Buckley (Patrick Page), the district attorney for nearby Polk County, is prosecuting the case with aims for the Governor’s mansion.

The scenic designs by James Noone make use of a circular backdrop of slats that move us from courtroom to Jake’s office smoothly but dramatically. There are some wondrous special effects for which the Technical Supervisor, Peter Fulbright should be applauded.

In the large, well-directed (by Ethan McSweeny) cast, John Douglas Thompson’s Carl Lee is stalwartly portrayed. Also standing out are Patrick Page whose Buckley is opportunistic and slimy. Sebastian Arcelus is commendable and appealing as the young attorney, who is both of his place in time and beyond it.  We’ve already welcomed Ashley Williams for her charming turn as the tough and genius– “it runs in the family”– Ellen Roark.

It feels like a bit of wishful hindsight of racial harmony in Rupert Holmes’ vision of “A Time To Kill” undermining the premise of the story. It’s a very moving production, but this small point has to be asked: How does a black sheriff, Ozzie Walls (well played by Chike Johnson) get elected in a county teeming with KKK. A Grisham novel, while always a page-bruner, isn’t elegantly written; it runs on the plots and Grisham’s insights into the legal system. It’s wise to see the movie or, as in this case, the stage version.

Despite the grim facts of “A Time To Kill,” there is a lightness and ease in the drama. Rupert Holmes, no stranger to imaginative adaptations (“The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” recently at Roundabout, for an instance), has solidified and shortened Grisham’s plot to intensify its theatrical qualities. “A Time To Kill” is a solid Broadway hit.

For more about “A Time To Kill,” please visit http://atimetokillonbroadway.com/

Posted in comedy, dance, fairytale, festival of short plays, fox, known playwrights, monologues, politically incorrect, racism, stand up, stepfather, teens, vignettes

Squeeze out a little more of the season with "Summer Shorts 5" but we’re done with Mark Morris for now

What brings an award-winning seventeen year old playwright (Ruby Rae Spiegel), a famously controversial one (Neil LaBute), a long-established and much respected theater writer (Christopher Durang) and an up-and-coming voice of off-Broadway (Alexander Dinelaris) to the same stage?

It’s “Summer Shorts,” a festival of plays defined by their brevity, now in its fifth year at 59E59 Theaters through September 3rd! The challenge of “Summer Shorts” is to create a complete play within a time constraint of approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Each “short” is expected to have a full arc, but they need not be strictly speaking, and most of the selection presented by the authors above in the Series A repertory is not, one-act offerings. Some are comprised of several scenes, that shift in location, and introduce their characters. Some are monologues.

Since it is not easy to present a beginning, middle and end in such a short form, some of the plays succeed better than others.

Lydia Weintraub (left) and Louise Sullivan in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s “Carrie & Francine.” 

Each bill offers four little vignettes, and in “Summer Shorts 5– Series A” , the offerings included:

Neil LaBute’s “The New Testament” proves to be not just a very funny, well-paced work, it also tells its story cogently, under the direction of Dolores Rice, tantalizing out the details of its brilliantly simple plot. Jeff Binder, with foils in Mando Alvarado and James Chen, is particularly adept in this little tale of racism and self-righteousness.

“In This, Our Time…,” Alexander Dinelaris paints vivid portraits of a troubled modern
family. JJ Kandel directs the dynamic cast in a minimalist dramatic work that mystifies with an unsatisfactory ending.

Erin Darke and Ted Koch in a scene from In This, Our Time… by Alexander Dinelaris, directed By J.J. Kandel, part of SUMMER SHORTS 5 Series A.ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF NEW AMERICAN SHORT PLAYS Photo Credit: Rahav Segev 

“Triple Trouble with Love” is Christopher Durang’s entertaining stand up comedy of a play about the perils of relationship. It features Nick Choksi, Beth Hoyt, and Aidan Sullivan in a triptych to dysfunction.

Ruby Rae Spiegel’s “Carrie & Francine,” despite a complete plot line, manages to feel fragmental and, well, incomplete.
___________________________________________________________________________
No Mozart this time around from Mark Morris Dance Group at “Mostly Mozart Festival”

There was no Mozart in the Mostly Mozart Festival presentation by Mark Morris Dance Group at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theatre in the Time Warner Center from August 18th through 20th. The much-touted New York premiere of “Renard,” set to a score by Igor Stravinsky that was played by the skillful MMDG Musical Ensemble under the baton of Stefan Asbury, fell under the Sravinsky Too rubric, however.

(See a video of typical Morris dancing at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeFyYFxTqtQ)

Also on the program was last year’s sensation– “Socrates,” a piece choreographed to music by Erik Satie– which is certainly dynamic, but the dance to celebrate on this program is “Festival Dances,” set to Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Piano Trio in E Major, Opus 83. “Festival Dances” is a beautiful and gentle work in the spirit of Agnes DeMille with plenty of balletic influence.

Both “Renard,” which is a comedic piece, and “Socrates” make fine use of vocal accompaniments. Renard is adorable, acrobatic, and reminiscent of silent films. The costumes by Maira Kalman with labels naming each of the characters beginning on the front of their shirts and ending on the back and little headpieces of crowns or ears are imaginative and simple. The Cock’s Chics are dressed like 1960’s cheerleaders in crinolined skirts so when Cock breaks out into a little endzone dance it just feels right. The stylized violence also seems appropriate for the story.

Visit markmorrisdancegroup.org to find a schedule for future MMDG performances.

To find a schedule for Summer Shorts5, go to 59E59.org