Posted in 2-hander, air force, also a film, army airmen, autobiographical, based on a movie, based on a real world conflict, based on a true story or event and historical documents, based on true events, Bryce Pinkham, carpet bombing, comedy about a serious subject, dark comedy drama, drama based on real events, duped by love, ensemble acting, family, fathers and sons, holiday show, memoir, memories, musical theatre, musicals and dramas, narration, new work, Off or Off-Off Broadway Transfer, offbeat work, parents and children, play, play with music, Roundabout Theatre Company, serious comedy, storytelling, stylistic, the damaged and hurting, theater, Vietnam background, war

Legacies of war

Jon Hoche, Raymond Lee, Paco Tolson (center), Jennifer Ikeda, and Samantha Quan. Photo © Carol Rosegg

History can sometimes revel in a very personal dynamic.

For instance, those of us who lived through and joined in protests against the Vietnam War may not share the viewpoint of the main character in Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone, currently playing at MTC’s City Center Stage I through December 4th.

Quang (Raymond Lee) was a pilot in the South Vietnamese armed forces. He was trained in the United States. He saw the North Vietnamese as a genuine threat to life and liberty and welcomed the help of American soldiers in the struggle.

Vietgone is a fast-paced kind-of-multi-media excursion into the hero’s and heroine’s, Tong (Jennifer Ikeda), survival. They meet at a state-side refugee camp where Tong and her mother (Samantha Quan, in a number of roles) have come after the fall of Saigon.

The piece is, and isn’t, narrated by the Playwright (Paco Tolson, also playing several people), who is commemorating his parents’ story. There are rapped love songs, (original music by Shane Rettig) motorcycles, a roadtrip, and a bromance– all trappings to some extent of the era portrayed in the plot.

For the most part, Vietgone is entertaining, interesting, unusual in structure, and well presented. There is room for some cuts here and there. The cast, under May Adrales’ direction, and staging, with scenic designs by Tim Mackabee and projection design by Jared Mezzocchi, are excellent.

In other subscription house news from our household:

Roundabout’s Love, Love, Love (reviewed earlier and playing through 12/18) can make us feel guilty first for Brexit and now Trump as it portrays boomers resting in reactionary comfort.

Over at Studio 54 througfh January 15, 2017, Roundabout has mounted a vehicle for nostalgia. Holiday Inn, with no irony whatsoever, cries out for Mickey and Judy. It is well-served by the cast on hand, however, and a pleasantly tuneful production makes for a great afternoon at the movies, er theater.Bryce Pinkham and Corbin Bleu are the friends and dancing partners, along with Megan Sikora, and Lora Lee Gayer who lead the ensemble in song and dance.

Heisenberg Georgie- Mary-Louise Parker and Alex-- Denis Arndt; Set Designer Mark Wendland; Costume Designer Michael Krass; Lighting Designer Austin R. Smith; Original Music and Sound Designer David Van Tieghem. Photo © Joan Marcus
Georgie- Mary-Louise Parker and Alex– Denis Arndt;
Set Designer Mark Wendland; Costume Designer Michael Krass;
Lighting Designer Austin R. Smith;
Original Music and Sound Designer David Van Tieghem. Photo © Joan Marcus

MTC gives us Heisenberg at its Broadway venue, the Friedman Theatre through December 11th. Why Heisenberg? The play, so well-acted by Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker as to have one puzzling over the quantum physics of it name, is an enjoyable two-hander. It’s gimmicky staging notwithstanding, the dynamic of the drama is captivating. Heisenberg is a sweet-crazy story, written by Simon Stephens, the pen behind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Heisenberg was a transfer from Off-Off, and as such had some buzziness surrounding it.Director Mark Brokaw elicits strong performances from both his actors. Parker, who unleashes the odd-ball in her character in little bursts, is fun to watch.Arndt’s charm reveals how a pent-up man can suddenly be both impetuous and child-like. So, back to the title: Heisenberg has an underlying if small principle of uncertainty that you will likely enjoy.

Posted in Iraq, mercenaries, torture, war

"On The Head Of A Pin" Covers War’s Ugly Underbelly

L-R: Emily Fleischer and Jen Tullock in ON THE HEAD OF A PIN at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Hunter Canning
There were plenty of historical precedents for the use of paramilitary reinforcements before Bush the younger sent two hired guns for every soldier into Iraq. It’s true that most of those did not involve using private companies  to run operations in hot zones, but as long as there have been wars, there have been combatants whose allegiance to the cause was strictly for pay.
L-R: Will Gallacher, Sofia Lauwers, and Devin Dunne Cannon in ON THE HEAD OF A PIN at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Hunter Cannon

Mercenary corporations treat both their own personnel and combatants cavalierly. In “On The Head Of A Pin,” in a Strangemen & Co. production at 59E59 Theaters through March 10, their actions fall under the scrutiny of an intrepid reporter. Lily Strauss (Sofia Lauwers) lost her job and reputation making allegations against them, but this time she has proof that Caliban,  the company authorized to send Arab-speakers to interrogate prisoners, is involved in ugly dealings in Iraq.

L-R: Sofia Lauwers and Jason Ralph in ON THE HEAD OF A PIN at
59E59 Theaters. Photo by Hunter Canning

Chris Conrad (Jason Ralph), Caliban’s head of HR, doesn’t look too closely at Sarah Kennedy’s (Emily Fleischer) motives when he  sends her to an Iraqi prison despite the fact that he wonders why a newly wed wants to go so far away from her husband. Her boss, Kathleen Crane (Jen Tullock) browbeats her into forcing confessions. Sarah’s only ally in her new job is a soldier named Russell Clark (Marcus Callender) whose offer of help to her goes very much awry.
Frank Winters’ “On The Head of a Pin” is deeply earnest even when it’s funny.  From Gwen (Devin Dunne Cannon), the news intern who assists Lily in her expose to the interim editor, Jon Lowe (James Ortiz), the characters are all dedicated and righteous.  Sadly, sincerity is not enough to make a drama work, even one that is as hard-working as this one. 

For more information about “On The Head of a Pin,” please visit
Posted in Adam Rapp, allegory, Apocalypse, dark drama, New York City, strange, war

Apocalypse Now in "Through The Yellow Hour"

War is chaotic.

In “Through The Yellow Hour,” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through October 28th, playwright and directorAdam Rapp visits an apocalypse on New York City.

Rapp is no stranger to the odd and allegorical. (“Dreams of Flying , Dreams of Falling” is one that comes to mind as a for instance.)

Photo © Sandra Coudert.
Alok Tewari, Danielle Slavick,
Hani Furstenberg, Matt Pilieci,
Vladimir Versailles, Brian Mendes,
and Joanne Tucker 

Everything in “Through The Yellow Hour” is site specific. The city has been attacked by the Egg Heads, who are systematically killing off the populaton. Ellen (Hani Furstenberg) is holed up in her East Village apartment, waiting for her husband Paul to return. She is the ultimate survivor, trading for foodstuffs and drugs through a network outside her well-fortified door. The first of the nightmares from outside creeps in through a window and ends as the Dead man (Brian Mendes), slumped on the floor for the rest of the play.

There is safety in Pennsylvania, as Maude (Danielle Slavick) tells her when she drops off her baby girl in exchange for a fix.    “There are barges you can get on. They’re traveling south along the shallows of Lake Erie,” she says. When Ellen responds that her plans for escape are “risky,” Maude says  “No riskier than staying here.” Gunfire and the occasional explosion punctuate the dialogue, in “Through The Yellow Hour,” like a soundtrack of terror, designed by Christian Frederickson. 

Hani Furstenberg as Ellen and Vladimir Versailles as Darius in Adam Rapp’s “Through The Yellow Hour.”
Photo © Sandra Coudert.

The end of times vision  in “Through The Yellow Hour” is further accentuated by the elaborately derelect sets by Andromache  Chalfant, and moody lighting of Keith Parham. This is a mesmerizing and puzzling drama, with a superb cast led by Hani Furstenberg.

For more information about “Through The Yellow Hour” and tickets, visit Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

Posted in air force, army airmen, ballooning, balloons, carpet bombing, drama, historical drama, war, warfare, WWI

Lessons in Fight: "Captain Ferguson’s School for Balloon Warfare"

Obsessed with flight, possessing navigational skills and knowledge of the skies, and mathematical proficiency, Captain Ferguson devises a plan, on the eve of battle against the Germans in WWI, for a great dirigible attack.

“Captain Ferguson’s School for Balloon Warfare,” an Oracle Theatre production at 59E59 Theaters through September 4, is about zealous patriotism, heroics, and the single-minded futility of war.

David Nelson as Captain Ferguson gets ready to hoist his balloon. Photo © Alisha Spielmann  

In Isaac Rathbone’s “Captain Ferguson’s School for Balloon Warfare,” based on actual events, it is 1917 and U.S. Army Captain Thomas Ferguson has been asked to turn aerial balloons into a weapon against Kaiser Wilhelm. The character of Captain Ferguson is inspired by Captain Charles deForest Chandler, the first head of the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps –later to become the United States Air Force.

The play is a one-man show with Captain Ferguson’s monologue enlivened by
video projections and radio communications that add other voices to his story. These voices include his right hand man, Lieutenant Archibald Prentice, and three skeptical Generals.

“Have you realized,” a General asks, “that these men are helpless, Ferguson?” However, having proven their usefulness in reconnaissance, Captain Ferguson also proposes to use the large canvas balloons to bombard the enemy line, and stubbornly ignores the challenge of his superiors.

David Nelson as Captain Ferguson answers the call. Photo © Alisha Spielmann  

David Nelson acquits himself well as the dedicated and sincere Ferguson, but the play is merely an exploration of a moment that ended in failure and not a full-blown theatrical creation.

Please go to 59 E 59 Theaters for more information on this and other offerings: