Enemy of the People is No Enemy of Mine!

16 Jun

What makes a classic work a classic? Is it just that it’s old and written a long time ago? Or is it because its message is timeless? The latter certainly is the case with An Enemy of the People by Ibsen. Wheelhouse Theater Company does a great job dusting off this play, and showing that it still packs a punch today.

What happens when morals and integrity threatens economic life? We have certainly seen these to opposing forces contend with each other throughout history. And unfortunately, for the Stockman family it drives a wedge between two brothers that is irreparable. Thomas Stockman, a revered doctor in this town, has made an awful discovery about the water used for the baths that attract people from all over the country to visit. Unfortunately, the water and piping is poisonous and deadly for all those who come in contact with it. He believes that this is a “no-brainer” and his brother, Peter, who just happens to the mayor of the town, will have this situation taken care of at once by replacing the pipes and purifying the water. But Peter, who walks a fine line between authority and abusing his position of power, reveals that it is not so simple. It would cost a lot to repair the pipes and would take a lot of time. These factors would upset the big-wigs of this town who would stand to lose money during that time. Peter wants his brother to sweep it under the rug and pretend that the poison isn’t there. However,  Thomas knows that silence would equal death for a lot of people and therefore, refuses to stay silent about his discovery and insists that his brother does the “right ” thing. Sadly, his decision comes with a heavy price for him and his family. Things keep escalating until the crucible is reached and then everything explodes.

The cast does an applause worthy job of getting at the heart of this drama. Michael Schantz and David kenner battle well as the two brothers. It feels like you are at a boxing match watching two heavyweights duke it out for the title. And they hit hard. The audience is on the edge of their seats watching these two give everything they can muster up in this winner-takes-all war.

Director Jeff Wise makes very clever use of his cast. Interestingly, they never leave the stage until the very end and provide help to each other by being jacket repositories, prop handlers, et al. Like a true ensemble, they sit at the same time. Yet, cleverly, Wise never lets his stylistic touches interfere with the story being told. In fact, having everyone on stage all the time adds fuel to the fire and keeps the play going seamlessly. We don’t get to catch our breath until the last second- which is a good thing.

As I asked what makes a classic earn that honor of being called such? Whatever it is, this play has it and this cast serves it up well. You may be fooled into thinking you are going to see some ancient relic far removed from today’s political climate. You couldn’t be more wrong. Go see it and you’ll understand why!

An Enemy of the People runs until June 24, 2017 at the Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond St. http://www.wheelhousetheater.com

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Her Opponent will Take Anyone Down

21 Apr

A lot can be said about this election. Comments range from it being “fixed”to Russian infiltration. But there was something unique about this one. And not just because we had a woman running, but the stakes were sky high. That is why, Her Opponent a verbatim theater piece, is so wonderful. Now that the hoop-la of the election has settled down somewhat, we can really look at these two strong people and see their tactics at play. Seeing excerpts from the debates while knowing the end result, was a different position to find yourself in. One could go on and on about their political beliefs here, but I will endeavor to put my bias aside and review this as any other piece of theater.

The genders are reversed in this production with Trump being played by Rachel Tuggle Whorton and Hillary being played by Daryl Embry. The moderator was played by Andy Wagner. It was evident from the moment that the play started that not only was the cast talented, they had worked very hard at bringing their character to life. Each actor managed to capture the essence of who they were portraying. So much so, that the gender was invisible in a sense. you knew who each person was easily. I would be lying if I said that this production didn’t effect me emotionally, it did. The actors were so convincing that it was not to transfer my feelings about the candidates onto the actors playing them.

Yet, reversing the genders allowed me to see each candidate differently and the tactics they used against their opponent. And judging from the audiences reaction, it did similar things for all of them. This was more of an experiment than a play. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautifully crafted experiment. Would switching genders make you feel differently about the candidates? Well, you’ll have to go see it and decide for yourself. But whatever your takeaway is, it’s definitely a strong piece of theater.

Her Opponent plays at 210 W 50th st. For tickets visit http://www.HerOpponent.com

Luft Gangster is a Gem

7 Apr

People ask me why do I review plays? What is it about them that keeps me coming back to the theater? Well, When I see a production as powerfully felt and timeless as Luft Gangster, directed by Austin Pendleton, my questions are answered. This play is a gem and everybody should go see it.

True, it doesn’t have the spectacle of Broadway, (although the set was highly effective) but it has heart and that speaks volumes to the plays impact. It is more common to see a movie based on a true story than a play. But playwright and actor Lowell Byers manages to tackle this true story about an American soldier, captured by the Nazis, well. Using interviews to inform the script, Byers weaves together this unfathomable story with dignity. How does one survive the horrors of war and witnessing the Holocaust? Lou Fowler somehow stayed alive throughout the ordeal of WW II and thank God he did. If he didn’t the theater community would not be richer for having this play to add to its canon. I commend Byers and the true “Lou” for having the courage to tell his profound story.

Byers also stars in the play, which I am always weary of. I do not like gratuitous casting. But Byers shows that he is more than just a playwright and researcher, he is also an actor who can hold his own. In fact, Lou is Byers second cousin, who the play is about. There was definitely something transcendental about his performance that made him a captivating leading man. His ensemble is equally impressive; Paul Bomba plays the fiery Vinny. Bomba adds some nice comic moments to this otherwise dark world. Yet, when Bomba’s spirit is finally broken, we weep with him. Adding a nice contrast is the one female role in the play, played by Casandera M.J. Lollar. Her beauty reminds us of home and what’s worth fighting for. Oh, she can act too, which is an added bonus. The scene between her and Byers is poignant and allows us to see into the inner crumbling of Byer’s psyche.

In our present political climate, this play is especially timely. It has been said that “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” We must never again allow that kind of regime and thinking, that brought Hitler to power, to break its way into main-stream society. (I worry that it may be too late) I hope this play finds some funds and producers to take it to the next level, because it simply is needed. Luft Gangster reaffirms my passion for Off-Off Broadway theater and makes me feel privileged to respond to it. I don’t think I will ever forget this story, which says something because I see a lot of shows.  There aren’t enough words to express how much this show impressed me.You have until April 30th to see this unforgettable play and triumphant saga.

Luft Gangster plays now through April 30th at the Sheen Center, 18 Bleeker St. 

https://sheencenter.org/shows/luftgangster/

The Other Plays Strikes a Chord

24 Mar

Why does oppression and diversity go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly? Theater Breaking Through Barriers looks at this without so much as flinching. “The Other Plays” not only celebrates diversity, but raises awareness about  the neglect and discrimination that these groups face. Through deeply powerful storytelling, TBTB’s production offers us an unforgettable night of theater.

With short plays from new and existing playwrights, the evening really showcases the talent and remarkable spirit of those who are “othered.” Unlike many traditional plays, where the audience is somewhat removed from the action, these plays hit you right in the face. We have to face our own oppression, racism, sexism and prejudices. It was not “merely an entertaining night of theater.” but more of “we are here and we’re not going anywhere.” With its boldness, one can not help but challenge their own attitudes and oppressive ways.When you hit the nail right on the head like this piece does, it is very hard not to have the tough conversations that surround diversity.

Throughout the evening, we are treated to an insider look at having cancer, being deaf, and dating with Cerebral Palsy. And as great as Melanie Bond, Stephen Drabicki, and Ryan Haddad are, I can not help that but feel that these actors performances transcend desires for mere accolades. I think that they are really trying to say something with their work, which is the highest reason to “act”. One acts because they have something to say that cant be expressed any other way. All the actors in this show are compelled to tell their stories, which means we should listen!

The Other Plays plays through March 26th, 2017. http://www.tbtb.org

Orion Hits you like a Belt Buckle!

3 Mar

There is no logic when it comes to matters of the heart. All that ensues is a lot of heart-ache and unanswered questions. Matthew McLachlan’s new work, Orion, dives deep into this subject. This emotionally-charged work leaves us in a state of loss and despair.

What happens when Sam and Gwen break up after three years? Although, Gwen initiated the break, she still loves Sam but “feels” that she is doing the right thing. This leaves poor Sam in a perpetual state of confusion and desperation. Trying to help him through the ordeal is Scott, his best friend. Much of the play centers around the intense loss that Sam feels and the struggles he faces while trying to move on. When Gwen suddenly gets a new boyfriend, the knife in Sam’s heart is twisted even further.

So how does one move on and put the past in its place? Is there a set amount of time one should mourn the loss of a relationship? Blake Merriman (Sam) does a phenomenal job exploring the nuances of broken-heartedness and we are with him every step of the way. Amanda Jones does nice work playing Gwen. It is hard not to hate her and make her the villain, but Jones’ sincerity saves her. Scott Brieden is the ideal best friend as Scott. His loyalty and connectedness to Merriman is palpable. Rounding out the cast is Simone Serra, playing Abby Scott’s girlfriend. Serra is great in her role and delivers a strong performance.

Each character gets a turn to speak and confide in the audience. This device, although well-written monologues, gets predictable. On a personal note, I prefer plays that do not try to wrap everything up in a nice little box. This play does an outstanding job discussing the “grey” areas of relationships. I wish it did not try to make it all come together, but left us to grapple with the illogical nature of love. The numerous scene locales disrupt the flow a bit and detract from the continuity.

Overall, McLachlan’s play has a lot going for it. The subject matter is timeless and characters are relatable. This tears at the heart, as most people have been there. Despite the various scene shifts, this play grabs a hold of you and does not let go until it’s over. It’s an emotional roller-coaster in the best way possible!

These Women had VISION!

17 Feb

The roles of women were very different in the first half of the Twentieth Century. But for playwrights Susan Glaspell and Marita Bonner. things were not okay. They had a revolutionary concept of what the roles of women should be. Although somewhat dated, the language still permeates and effects audiences today.

The evening is divided into three-one act plays. The first deals with murder and is a classical whodunit. But whats interesting about this piece is the reaction of the wife of the murdered. Although we never see her, her presence is felt and the bizarre nature of the murder takes hold. Could a woman in that time commit cold-blooded murder? As the play unravels we become more and more confused. As our bewilderment increases, so does our fascination with the event.

The second piece, titled Exit: An Illusion, is a  bit more surreal. Is it a dream, illusion, or reality that we are seeing? To everyone’s credit no one knows. The relationship between Dot and Buddy is hot and passionate, while remaining violent and scary. These two play off each other well and the dysfunction of their relationship is evident. What was, ahead of the playwright’s time is the fact that, Buddy is black and Dot is white. Interracial couples were taboo for their time. As for the ending, it is anybody’s guess.

The third and most timely piece is entitled, The People. Featuring a struggling newspaper, this play deals with the importance of galvanizing human beings for social issues. Inspired by the writings of one man, a group of misfits form to try to convince the paper to continue giving voice to unpopular conservative issues. A frustrated and burnt out editor looks for life and inspiration anywhere he can find it. This piece talks about not going quietly into the night and accepting the status quo, but for standing for the rights of The People. Here, they were dealing with woman’s rights, but it is still symbolic for what is happening today.

So those are the three “Visionary Voices” being performed. The ensemble, some who appear in more than one play, do a fine job with their characters. Cheri Wicks does a nice job  with both her roles. She is a strong actress and plays her parts well. Equally impressive is Mel House and Morgan McGuire. Both these ladies bring energy and vitality to the stage and are compelling in their own right.

My only qualms with the pieces lie in the the first and second piece. In the first piece every time the actors exit upstairs it is clear that they are walking up three stairs and then down three stairs towards off stage. This destroys the illusion that they are indeed going upstairs. In the second piece, the violence and sex scene seem too staged. This makes us detach from the characters as we find it so choreographed that it comes off as fake. Any time violence is simulated on stage, it must be done with great care or the results can be negative. Here, it does not work.

Yet, I think its important to celebrate the voices of these pioneering women, writing for an audience ahead of their time and hopefully urging reform in their respective worlds. Seeing these obscure plays gave me hope that if these women could raise their voice during a much harder time, maybe folks today will too raise up their own voice and bring about change.

Visionary Voices plays now through March 5, 2017 at the Gloria Maddox Theater 151 W 26th St. www. americanbard.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silent No More is HEARD Loud and Clear!

16 Dec

The need to belong, some will say, is as great as our need for air. So why is it that certain communities divide themselves into subsections, fracturing off more of their own? Silent, No More gives voice to those who are deaf, but also speak. This newly formed sect of the deaf community is struggling to find their place among the deaf and hearing worlds. “We are the grey area, and we hope to add color to the grey”, says one participant.

With a simple set nestled in Carnegie Hall’s Recital Hall, nine brave souls took to the stage and shared their experiences of being “deaf-speak”, the new term for people who are deaf and also speak. Each one uniquely compelling in its own way, the performances left me moved and inspired. Whether deaf and speaking or an advocate for that community, every speaker reached into their soul. Sharing their most intimate themselves with us, they left an indelible mark on the audience.

I, as a disabled man, connected with each actor. I’ve often felt caught between two worlds, as they do. My disability is not visible (I use a wheelchair but can also walk), so am I part of the disabled community or the regular world? The “deaf-speak” struggle spoke right to my heart. And I hope that they will be fully embraced for who they are and not ostracized for being a part of both worlds. It’s no fun beight caught in the grey area and we need to change it. NOW!

Kathy Buckley, a deaf comedian and actor closed the evening. Her hilarity filled the room and her poignancy touched us all. I would be remiss if I did not mention No Limits, a school “where deaf children are empowered to speak, dream, achieve, and inspire.” The accomplishments, made by the participants, some of them alumni of No Limits, are impressive. From pilots to actors, there is truly nothing they can’t do. But their struggle is real and it’s a needless one. Let’s just accept this wonderful group for who they are and respect their right to make their own decisions. Shouldn’t everyone be allowed to live their life as they see fit? They stand where they stand, and they fit where they fit. That’s enough. Shouldn’t it be?