June 26, 2011, 10:34pm
The Yenta in Question Is Charles Busch
By Benjamin Ivry
COURTESY OF TWO LIONS PRODUCTIONS
In anticipation of his eagerly-awaited new play, “Olive and the Bitter Herbs” which opens at Primary Stages on July 26, veteran playwright and actor Charles Busch continues to rake in the tributes. On June 27, The New York Innovative Theatre Foundation will present Busch with its 2011 Innovative Theatre Luminary Award at a benefit performance at Therapy/The Upstairs Lounge hosted by Harrison Greenbaum, a Harvard-educated stand-up comic.
Starring Marcia Jean Kurtz, the off-Broadway diva who also appeared in such noteworthy 1970s films as Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic in Needle Park and Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, “Olive and the Bitter Herbs” recounts the fate of Olive Fisher, a failed old actress whose career peak was landing a sausage commercial in the 1980s, in which her catchphrase is “Give me the sausage.”
TV viewers of a certain age will doubtless recall the actress Clara Peller, who since 1987 reposes in Cook County’s Waldheim Jewish Cemetery, but who achieved sudden fame in the 1980s after working for decades as a manicurist, after she was cast in a series of “Where’s The Beef?” commercials for Wendy’s fast food. In Busch’s dramatic version, Olive is unexpectedly asked by neighbors to host a Passover Seder, which alters her view of those around her and life in general.
Busch’s works, sometimes unfairly reduced to a mere edulcorated version of Charles Ludlam’s more radically brilliant Ridiculous Theatrical Company, have long contained a good degree of Yiddishkeit. Busch discusses his Judaism in the 2006 documentary “The Lady in Question Is Charles Busch” and such pricelessly grumpy characters as Sol Sussman in the 2003 screen comedy “Die Mommie Die!” or the stage characters Marjorie and Ira Taub in 2000’s Broadway success The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife are mainstream, middle-of-the-road, yet piquantly amusing sketches of urban Jewish life today.
Although most celebrated for drag incarnations of filmstars whom he idolizes, such as Susan Hayward, Busch has also contributed dramatic performances, as when he played the role of a murderous prisoner Nat Ginzburg in the wrenchingly brutal HBO television drama “Oz”. More in the gently amusing vein of “Allergist’s Wife,” “Olive and the Bitter Herbs” was written as a vehicle for Kurtz, whom Busch admires to the point of even stalking her, accompanied by a friend, as he confessed to a recent interviewer: “[Kurtz] thought we were goofing on her. I said, ‘No, no, we really think you’re the Jewish Duse!’”
Watch Charles Busch chatting with Israeli-born Amir Blumenfeld an actor from www.collegehumor.com, during the run of Busch’s 2010 play “The Divine Sister.”
Award winning actor/playwright Charles Busch is getting another honor to accessorize his mantel with on Monday.
His frequent costar Julie Halston will present him with the New York Innovative Theatre Awards' 2011 Luminary award at Therapy (348 W. 52 Street), from 6 to PM.
On the eve of his barrage of ritualized lovin', I phoned Charles for a chat.
Me: Congrats on all your awards, darlin'. You're approaching Marian Seldes status.
Busch: It is rather aging, isn't it? (laughs) At the Rochester Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, I was given a humanitarian award. Julie Halston said, "What have you ever done for anyone?" I said, "I've done plenty. Look at your career."
Me: And you've given the world play after play. Tell me about your new one.
Bush: We start rehearsals Tuesday. It's called Olive and the Bitter Herbs at Primary Stages. It's in the vein of Tale of the Allergist's Wife. I'm not in this one, but Julie is once again--this is the 10th role I've written for her. I don't know if that puts us in the Guinness Book of World Records. When we did The Divine Sister, she had a bad rehearsal day and said, "The headline could be 'Muse Canned!' "
Me: Is Julie paying Olive?
Bush: No, Olive is played by a wonderful actress named Marcia Jean Kurtz. Julie and I have become cultists for her. We stalked her at one point. She thought we were goofing on her. I said, "No, no, we really think you're the Jewish Duse!" Olive is a cantankerous actress whose biggest claim to fame is she starred in the "Give me the sausage" commercial in the '80s. She has two mirrors, and in the mirror within the mirror she thinks she sees a young man. It's a little bit of a mystical play--and very funny.
Me: My mirror says you've worked with Joan Rivers, who loves you.
Busch: We became close friends. She doesn't suck the air out of the room. She's really interested in other people and has a real conversation.
Me: I know! She deserves all the legend awards too. Speaking of awards, let's have a real conversation about the Tonys. I liked it.
Busch: I'm really not a cunt. I'm a glass half full kind of person. I thought it was emotional and the entertainment was entertaining.
Me: Wait--you're not a cunt? That's my lead!
Busch: That's why I'm getting these legends awards. (laughs)
Astoria Performing Arts Center Presents Galt MacDermot's THE HUMAN COMEDY 5/5-5/21
Wednesday, February 16, 2011;
Posted: 07:02 PM - by BWW News Desk
The Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) announces the reunion of their award-winning Children of Eden team with their upcoming production of Galt MacDermot's (HAIR) musical, The Human Comedy. With libretto by William Dumaresq based on the story by William Saroyan, the production will be directed by APAC Artistic Director Tom Wojtunik and music directed by Jeffrey Campos, reuniting IT Award Nominee Christine O'Grady as choreographer, IT Award Recipient Michael P. Kramer as set designer, Hunter Kaczorowski as costume designer and casting by wojcik|seay casting.
"The Human Comedy has one of the best scores ever written for a musical," remarks Wojtunik. "When it opened on Broadway in 1984, its intimate story was no match for the trend of over-the-top spectacle musicals. APAC will bring this deserving and gorgeous piece back to New York City in a thrilling new production, as we did with our critically-acclaimed revivals of Ragtime and Children of Eden."
The coming-of-age tale focuses on young Homer Macauley, a telegram messenger who is exposed to the sorrows and joys experienced by his family and the residents of his small California town during World War II. Homer's mother Kate is struggling to support her children following the death of her husband, his older brother Marcus is in the Army, his teenaged sister Bess daydreams about romance, and his younger brother Ulysses divides his attention between the passing trains and an unrequited desire to know why his father had to die. An ode to "home," The Human Comedy is one of the most enjoyable and moving musicals to have fallen into relative obscurity.
William Dumaresq (Libretto) Born in Vancouver, Canada in 1930, Dumaresq original set out to be an English teacher. In 1962 he moved to England to attend the University of London, where he was sidetracked when he met Galt MacDermot, another Canadian ex-pat with whom he began writing and producing songs. Together they wrote the screenplay and music for Duffer (1971), a film based on Dumaresq's yet-to-be-published novel of the same title. Their final collaboration was an adaptation of The Human Comedy, based on a story by William Saroyan, for which Dumaresq contributed the libretto. The two also collaborated on a British musical, Isabel's a Jezebel, loosely based on a Grimm's fairy tale, it premiered on London's West End in 1970. After suffering a non-fatal stroke at the door of his workplace in 1992, Dumaresq was diagnosed with cancer. He died in England in 1998.
Galt MacDermot (Composer) A Grammy and Tony-award winning composer, MacDermot is best known for the music he wrote for the Broadway scores of HAIR and Two Gentlemen of Verona. His work spans the gamut of performing arts: musicals, ballet scores, film scores, chamber music, the Anglican liturgy, orchestral, poetry, drama accompaniments, band repertory and opera. Film scores include Rhinoceros, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Mistress and HAIR. He draws inspiration from a wealth of musical styles, crossing the boundaries of jazz, folk, funk, gospel, reggae, and classical styles. Galt was inducted into the 2009 Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
The Human Comedy at the Young Vic
Photograph by Keith Pattison
Galt trip: MacDermot's masterful Human Comedy gets revived in QueensPosted in Upstaged by Adam Feldman on Feb 15, 2011 at 3:25pm
Manhattanites in search of good theater have grown accustomed to traveling to Brooklyn more than they used to. But recently, the Off-Off Broadway scene has started to get a foothold in Queens. For example, Long Island Theatre's Secret Theatre, home to the Queens Players, has earned notice for its wide range of new and classical productions. And then there is the Astoria Performing Arts Center, a modest outfit distinguished by its excellent taste in material. "I’m not coming at it from a ‘safe’ point of view," APAC artistic director Tom Wojtunik told an interviewer last year. "I start with the biggest vision and look for the story I want to tell." That ambition shines through in the company's programming choices, which are only getting bolder. APAC's tenth-anniversary season began in the fall with a revival of MilkMilkLemonade, Joshua Conkel's 2009 Off-Off Broadway sissy-farmboy parable. And now TONY has learned that the troupe will return in May with an ambitious staging of one of the greatest musicals you've probably never heard: Hair composer Galt MacDermot's deeply underrated The Human Comedy, a sweeping, homespun everyman epic that show-tune authority Ken Mandelbaum has called "the great American pop opera."
Adapted from William Saroyan's neomythic novel, MacDermot's nearly through-sung musical debuted at the Public Theater in 1983, to mixed but generally appreciative reviews. Writing for the Times, Frank Rich noted that Saroyan and MacDermot shared "a rhapsodic, Whitmanesque vision of this country"; praising Wilford Leach's lean production, which unfolded on a nearly bare stage, he compared the production to Thornton Wilder's Our Town. "But Mr. MacDermot's music is far more sophisticated than the ambience suggests," Rich continued. "What usually prevents Saroyan's novel from becoming saccharine is its style: the riffs of language and the edgy, eccentric narrative events. The composer preserves that tone in his score, which is written in the true operatic manner, recitatives included. As befits Saroyan's pantheistic sense of community, the music is also highly eclectic: it encompasses gospel, jazz, swing, hymns, barbershop harmonies, blues and plaintive lullabies that almost might have been written by Woody Guthrie."
Eight years later, in his indispensable Not Since Carrie, theater historian Mandelbaum seconded Rich's appreciation. "MacDermot's music, one of the most sophisticated scores of the last decade, combined country, forties swing, and classical lyricism into a wholly unique, original mixture," he wrote. "Saroyan's novel was a rich subject for American opera, and its musical version not only captured Saroyan's tone of sentimental sweetness perfectly, but actually gave the story more weight and made it more moving than it was in the novel or film. If [Bill] Dumaresq's lyrics were occasionally primitive, they lay well on MacDermot's finest score. Stylistically in a class by itself, it was a beautifully executed adaptation but probably too special a show to have ever succeeded on Broadway."
And succeed on Broadway it did not. When the musical transferred from the Public to the Royale Theatre in the spring of 1984, it did not get the critical support that it deserved, and—lost in the shuffle of a busy season that also included Sunday in the Park with George, La Cage Aux Folles, The Rink, The Tap Dance Kid and Baby—it closed after just 13 performances. It was, in short, theCaroline, or Change of its day, and it received only a single Tony nomination: for Stephen Geoffreys as its central character, Homer. (Geoffreys's life since then has been an epic unto itself: After going on to star in the 1985 vampire flick Fright Night, he began a career slide that bottomed out in the mid-1990s when he appeared, under the pseudonym Sam Ritter, in a number of ultrashabby hardcore gay-porn videos.)
In the past few years, however, The Human Comedy has been staging a comeback. After more than a decade on the shelf, a two-disk, two-hour cast album of the original production—whose cast included Rex Smith, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Olga Merediz (plus Donna Murphy and Cass Morgan in the chorus)—was finally released in 1997, correcting an injustice that Mandelbaum had lamented in print. MacDermot has been the subject of sustained renewed interest, with major recent revivals not only of 1967's Hair but also of his Tony-winning 1971 Two Gentlemen of Verona. And London's Young Vic mounted a full production of The Human Comedy in September, with 100 people in the cast, to launch its 40th season.
Astoria Performing Arts Center's revival, directed by Wojtunik, runs from May 5 through May 21, and tickets are now on sale for just $18. Is The Human Comedy a show whose time has come? Take time to go to Queens and find out.
MOTHER OF GOD! VS SPIDERMAN
As far as I know, Ben Brantley’s review of a Broadway production--Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark-–still in previews is unprecedented. It is theater etiquette not to review a show until it has officially opened, thus allowing the team time to gauge audience reaction and fix any problems that may thus be apparent before they are set in stone (or at least print). So in a normal situation—as if theatre is ever normal—I’d refuse to read such a ‘preview review’. In this case, however, I have to admit Brantley and reviewers from the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, The NY Post, among others who also recently reviewed the show have a point. In what can be seen as a brilliant marketing scheme, the production has been raking in the dough to packed houses (paying full price, for the most part) for months as opening night has been delayed again and again. For the most part audiences seem attracted to the spectacle in the media rather than a spectacle on stage: the press coverage of the excessive budget (at $65 million about par with the total amount of aide provided to the earthquake victims of Haiti), numerous accidents, celebrity guests and endorsements (finally something that Oprah and Glenn Beckcan agree on!) and it’s star-driven (and apparently just driven) team, includingJulie Taymor, and U2’s Bono and Edge. It seems that the most in the audience are there to see a trainwreck—some glitch in the mechanics, or, more gruesomely, an actor’s literal fall from grace, or just in the entire overblown production itself. Will these reviews, which have focused on such peripherals as plot, music, dialogue, acting and character and have been overwhelmingly negative put a damper on audience turn-out? It remains to be seen.
Just for fun, however, I’d like to compare my play, MOTHER OF GOD!, which will be in production next month, with the current production of SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2011
Crystal Skillman and Andrea Day on GENTRIFUSION and CRAWL
GENTRIFUSION: an installation of new work
Red Fern Theatre tackles the divisive subject of gentrification in New York City's neighborhoods. 6 award-winning playwrights, 3 stellar directors, and 19 actors from every background use their experience as artists living in the city to push beyond the bounds of political correctness and speak to the heart of what really goes on in our changing neighborhoods, for better or for worse. From Crown Heights to Washington Heights, long time residents and the new crop of "gentrifiers" are given voice in these commissioned new short plays. Join the conversation, and hear what your neighbors are saying.
Playwrights include: Carla Ching, Joshua Conkel, Michael John Garcés, Jon Kern, Janine Nabers and Crystal Skillman
Directors include: John Giampietro, Colette Robert, and Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Artistic Producers: Andrea Day and Kel Haney
Executive Artistic Director: Melanie Moyer Williams
Full Cast List in Alphabetical Order:
Sheldon Best *, Rajesh Bose *, Tim Cain *, Molly Carden, Wayne T. Carr *, Salvadore Chevez, Gilbert Cruz *, Andrea Day, Nathan Hinton *, Devin Norik *, Eugene Oh, Gio Perez*, Casey Robinson, Michael Schantz, André St. Clair Thompson, Federico Trigo *, Megan Tusing, Tai Verley, and Tiffany Villarin
January 27 - February 13, 2011
The LABA Theatre At The 14th Street Y
344 East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues
4/5/6/N/R/Q to Union Square; L to First Avenue
Thursdays at 8 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m. (Super Bowl Sunday, February 6 at 2pm)
Additional performance on Monday, February 7 at 7pm.
Tickets are $25 and are now available online atwww.theatermania.com or by calling 866.811.4111. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the theater box office ½ hour prior to the performance.
Running Time: 120 minutes (with intermission)
Actress, Producer Andrea Day
NYTR: Why do you make theater?
ANDREA DAY: Hmmm...me, personally? Lots of reasons. For the release. For the surprise. For the ability to say something bigger than myself, perhaps something that I might not even believe in but learn to believe, for a time. For the synthesis of people and ideas, and a visceral way to tap into a shared consciousness. For the people, the beautiful push of creativity and openness and genuine effort despite the zilch pay, rough schedule, and inevitable disappointments. Because ultimately, I love the business of play. GENTRIFUSION has been such a fantastic project for me as both an actor and a producer precisely because of the people. We throw around the word "collaborative art" so often when talking about theater it almost seems cliche but then you are in the thick of it and you suddenly realize - damn, what a supreme group effort this really is. To create a moving, unified artistic statement with 6 writers, 3 directors, 6 designers, 19 actors, plus a production team? That IS collaboration. Take a look at the fantastic (huge!) line up of people involved in this production here: http://www.redferntheatre.org/p_gentrifusion.asp
As for Red Fern: Red Fern Theatre has such a smart, generous mission. All plays produced address social issues from local to global, and each production is paired with a philanthropy whose work relates to the issue of the play. A portion of the proceeds from each play produced goes to the designated philanthropy. Its inspiring to do good work, and know that someone else's good work will benefit as well. In honor of the 5 year anniversary of Red Fern and the city-wide scope of GENTRIFUSION, Red Fern is partnering with all 12 past show philanthropies. You can take a look at them here:http://www.redferntheatre.org/red_fern_theatre_philanthropies.asp
Andrea Day and Federico Trigo in "(2) 11". Photo by Jordan Popalis
NYTR: Can you talk a little about where the idea from this project came from or developed?
ANDREA DAY: Red Fern produced a series of commissioned short plays on a theme last January called +30NYC, which was an exploration of where New York might be 30 years in the future. It was a great success and brought together such an exciting group of working artists that there was no question that it should be repeated in the 2010-2011 Red Fern season.
The theme of GENTRIFUSION came out of a narrower concept of looking at one house and the stories of various generations in that house. That piqued my interest and got me thinking on a broader scale about gentrification in neighborhoods and the different ways people are affected by that change, both good and bad. This is something that particularly resonates with me. I live on the Crown Heights/Prospect Heights border, and for my "day job" I rent apartments - usually to artists looking for cheap rent, and usually in my neighborhood or neighborhood like mine. You really get to know and love a place that way - I've met so many people, newcomers and old timers, and heard incredible stories. I wanted to create an artistic statement that tapped into these stories, to tell the truth of what really goes on as a neighborhood changes, the incredibly diverse points of view - the building supers, the deli owners, the investors, and the skinny jean hipsters. Gentrification is such a loaded word. There are entire organizations devoted to fighting it, it has become synonymous for loss of culture and history, and yet - it is a reality. And is it really all bad? I think that depends on who you ask. I figured, who better to tackle this word and all the baggage that comes with it, than a group of artists who know first hand what it's like to live in the midst of this change? Luckily (Red Fern Artistic Director) Melanie Williams and (Co-Artistic Producer) Kel Haney thought it was a good idea, too, and with their help, smarts, and hard work we launched the project last Fall.
NYTR: How did you choose writers?
ANDREA DAY: (Red Fern Artistic Director) Melanie Williams, (Co-Artistic Producer) Kel Haney, and I have been lucky enough in our careers to come into contact with a wide range of exceptionally talented new playwrights. We then looked for a spectrum of writers who we hoped would speak to the topic of gentrification in different ways. The GENTRIFUSION writers are men, women, gay, straight, white, non-white, native New Yorkers, and New York transplants, and their work is just as diverse as they are. These 6 plays are a fascinating kaleidoscope of the New York experience - touching and funny and smart and true.
playwright Crystal Skillman
NYTR: Talk to me about the word gentrifusion and your take on it...
CRYSTAL SKILLMAN: For me, I love how that word sums up Andrea’s original awesome idea: to take on the huge subject of gentrification by asking playwrights to craft new, short plays inspired by that theme which are fused together to make one night. The result is this show called Gentrifusion that the wonderful Red Fern Theater Company is running for three weeks, which features writers honestly exploring the effects of changing communities, of those gaining and losing homes – this issue from both sides. My goal as a playwright (reflected in plays like Birthday, The Vigil, Sleeping World and even my comedies like Hack! and Killer High) is to reflect the world around us and all its complications though the lens of a more personal, intimate story told in an inventive way. The opportunity to be involved was very exciting to me as I always want my audience to sit down and see a world they can relate to. The result of my take on this theme is my play, Crawl, about a younger brother who shows up to face his older brother about selling the Brooklyn home from their childhood. It’s deceptively simple, but as their fight ensues it’s clear how complicated their relationship is, how personal it is. It’s a personal play for me, as it’s set in Brooklyn where gentrification exists all around me. At the same time, I’m realizing as I get older that family means more to me than ever, yet, it seems that you have to come to terms with the family you have, not what you wished they could be. The title, refers to the pub crawl the brothers had the night before, but it’s also what I learned one has to do to accept their own family. One has to let go of pride and past expectations. One has to crawl. The issue of gentrification seems the same to me from both sides struggling to hold on or let go – to really hear each other and move forward we need to lose the importance of being the one who is right, who has all the answers, to find a way to embrace change but preserve community. That’s what I love about the whole night. All the playwrights (and it’s a writer rockstar line up: Carla Ching, Joshua Conkel, Michael John Garces, Jon Kern, Janine Nabers) have created such diverse, truthful, funny as hell, touching, crazy wonderful plays. There’s a “queen” stealing a moment with an adopted baby in a once all gay city neighborhood; the story of zip code 11211 is given the “our town treatment”; two old friends start to connect just as one is about to leave the city; three characters are afraid to leave their apartment when they hear the ghosts of the past (and present); an ex-Park Sloper mom moves into a neighborhood that isn’t ready to change as much as she seems unable to. We sure as heck don’t have all the answers but have tried our best to raise emotional questions about the impact of change to our neighborhoods – for good and bad.
Nathan Hinton and Sheldon Best in "Crawl" by Crystal Skillman from GENTRIFUSION. Photo by Jordan Popalis
NYTR: Best part about the process . . .
CRYSTAL SKILLMAN: It’s been so cool to see the whole show be built piece by piece and over a relatively short period! When Andrea first asked me to be involved in November (!), I realized what a gold mine she was for research/inspiration as she shared with me her own stories showing houses around Franklin Ave., which became a big part of the play for me. The minute co-producer Kel Haney introduced me Colette Robert, I just had this amazing feeling we were going to create something special. We got so excited when we snagged rock star actors Nathan Hinton, who I first worked with at the New Harmony Project, and Sheldon Best, we’ve become friends after working with Vampire Cowboys, though this is the first time he’s working on one of my plays! Working with Colette and them, the play went to a whole other level. All contributed so much to the play and artistically we were so supported as we played. Melanie Moyer Williams who is the Artistic Director of Red Fern is just amazing. We have a set. With a working door. A real freakin’ awesome set and design team who just perfectly highlights each play with their work. And I’m working with some of my favorite playwrights and directors and actors in the indie world. The truly best part in the process of creating this show is we’ve created something so, so diverse. These are stories – and characters - you rarely see in the theatre. To me it’s indie theater doing what only it can do: tell stories that seem to be lost from the more commercial side of theater and do so in kick ass imaginative ways.
NYTR: You're a busy woman, what all are you working on?
CRYSTAL SKILLMAN: I’m currently writing Geek a new full length play on commission for the wonderful Vampire Cowboys, about two girls racing though a japanime con in Ohio to get the signature of their childhood idol. As they race through the crazy Dante Inferno-esque con they find themselves facing what they they’ve railed so hard against: the onslaught of adulthood knocking on their door with all the horrible truths it brings, as they face the loss of a friend and their own mistakes. It’s a very dynamic, action-packed (of course!), personal story for me as a life long geek using fantasy as the armor against harsh reality. I’m also a part of some great upcoming events as I’m the guest playwright at New York Maddess Feb. 21st at Primary Stages, where I’ll be giving out a theme a week before and a great group of very brave playwrights will create new short plays read that night. On the publishing front I have some great news: Birthday and Nobody will be published by Sam French this spring, joining the shelf with Out of Time and Place, the anthology of Women’s Project lab alumni that features The Vigil, which won the NY IT Award this year. It’s an amazing time development wise-- the best way I can describe it is that I feel like every play I’m writing is speaking to the other – it’s a whole new way of working and it’s all happening so fast! I think it’s partly thanks to the experience of learning so much in recent productions like Vigil at the Brick with Impetuous, Birthday both here and in London, and Hack! and partly thanks to being inspired by the directors who keep kicking my ass like Colette, John Hurley, Daniel Talbott. One of my upcoming projects is with Daniel – we’re working on my play Sleeping World which we’ll do a member workshop of at EST later this year. So excited about it. And there’s two new site specific commissions coming up: a mini series forTheater in Van to be directed by David James Jackson that will most likely debut this summer and one for Rising Phoenix Rep’s amazingCino Nights at Jimmy’s No. 43 this fall.POSTED BY JODY CHRISTOPHERSON AT 4:04 PM LABELS: ANDREA DAY, CRYSTAL SKILLMAN, RED FERN THEATRE COMPANY
BWW Reviews: GENTRIFUSION - Stoop to Conquer
by Duncan Pflaster
With Gentrifusion: an installation of new work, Red Fern Theater Company continues its community-conscious theatre work with six new plays by New York writers on the theme of gentrification. The elderly Jewish couple next to me were debating all evening what the word actually means (without much help from the program, which talks about it but never defines it); so, "gentrification" means the restoration of run-down urban areas by the middle class, resulting in the displacement of low-income residents.
Red Fern commissioned six playwrights- Jon Kern, Carla Ching, Joshua Conkel, Michael John Garcés, Janine Nabers, and Crystal Skillman- to write short plays addressing the topic, and produced them with their usual high-quality style.
The first play, Jon Kern's Ours is the Future, Ours is the Past, directed by John Giampietro, is a tribute to the style of Thornton Wilder, but in Brooklyn. The Student (Molly Carden), stands in as a Stage Manager, telling us about the personal lives of Mr. Douglas (Tim Cain) and Rogelio (Salvador Chevez), who run a failing auto body shop, and Max (Eugene Oh) and Lucy (Megan Tusing), a young couple who've just moved into a walk-up next door. When Max and Lucy's apartment is broken into, accusations fly. The stylization is quite effective in delving into the characters backstory, to let the audience see all sides of the characters' lives.
First of the Month, by Carla Ching, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, is a sweet piece about subletting; Jakob (Wayne T. Carr) and Sam (Rajesh Bose) are moving out, while Jakob's co-worker Muriel (Tiffany Villarin) is moving in. Unfortunately Sam's still hungover, and Jakob picked up another shift at the bar, so the packing isn't done yet. A sweet piece about hipsters, with a very funny turn by Bose.
Robert Mapplethorpe Doesn't Live Here Anymore, by Joshua Conkel, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, is a hilarious and riveting piece set in the gay ghetto of Christopher Street, with a confrontation between a homeless drag queen (André St. Clair Thompson) and an upwardly mobile Gay doctor (Devin Norik) with a husband and a baby. The script tackles the not-often discussed conflict between "Queer" and "Gay" men. Unusual and consistently surprising, it's a fantastic tour de force for the two actors, and is a highlight of the evening.
After intermission was inhabited, by Michael John Garcés, directed by John Giampietro. This is a supernatural piece, with blu (Molly Carden) and galvez (Gio Perez) being haunted by ghosts of the previous owners of blu's new apartment, as well as by blu's ex-boyfriend spider (Michael Schantz). The actors handle the rapid-fire and stuttering dialogue with aplomb, making their terror very real.
Next was (2)11 by Janine Nabers, directed by Colette Robert, which illustrates the conflict some police officers having patrolling a neighborhood where they have familial roots. Sara (Andrea Day), a white woman with a baby, was harassed on the street, and she doesn't get much help at the police station from black officer Riz (Tai Verley), though "good cop" Dario (Casey Robinson) takes pity on her and drives her home, only to reveal to the audience that street punk Ernesto (Federico Trigo) is actually his brother. Their father Jorge (Gilbert Cruz) also makes an appearance. The play sets up some great characters and tension, but then doesn't do much with them.
And finally was Crawl by Crystal Skillman, directed by Colette Robert. A lovely two-hander about two black brothers, one of whom is about to sell their childhood Brooklyn home. Alex (Nathan Hinton) is ready to be rid of it, while Ty (Sheldon Best) still has fond memories of the place. Touching, and at times very funny (especially in a discussion of the movieAvatar).
Katherine Akiko Day's scenic and costume design is quite impressive; a realistic front stoop of a dilapidated brownstone serves as background for all the plays. Colin J. Whitely's sound design is a potent mix of city sounds. Marie Yokoyama's lighting is evocative of many different moods. Between-scene projections by photojournalist Dennis W. Ho illuminate the real-life settings of the scenes to come.
Gentrifusion not only provides a wonderfully multi-racial and talented cast, and a great evening of theatre, but each of the plays is paired with a philanthropy (all of which Red Fern has worked with before on previous projects). If you like provocative new urban theatre, this is not to be missed.
Gentrifusion: an installation of new work
January 27 - February 13, 2011
The LABA Theatre At The 14th Street Y
344 East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues
4/5/6/N/R/Q to Union Square; L to First Avenue
Thursdays at 8 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m. (Super Bowl Sunday, February 6 at 2pm)
Additional performance on Monday, February 7 at 7pm.
Tickets are $25 and are now available online at www.theatermania.com or by calling 866.811.4111. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the theater box office ½ hour prior to the performance.
Running Time: 120 minutes (with intermission)
Photo Credit: Jordan Popalis
Rachel Merrill Moss · January 28, 2011
Pictured: Nathan Hinton and Sheldon Best
in a scene from Gentrifusion (photo © Jordan Popalis)To many, May 1st each year lives in infamy as the one sweaty, frenzied day of moving that signifies a fresh start. But vacating is no such thing for so many across the city: forced moving and displacement are the harsh realities of gentrification. The Red Fern Theatre Company has gathered six playwrights to showcase pieces delving into the g-word, presented as Gentrifusion: an installation of new work, now playing at LABA Theatre.
With six playwrights and three directors at the helm, and less installation than installments on a theme, Gentrifusion explores the ongoing gentrification throughout New York's boroughs. Though disparate in content, dialogue, and character, the plays appropriately all touch on overlapping issues of displacement and disavowal versus ownership of the past.
Much like the boroughs, each of the six pieces has its own rhythm and flavor. The evening covers Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, the Lower East Side, and the West Village, all offering a sampling of the types of previous tenants who occupied the areas but have now been forced out. Ranging from the turn of the last century to the recent turn of the calendar, Gentrifusion briefly delivers six pinpricks of this oft-pejorative process. With an urbanized, colloquial take on Our Town, Jon Kern presents a Brooklyn neighborhood on the cusp of inevitable change, for better and for worse, in Ours Is the Future. Ours Is the Past. Bedroom-mates Sam and Jakob still can't make ends meet in Carla Ching's First of the Month. Transvestite Chantelle reminds privileged gay man Stephan of the struggle for acceptance and autonomy their neighborhood and orientation dealt with for so many years in Joshua Conkel's Robert Mapplethorpe Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Michael John Garcés explores the physical presence of history within each building's walls in his supernatural piece, inhabited. A single white female and her baby are held up at gunpoint, though it is her motives that are questioned in Janine Nabers's (2) 11. And rounding out the evening, Crystal Skillman deftly delivers two brothers' struggle to justify selling their familial home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in Crawl.
While displaying the disparaging truth that such "progress" does not come without suffering and sacrifice, the most compelling pieces of the evening are accompanied by hope. Conkel's Robert Mapplethorpe makes a case for the need for compassion when it comes to a shared neighborhood or personal history, that so often gets swept aside in the fray of the move to the top or an area "clean-up." Garcés's inhabited displays the inescapability of the past when it comes to the spaces we occupy in the city, and the beauty of embracing that now-shared history.
But the drearier side of gentrification that emerges from this composite indeed merits discussion as well. This dark side is one in which grown men must take roommates to be able to afford rent and hate crimes are trivialized. Where people who have lived in their neighborhood homes for an entire lifetime have nothing more tangible to hold on to than their emotional roots when priced out.
A life-size, decomposing brick walk-up exterior creates the backdrop for all the pieces. Prior to curtain, during intermission, and between the pieces, projections of quintessentially New York streets, people, and subway scenes play upon the face of the decrepit building. Scenic designer Katherine Akiko Day has smartly captured the very true sense of the all-seeing, all-knowing buildings throughout the city, which have sat idly by as the neighborhood changes around them. In a rather lovely way, Day has given this one façade a means to talk.
The three directors have wisely chosen a talented group for their vignettes. Standouts include Andre St. Clair Thompson as an incredibly charming tranny in the West Village and Nathan Hinton as an older brother ready to sever his Brooklyn roots.
Often times, living in New York is made possible by focusing on the microcosm of the life we've carved out for ourselves, so as not to be overwhelmed by her powerful diversity and boisterous vibrance. Gentrifusion is a proper reminder to be mindful of those who have come before, those who have sacrificed everything to stay here, and those who are as painfully passionate about the neighborhood and city (and that special bodega) as you are.
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New Perspectives Presents MOTHER OF GOD!
Thursday, January 27, 2011; Posted: 05:01 PM - by BWW News Desk
NEW PERSPECTIVES THEATRE COMPANY is pleased to announce the world premiere production of Michele A. Miller's MOTHER OF GOD!, directed by Melody Brooks. MOTHER OF GOD! will play a three-week limited engagement at Richmond Shepard Theatre (309 East 26th Street, NYC). Performances begin Thursday, March 10 and continue through to Saturday, March 26. Opening Night is Friday, March 11 (8 p.m.).
With historical context but creative license, both profane and profound, Mother of God! investigates the intersection of the politics of Sex and of Religion embedded in the story of the coming of the Messiah. Written by a Jewish mother about the ultimate Jewish Mother, this play expands upon what is a very short story in the New Testament.
The production features production design by Meganne George, and lighting design by Joyce Liao. Rhawnie Reil is the stage manager.
MOTHER OF GOD! plays the following regular schedule through Saturday, March 26:
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
Thursdays at 8 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $18; $15 student/senior; now available online at http://www.theatermania.com or by calling 866-811-4111. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the theatre ½ hour prior to performance, subject to availability. For more information, please call New Perspectives at 212-630-9945.
Running Time: 2 hours
Website: www.nptnyc.org or www.motherofgod1play.wordpress.com
Mother of God! is an original play developed in New Perspectives? Award-winning Women?s Work LAB.
MELODY BROOKS (Director/Dramaturg) is the founder and Artistic Director of New Perspectives. Ms. Brooks directs the Women?s Work LAB, currently managing the development of 6-10 short and full-length scripts a year; she also serves as Executive Producer for NPTC?s Voices From the Edge Festival, showcasing new works by African-American artists. She has developed and directed a number of original scripts with the company, notably Exhibit #9 by Tracey Scott Wilson, (AUDELCO Award); Jihad by Ann Chamberlin, (OOBR Award); and Anatomy of a Love Affair by Deirdre Hollman, (optioned by Essence Entertainment). Other developmental directing credits include Finding Home by Keline Adams, starring Marcella Lowery (from The Cosby Show), Untitled and Unfinished, written and performed by Yolanda Wilkinson and presented at NPTC and the Downtown Urban Theatre Festival; and Touchscape, written and performed by James Scruggs for the Queer at HERE Festival. Ms. Brooks has also directed many of NPTC's innovative classic productions. Most recently she directed a workshop of Hamlet based on scholarship showing the script parallels the Book of Revelation. A full production is planned for September 2011.
MICHELE A. MILLER (Playwright) is a mother, writer, and an archaeologist who has also worked in theatre administration and as a writer and editor. Michele has a M.A. in Anthropology and Ph.D. in Archaeology and has conducted extensive field-work in Greece, Israel, France and the U.S. Her interest in human society throughout the past and in historical and mythological characters informs many of her plays. Michele?s full-length play, Real Estate, was a semi-finalist in the 2002 American Theatre Coop Playwriting Contest and received readings at Women's Project & Productions, Word of Mouth and Vital Theatre workshops. Products of Conception, a play featuring one couple?s journey through infertility and loss, was produced as part of the Estrogenius Festival at Manhattan Theatre Source in October, 2003, and as part of the Strawberry Festival in the summer of 2004, where it was reprised as a ?Producer?s Choice?. Her play, Bedtime Stories was produced as part of the Development Series at Manhattan Theatre Source in May 2004. Her one-act plays have been seen as part of ?New Acts? at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, the Tandem Acts Festival of the Women?s Project Theatre, and Blueberry Pond Theatre?s 2006 Spring Sampler. Her full-length play Choice was chosen in 2008 for development by New Perspectives' Women's Work program and her short play Power Girls Support Group was produced by the company in the summer of 2008.
NEW PERSPECTIVES THEATRE COMPANY is an award-winning, multi-racial company performing in the Theatre District and in communities throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The Company?s mission is to develop and produce new plays and playwrights, especially women and people of color, to present classic plays in a style that addresses contemporary issues, and to extend the benefits of theatre to young people and communities in need. Our aim is not to exclude, but to cast a wider net. Now in its 19th season, notable NPTC productions have included Richard III, starring Austin Pendleton; Exhibit #9 by Tracy Scott Wilson (1999 Audelco Award); Jihad by Ann Chamberlain (1996 OOBR Award for Best Production); The Taming of the Shrew (2002 OOBR Award for Best Production), Admissions by Tony Velella (10 Best Plays of 1995, Backstage); the U.S. premiere of Visit by world-renowned Argentinean playwright Ricardo Monti; and the New York Premieres of Vaclav Havel?s The Increased Difficulty of Concentration; The Shaneequa Chronicles, written and performed by 2001 OBIE Award-winner Stephanie Berry (produced with Blackberry Productions); and Lemon Meringue Façade by Ted Lange, along with several innovative Shakespeare productions. NPTC was named a ?Person of the Year? in 2010 by NY Theatre Experience as a co-founder of 50/50 in 2020: Parity for Women Theatre Artists.