Tag Archives: 59E59

Theater Review: “The Collector” at 59E59

You know that logline for “The Wizard of Oz” that circulates Facebook from time to time, about Dorothy killing a woman and then banding together with friends to kill again? Frederick Clegg (Matt de Rogatis) opens The Collector by pleading for the reverse shift in perspective for his narrative: self-pitying rich man in a position of ultimate power begs us to feel bad for him and blames everything but himself for his circumstances for 2½ hours, while we in turn watch him kidnap, torture and kill a young woman. Who he supposedly loves.

The source material, John Fowles’ novel of the same name, is thick with symbolism. It it would be easy to spend this entire review digging into the parallels between the butterflies Clegg collects and Miranda (Jillian Geurts), who he has kidnapped. But given that the book has been around since 1963 and the play was staged in Edinburgh around 20 years ago, I’ll set aside my desire to dig in on that side of things, and just talk about this production.

De Rogatis and Geurts achieve a deeply disturbing connection on behalf of their characters, one that develops and deepens over the course of the film. Of course, the question is always whether or not Miranda’s feelings are genuine – and Geurts’ accomplishment here is that there are times when Miranda’s attempts to escape shock even the audience – despite the fact that she has been straightforward with both her captor and with us: she will make the attempt every time she gets a chance.

While his accent initially seems unspecific, over time that becomes less distracting and de Rogatis’ real talent shows through: his ability to draw the audience into complicity through connections with individual audience members – some of whom I observed nodding and smiling as de Rogatis delivered a line to them here or there. What initially seemed like an awkward presentation became artfully intentional as the play progressed, transmuting the voyeuristic qualities of the audience into moral support for the monster at the center of the play.

Attempted, but flawed in its execution, is the horrific naturalism of novel and script. 59E59’s Theatre C is small, but the layout of the set and the script’s specific instructions regarding how to achieve its intentions mean that the weight of the set and action often felt imbalanced. Without enough space to really separate each level either physically or with laser-focused lighting changes, there were times when the sharply defined limits of Miranda’s world were blurred, lessening the transfer of her claustrophobic surroundings to the audience and intensifying the effect Geurts needed to have to keep the audience feeling that level of tension. While she more than made up for this loss of energy with one intense exchange with de Rogatis after another (and certainly it was helpful that in many of these exchanges de Rogatis was able to contribute physically to a claustrophobic atmosphere), the play requires the audience to watch a young woman’s terror and pain and take it in as entertainment. The script demands our complicity in its violence, with its treatment of Miranda as a character who wants to break out of the limitations and definitions imposed on her by others, but who is never able to transcend the boundaries and demands placed on her (as the damsel-who-can’t-quite-get-herself-out-of-distress) to achieve true personhood. We’re allowed glimpses into her life – she has a loving upper middle class family, a sister, some friends, a lover/teacher – but we have a far more specific picture of Clegg’s pathetic existence. Which is probably exactly as it should be, given that – again, requiring our cooperation in the narrative – we’re listening to Clegg’s side of the story.

As audience members, we are the reason for the theatrical snuff film that unfolds over the production’s two and a half hours (which, it’s important to note, doesn’t feel overlong at all). In any theater, after the play concludes and the lights come up, we reflect on what we’ve just been a party to. In the case of a production like The Collector, those reflections will be vast and sometimes disturbing.

The Collector plays at 59E59 in New York City, through November 13, 2016, and is presented by Nine Theatricals & Roebuck Theatrical.

REVIEW: Alice in Black and White at 59E59

L-R: Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis in ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE, written by Robin Rice and directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Holly Stone

L-R: Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis in ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE, written by Robin Rice and directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Holly Stone

Alice in Black and White
Looking for Lilith Theatre Company
Written by Robin Rice
Kathi E.B. Ellis
59E59, New York City

Casual fans of street photography may not recognize the name Alice Austen, instead favoring Bill Cunningham or Humans of New York. In Robin Rice’s account of Alice’s life, we see the life of a trailblazer in both the personal and public realms.

 

The play takes place in two times: the first, Alice’s path through life; the second, how two people in 1951 go about trying to locate this woman from the past and resurrect her memory. At points, the characters of Alice (Jennifer Thalman Keppler) and 1951’s Oliver (Joseph Hatfield) communicate; the latter is working on a book called The Revolt of American Women and longs to include Austen in his work.

As the protagonist, Keppler moves through a lifetime of relationships, personal values and socio-political changes deftly. Her initial (slightly distracting) exuberance tempers as Alice grows into her teens, though the character’s stubborn single-mindedness never falters.

As Alice’s mother (Shannon Woolley Allison) and indulgent grandfather (Ted Lesley) implore her to find a husband, Alice rejects their advice and forms a relationship with a visitor from Queens – Gertrude Tate (Laura Ellis). A flawed heroine, Alice fails to grasp the importance of supporting herself – and while she doesn’t realize the implications at the time, she also overlooks the impact the stock market crash of 1929 will have on her in the years to come.

Meanwhile, in 1951, Oliver arrives at the Staten Island Historical Society on the lookout for some photographic negatives that his assistant had pinpointed as being in a trunk in the basement. The problem? Sally Lally (Trina Fischer), volunteer receptionist and aspiring Curator of the collection, who refuses to go against policy and let him inspect the contents of the trunk. It’s difficult to trace the emotional line of their story, and if there were more chemistry between the two leads – or clearly not more chemistry – it might be easier to do so.

The production benefits from a sparing set, which consists of a table, some chairs and some props (mostly cameras, but some tea implements as well), and lighting is used mostly to emphasize moments when Oliver and Alice seem to communicate across space and time. The metaphysical aspects of the play don’t receive a lot of explanation, and the audience is left to wonder how Oliver and Austen shared this bond across the decades, but in the end those moments seem incidental to the plot anyways. My one major critique of the play is that the relationship between Oliver and Lally doesn’t feel as if it grows organically, instead feeling superimposed on the characters.

For those who were already fans of Austen, Rice’s lens will no doubt prove a delightful delving into a woman of historical import. For those unaware of Alice’s work, the play offers just enough of a taste of the photographer’s personality and approach to life to whet the appetite.

Alice in Black and White is playing until August 14th at 59E59 theatre in New York City.

Theater Review: “Eternal Equinox” by Joyce Sachs, 59E59

Playing through March 31st, Eternal Equinox compares politics in relationships both creative and sexual. Vanessa Bell (Hollis McCarthy) and Duncan Grant (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend), two painters from the Bloomsbury groupr, spend the bulk of this full-length play trying to understand and negotiate their relationships with one another – particularly when others become involved.
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THEATER REVIEW: Dublin by Lamplight at 59E59

Jered McLenigan, Megan Bellwoar and Sarah van Auken in "Dublin by Lamplight"In theater, each night of an individual production’s run is different. When two different companies – seperated by both miles and years – perform a play, the separate interpretations magnify both flaws and strengths in their texts – and the differences in their productions become tools for gaining new insight into the multi-faceted fragility of this collaborative art form.

Having first seen Dublin By Lamplight when The Corn Exchange brought it to the Traverse Theater during the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, my second viewing was at the hands of Inis Nua, a Philadelphia-based company taking part in 1st Irish 2011 – a festival of Irish Theatre that spans New York City.

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Theatre, Theater, Theatre, THEATER.

It’s sweltering in New York City, but over in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is about to begin. This three-week theater extravaganza holds a special place in my heart, as it was in Edinburgh that my plays Playing It Cool, Stuck Up A Tree, and Mousewings had their world premieres. In honor of the festival, here’s lots of theater-related news:

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THEATER REVIEW: “Brownsville Bred” at 59E59

The opening of Brownsville Bred takes the form of a mini multi-media presentation, with the text of the eponymous Brooklyn neighborhood’s Wikipedia entry scrolling over video images of the Langston Hughes projects. As a device, it’s a little contrived, and shows an unjustified lack of trust in the material that follows – which is a rich, poetic, and starkly honest portrayal of growing up in Brownsville in the 1980s.

The woman whose journey into adulthood we witness over the course of the evening is Elaine Del Valle, and even without the text introduction to the play, her performance was expressive enough that she filled in any blanks for those of us unfamiliar with Brownsville — or its reputation. Del Valle expresses a deftness with emotions through her performances, making it possible for the audience to travel with her through a range of experiences representing the life that eventually took this performer out of Brownsville.

 
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THEATER REVIEW: “WTC View” at 59E59th

Brian Sloan’s WTC View is a post 9/11 drama that reveals the individual traumas and experiences of New Yorkers (and others), after the towers fell. Already produced as a film in 2005, now the show is given an airing as dramatic theater at 59E59th. (For those interested in such things, the original film starred Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie in the central role, played here by Nick Lewis.

Sloan has a keen ear for language, and the actors allow his dialogue to roll easily over the audience. The set, a simple wooden floor with a window at one end and a doorway at the other – plus a few scattered boxes – is laid out between two rows of audience members; you can see your fellow attendees on the other side of the action.

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