Tag Archives: New York Theater

Theatre Review: LONESTAR at The Wild Project, NYC

Lonestar
By James McLure
Directed by Pete McElligott
Nine Theatricals
The Wild Project

While the plot of Lonestar is fairly cut and dry – sixty minutes of two brothers coming to terms with secrets and their relationship with one another – this production truly shines in the performances by each of its three cast members.

As Roy, Matt de Rogatis (previously reviewed in The Collector) opens the show surrounded by beers and scattered junk food packaging. He’s back from Vietnam – has been for some time, we learn – and has taken to spending his nights getting drunk on Lonestar beer behind the local dive. His brother, Ray (Chris Luopos) joins him and they relive old memories; we get a feel for the dynamic between these two easily. A third character, Greg Pragel’s Cletis (aka Skeeter), provides us with a glimpse of how Roy and Ray relate to the world outside their brotherhood.

The show’s unpretentious and simple design allows – wisely – the characters to carry this sixty-minute piece. Adhering to a strict economy of props and set, this means that de Rogatis, Luopos and Pragel are charged with bringing images of the scene to life in our minds – something the manage easily.

The greatest strength of Nine Theatricals’ Lonestar is in its performances, and the control over which all three actors – particularly de Rogatis and Luopos – are able to exert over their portrayals of their characters. From casual joking to intensely physical fury, each character is brought to life in these full, emotionally nimble performances that drive the narrative ever-onward.

Lonestar has completed its run at The Wild Project; information on additional performances can be found here.

 

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.

THEATER REVIEW: Midsummer [a play with songs] by David Greig at the Clurman Theater, NYC

David Greig’s protagonists sit on a park bench in his play Midsummer [a play with words], drinking and aligning themselves with a ragtag group of teenage Goths. It’s an example of how this play captures the strange, free-forming social constellations I will always associate with Edinburgh in the summer.

Helena (Cora Bissett) and Bob (Matthew Pidgeon), who started their association as participants in a raucous one-night stand, are now spending a wad of cash that’s fallen into their laps – a recurring theme, in Scottish drama, now that I think of it (Danny Boyle’s Millions and Trainspotting come immediately to mind). As their bender progresses, the audience is brought into the experience of the festival city’s summertime discombobulation, always maintaining sight of the wider beauty and spirit Edinburgh offers both residents and visitors when the weather is warm.

Midsummer premiered in 2007 – coincidentally, my last summer in the city where it takes place – and is therefore dislocated from its context in three ways during its current NYC run: in time, in distance and in theatrical context. To see a breathtaking production during the Edinburgh Fringe’s unceasing barrage of plays is a singular experience, particularly if one has already seen dozens of shows. Measures of quality warp over the course of three weeks spent viewing productions back-to-back, and to see a show that found success there performed outside of the Fringe is more like tasting whisky after cleansing your palate than not.

Midsummer is an example of modern Scottish theater in many ways. In its opening, Greig’s language is rich and rhythmic, poetic and intense. This eases somewhat as the production continues, and it’s missed, but perhaps appropriate that as we learn the characters of Helena and Bob, they and Greig rely less on words and more on the knowledge we’ve gained throughout the production.

Under Greig’s direction, Bissett and Pidgeon’s depiction of the physical nature of the production and the visceral emotion of connecting with someone else blend into one. The set – resembling a bed, though at times Georgia McGuiness’ design seems more of a jungle gym (Japanese rope bondage!) – features panels and flip-out sections that enrich the specifics of each of the play’s settings; since the set itself is featured throughout the production it’s no small feat to transport the audience with each of its iterations.

As a “play with songs,” Midsummer features interwoven verses and small choruses that lift the audience from the immediate action and into a space that contemplates the individual experiences of the two characters, as well as the nostalgia it brings to anybody who’s resided there through an Edinburgh summer. While the play may not offer deep social commentary or revolutionize theater, it’s a fair representation of professional Scottish theatre – and a high-quality one, to boot. It may not be Black Watch, but Midsummer highlights a far less flashy tradition of Scottish storytelling in a way that’s accessible to audiences in both Scotland and abroad.

“Midsummer [a play with songs]” can be seen at the Clurman Theatre, New York, NY, from January 9-26, 2013.

Playing It Cool – now available on Amazon Kindle Select

In the summer of 2004, my second play, the romcom one-act Playing it Cool, was produced at the pend fringe @ Gateway as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The Fringe sees the population of Edinburgh more than triple as hundreds of thousands of visitors descend to experience a round-the-clock theatrical melee that lasts for three weeks of the summer. For a theatre student honing their craft, the city is a mecca.

 

Eight years later, and as promised a week or so ago, the first of my Edinburgh Fringe plays is now available for purchase.

Playing it Cool is a one-act play about two friends, subtext and communication. It’s a two-hander that takes place in an apartment and a cafe, so might be of interest for those looking for audition scenes to read with a partner.

No big monologues here, I’m afraid, although both my later Fringe plays, Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings (particularly Mousewings) will deliver on that front.

I’m listing Playing it Cool with Kindle Select for at least 90 days, so if you’re a member of Amazon Prime, make sure to put it on your list for a free read.

Cover art for PLAYING IT COOL

I’d love to hear what you think of this little snippet from my writing past.

Those interested in doing a production of Playing it Cool, please email me at PIC@rlbrody.com for more information on securing permissions.

A Grand Design – Cover Art Input Needed

Last week, I announced my intention of publishing my produced plays, to date, on Amazon. Given that the plays are in performance-script stage, and putting them together is largely a matter of technicalities, I started planning my cover design – because that’s really what I need at this point.

I spent a few minutes discussing my ideas with a co-worker (happy to name him/link to his tumblr if he sees this and would like, but also want to respect his privacy) and his perspective as a graphic designer was (as the opinions of graphic designers always are) quite useful.

Basically, he confirmed my feelings: my produced plays should have a unified look, which meant a unified design that can stretch across multiple plays (while also separating them from my other fiction).

So I started looking at the published plays I own. Here. Have a look:

 

(And yes, that is my foot in the corner.)

 

So, these plays. I could talk about these plays a LOT. Like seeing David Tennant for the first time in PUSH UP, and thinking, “Man, he just LEAPS out from every single other person on the stage.” Or how much it meant when Jo Clifford, who was my MFA supervisor in Edinburgh, personally addressed a copy of EVERY ONE to me. Each of the other plays has its own story; if people want to read, I’m happy to blog them in the lean times. Or maybe they deserve their own book.

Anyway. So, having studied the plays, here were my thoughts:

1. Samuel French and the Marlowe both demand that the reader know the playwright before purchasing. The newest of the plays, Ali Smith’s The Seer, was probably a well-performed piece, the play’s blank title and lack of imagery doesn’t really speak to me; I saw it (probably reviewed it) but the blank cover doesn’t give me any kind of aide memoire. I don’t remember much about The Seer, or ever feel inclined to pick it up. No good for a newish playwright, then.

2. The black-and-imagery with the colored spine of the NHB releases speaks most strongly to me as a reader. The images are evocative. They feature live performance stills – and this is where my plan to use these as the template falls down. I don’t have live performance shots of all these productions. I could do video capture stills, but…

3. A number of plays (Clifford’s is just an example) featured imagery rather than literal representation of events portrayed in the script; Yazmin Reza’s DESOLATION is another example of this. (Reza, for those who don’t make the immediate connection, also wrote ART). THE NIGHT SHIFT by Mark Murphy is somewhere between items (2) and (3), with a stylized image that evokes the mood and staging of the play, if not the literal photos one might expect to see.

Where did all this bring me?

The following four versions of an image. Your thoughts would be much appreciated. I’ve settled on the basic elements: the lefthand colorbar and wash over the rest of the image (color will probably change from one play to the next) and the representational photography, but the way those are used, the photograph itself, the fonts that the play names (which, for those who want to know are POST, Playing it Cool, Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings)…those are all open for discussion.

But I’m trying to make a basic template. And I’d appreciate your input. Here’s what my ideas amounted to on Thursday night:

Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit…anywhere you think might be useful. Opinions on this one are crowd-sourced. Let me know what you think, and know your thoughts are appreciated.

Plays of Place: Edinburgh Fringe Plays

While living in Edinburgh, Scotland, my favorite month of the year was August. Why? Because of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (currently running in Scotland’s capitol city).

At my first Fringe, I saw at least a hundred plays. Then I lost count.

Three of the plays I saw over the years – Playing it Cool, Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings – remain especially important to me, because they were mine. They were markers of what I accomplished each year I was in Edinburgh, and now when I look at them there are so many memories crushed up between their lines it’s like opening a photo album.

Playing it Cool, a romantic dramedy that takes place in my home town of Buffalo, New York, had its world premiere at the Pend Theatre at the now-defunct Gateway Campus of Queen Margaret University. It’s the earliest of the three plays, and I was astonished to see, while watching videos of the production, how much stronger it played on film than in the tiny pend theater. It taught me the necessity of using space well in theater, and of making physicality a necessary part of your script. This would come in handy on my next Fringe play – which you’ll hear more about in the future – Stuck Up A Tree.

But back to PiC. Through the Buffalo theater community, including playwriting professors, local directors and adjunct faculty, and the support of the head of the University at Buffalo’s theater department, we received funding for two actors and the local director to travel to Scotland and perform Playing It Cool  for a week’s run.

Other than a few attempts at getting the shows picked up, I haven’t done much with these play scripts, and it occurred to me the other day that this is one of the problems with playwrights: our work may be staged, but what happens once the curtains fall down?

Over the next few months, I plan to release the scripts for my three Edinburgh Fringe plays on Amazon; likely through KDP. This will require formatting and artwork, as well as some thought about how I want to package each piece. So it’s going to take me some time. Ultimately, it’s likely a hard copy version containing all three plays may be available. I’m trying not to think about the details too much just yet, and come up with a good over-arcing strategy – advice welcomed.

The three plays are very different – romance, a children’s show, and a post-apocalyptic tale of class conflict & survival – and form an interesting snapshot of my early playwriting career. I’m excited (and a little terrified!) to be sharing them with you – part of why I’m writing this blog, because it makes this more of a promise. Now you can bug me about this, if I drag my feet.

Gulp.

THEATER REVIEW: “The Beautiful Laugh” at La Mama

Clowning is a respected art with a long history, distinct from other forms of theater. My understanding of clowning comes out of familiarity with more classical European traditions, such as Marcel Marceau and the Commedia Del Arte style captured so excellently in The Corn Exchange’s production of Dublin by Lamplight, or the Harlequin story as viewed through the memory of a production I saw at Tivoli, in Cophenhagen, when I was about seven years old. In these forms, it’s often the precision of physical movement that distinguishes the skilled from the unskilled performer.

The style of clowning used in That Beautiful Laugh is different. It is a physical kind of comedy, related – particularly in the case of performer Carlton Ward – to circus acts and Coney Island contortionists, but it is also a comedy of noises and expression.

At the top of the show, a narrator (Alan Tudyk of Firefly, Dollhouse, Suburgatory and more) explains that there are multiple kinds of laughs, and lists some – as we wind through the cyclical routines presented by Flan (Tudyk), Ian (Ward) and Darla Waffles Something (Julia Ogilvie), the audience is no doubt meant to experience some of these different kinds of laughs. Whether or not the ultimate laugh – that beautiful laugh – is attained is, I suspect, largely in the hands of the audience on any given night.