Tag Archives: nyc

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.

When Voting 3rd Party Might Mean Voting for Clinton

The following is adapted from a Facebook post I made earlier today, which friends wanted to share.

I meant to write about this sooner, but later is better than never. So here goes.

wp-1474329232785.jpgLast Thursday night I went and met Bernie Sanders at the Working Families Party gala. Well, okay, I stood up against the stage snapping pics and then shook his hand (along with a bunch of other people) as he left the stage. (Okay. I stood up against the stage like it 2000 and I was at a Placebo concert at Irving Plaza. Shhh. Moving on.)

What impressed me (aside from OMG BERNIE SHOOK MY HAND!!!!) was the level of support that the party had from both local politicians and from more mainstream Dems, including people like Chuck Schumer and Bill de Blasio. Nina Turner spoke, too, and there were also WFP city council types and state legislature types.

Speaking at the Working Families Party gala.

Senator Nina Turner, speaking at the Working Families Party Gala.

One of my big issues (yes, there are more than one, we all know that by now) with voting for Clinton, outside of the issues I take with her positions and her campaign, has been thinking of voting for Clinton as rewarding the DNC for their choice —  and #sorrynotsorry, but there is no fucking way the DNC is getting my vote this year (and possibly any other year). Not in light of the way the primaries were run, the way the debates were gamed, the myriad of questions surrounding people purged from electoral roles, the behavior of their ex-Chairwoman and her subsequent reward of an “honorary” position, etc. Even if not doing *all those things* wouldn’t have meant a Sanders victory (and I would very strongly argue that a earlier and more frequent debates could have changed the Democrats’ primary landscape substantially), the fact that the Democrats did those things?

They don’t get my vote.

Period.

The end.

Well, going to the Working Families Party Gala  the other night gave me a new perspective – a new way of framing the workings of our political system.

The WFP, in NYC at least, has a very strong presence and has been able to help get laws like the $15/hour minimum wage and NY Sick Leave laws passed. In many cases, these smaller parties end up having a major party “nominee” in their candidate box. As speakers stressed over and over (and btw, here’s a link to the speeches, if you’ve got two hours and will excuse that I missed the first few minutes of Senator Turner’s remarks), many of the ideas that ended up in the non-binding 2016 Democratic Platform have origins in the WFP’s party goals.

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Senator Chuck Schumer at the Working Families Party Gala

 

Living in NYC and knowing what I do about my district, etc., I will likely be voting straight-ticket third party in November. HOWEVER. Up till Thursday night it hadn’t occurred to me that voting a straight third-party ticket could, potentially, include a vote for Clinton. And that, philosophically, I might be okay with that.

Whereas voters who vote Green or Libertarian won’t necessarily have a voice in the government after the election, Clinton will know how many of her votes came through local third parties, and even where she may not have success in major progressive domestic policies, at the local level I’ll know I’ve thrown my weight behind a third party that already has proven accomplishments where I live. As a party with deep roots in unions and activism, I can also be assured (to whatever degree one can trust politicians) that the party will advocate heavily for its agenda within the larger agenda, and that there are politicians at both the federal and the local level who consider this a party worth paying attention to. While I won’t know how I’m voting until close to November, after last Thursday’s gala I do know that anybody who shouts “a vote for a third party is a vote for Trump!” (or the reverse, as has happened once or twice in my conversations this election season) isn’t looking at the whole picture.

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NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the Working Families Party Gala

I would strongly encourage other people who want to vote 3rd party, who do not want to support the current Democratic Party, to consider  strong local parties available near them.

At the very least, it’s a way of combining your voice with the voices of others in your area, pursuing a party whose goals more closely align with your personal viewpoint (because let’s face it: Dem, Repub, Green and Libertarian is still pretty damn broad as far as categorizing the political affiliations of +/-300M people), and ensuring that there will be a chorus of voices there to hold the politician at the top of the ballot accountable.

Upheaval

The blog has been quiet, but real life has been non-stop.

Back in…June? Early July? I was offered a job back in New York City. Since then, every day (aside from a few spent with extended family) has been a frenetic mix of packing, phone calls, errands, more packing, paperwork, finding basic necessities (a new apartment, for a start), working out transportation options, resisting the temptation to buy (pretty well) and eat (slightly less well) all the things, and problem-solving. So much problem-solving.

Oh – and starting aforementioned new job. Given that common knowledge rates marriage, moving, and starting a new job as the three most stressful events in a person’s life (I’m not sure why “having a kid” isn’t in there, but who knows), I seem to have the “do two of those three things at once” down pat.

With that initial mad rush of activity safely past, and the transition into my shiny new real life moving into the “time to decorate the apartment and get back to doing things like writing once in a while” phase, I wanted to stop and take a minute to say thank you to everybody who helped me make this huge change in my life. From the friend who tipped me off about a job opening to the friends who let me crash in their guest rooms and on their sofas, to the friend who dropped everything to come help me unload things, to the one who killed the first cockroach spotted in the new place (you know you’ve missed city life when your response is, “It’s not New York till you’ve got a cockroach in the apartment” instead of screaming and running into the next room…or in addition to screaming and running into the next room…), I cannot even begin to count the ways in which I feel lucky to have people in my life who support and help me when I need it. Being on your own can be overwhelming at times, and from small actions that alleviate minor stresses to feats of friendship that kept me from falling apart in the most stressful moments, my friends really stepped up and helped make this transition as easy as they could have been.

One of my resolutions when I moved back to NYC was that this time, I was going to be more deliberate about how I live here. I was careful not to jump on the first apartment I saw, I’ve deliberately picked different lunch places every day, and I’m not hesitating to suggest exploring places I’ve heard about. I’m trying to say “yes” when people invite me to do things I might not normally take part in (though I’m also balancing this with a significant commute, which can make things tricky). I’m hoping to find outlets in both politics and theater (you’ll note my most recent review), and really looking forward to when the weather cools off later this fall.

Mostly, I’m glad to feel, two and a half years after everything went sideways, that life is getting back on track.

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.

The Bright Side of Life

Because one is always grateful for chocolate.

Because one is always grateful for chocolate.

Things have been a little challenging this week. On top of the “usual” back stuff, I had an apartment maintenance issue that reared its head. I decided, rather than feel sorry for myself, to make a list of ten things that are worth being thankful for.

1. While the bathroom ceiling may have caved in, my apartment is still standing. Given the tornadoes ripping through the Midwest right now, that makes me lucky.

2. I have health insurance and good doctors who are helping me get slowly better.

3. My new roommate seems pretty cool, and so far she’s been a nice person to have around.

4. I am going to publish a collection of short stories in the next couple of months. Hopefully before the end of May. But no pressure.

5. I have lost about 15% of my total weight since January. I have a ways to go but I am determined to get there, and that will have a positive overall effect on my health.

6. I am planning some fun trips for when I get better. There will be Geek Girl Con in Seattle, and I may even head overseas this fall. Plus, since I’ve been injured, I’ve seen a bit more of my family than usual.

7. I AM FINALLY GOING TO SEE TWENTY ONE PILOTS. In September, with the friend who tried to win us tickets in January. And hopefully, by September, my back will be in good shape. (KNOCK ON WOOD.)

8. The weather in NYC is that perfect point between freezing and too hot to bear, and should stay that way for a few more weeks.

9. Since I live in NYC, I can get almost anything delivered to my house, which has been a total lifesaver throughout this whole back thing.

10. Bit by bit, I’m clearing my life of things I don’t need, which gives me more room to be the person I want to be, living a life that makes me glad.

BONUS 11. The blog my friend and I started in January has gone from being a fun joke between friends to a community of nearly 4000 people, and they are so sweet and lovely. Every day, they trust us with the sad and stressful things going on in their lives, and we do what very little we can to make them feel better. Which, in turn, makes me feel better.

It might seem silly but writing that stuff down made me feel a bit better about some of the less-awesome things going on right now. If you’re feeling down, give it a shot and see how you feel afterwards. There’s always something around that can drive a person nuts – so, what makes you happy, instead?

NYC Theater Review: GORILLA by Rhea Leman (Scandanavian American Theater Company)

In the Scandanavian American Theater Company’s production of Rhea Leman’s Gorilla, five businessmen and their HR director navigate a weekend seminar on expression and trust. In what is revealed to be an evaluation that could cost them their jobs (and in some cases, far more), the characters’ relationships, personalities, histories and sex lives are laid bare, pride is chucked out the window, more than a few punches are thrown and questions are asked about the role of masculinity in the modern professional world.

We never get a solid sense of what Owen (Albert Bendix), Stephen (Oliver Burns), Robert (L.J. Ganser), Ernest (Alfred Gingold) and Lawrence (Khris Lewin) do for a living, only that for the past year they’ve been doing it rather badly. Their team has had the poorest performance in the company in a year of economic distress (the play is set in 2009), and now they’re at the last of a series of teamwork workshops designed to help them work with more trust and intimacy.

Dragging them down this path of corporate and personal enlightenment is Lillian (Jennifer Dorr White), from the company’s HR department; midway through the play, they are joined by their boss, Thrasher (Tullan Holmqvist), who makes it clear their suspicions of future firings are well-founded. Some murmurs of the role played by sexuality and gender make their way through the blend of analyses and posturing, and it’s in her sexual and animal metaphors that Leman’s play shows both strength and depth.

Gorilla never breaks the fourth wall, maintaining a setting within the walls of a single conference room in sanitized, businesslike shades (to call the pale tones “colors” seems over-ambitious). There are moments, such as one where Owen and Stephen negotiate a possible transaction, where the characters show how deeply imperfect they are – in one particularly insightful speech, Stephen describes his wife and her lack of confidence and her need for affection in a way that makes one wonder if he isn’t, in fact, projecting his issues onto her.

One nitpicky point regarding the translation: midway through Gorilla, Owen explains the meaning of the word to Stephen. Something – I’m not sure what – is missing in the exchange that takes place around the translation of “Gorilla” itself; maybe translation from Danish to English has dulled the comparison’s point? It’s frustrating that it isn’t clearer, since Leman can be assumed to have been making the connection to her play’s title in that moment. Addressing this point more clearly could have heightened the title’s impact for English-speaking audiences.

The individual characters are as specifically drawn as their roles require; while Ernest and Thrasher seem to have limited arcs, the others are more active. One feels as if there should be more weight to Lillian’s inability to make a tough choice, near the end of the play, particularly given the knowledge we’ve already attained via audience privilege.

This is a satisfying eighty minutes of theater, a naturalistic play with a story that gets you somewhere – even if, as the lights fade to black, you’re not exactly sure where you’ve ended up.

 

Rhea Leman’s Gorilla is playing at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, www.theatrerow.org. For the curious, here’s the production company’s page on IndieGoGo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/gorilla.

Letting the Cables Sleep

2013-04-25 22.32.00For years, I’ve had the habit of keeping the old cables from my past. Wires and wires, quarter-inch jacks and mini-jacks and parallel cables and VGA connectors. Later, HDMI and wifi connections replaced those early, fussily-pinned male-and-female connections with something more universal.

I’m cleaning the apartment, which seems less daunting when you hear that the space involved is probably under 300 square feet than it is when you’re trying to clean it out. The lights in here aren’t great. Most of them come from dim bulbs in age-yellowed fixtures. I’ve lived here four years and am just beginning to feel enough ownership over my abode to start putting pieces of myself into the place.

In trying to use a cheap piece of Plasticine (Copyright? Registration? TradeMark?)/leather furniture-slash-storage to its most efficient “use” I uncover a pile of old cables. It’s when I see the one from an old video capture card that I realize: how absurd, the idea these physical connectors would make their way into use in the future. Exactly once, I found myself in need of a cable I didn’t already own (and never had), and wound up paying an extortionate price for the replacement.

Earlier this year, I took a perfectly functional CD player to Goodwill because I had no practical use for a CD player. My computer houses a DVD-R drive; I strip everything I listen to to MP3 if I buy it in physical form at all, which I haven’t since I trudged the streets of Camden in search of the last British wave of music I bought into on CD.

2013-04-25 22.28.01Letting go of these cables seems impossible. But I weigh their usefulness against the space they take up and think of my roommate coming home earlier, as I was in the grip of a cleaning frenzy, asking her if I could use her hair dryer on the regular so I could throw out mine. “I’m so proud of you,” she said, because we encourage one another to be our best selves and she knows I hold on to things for way too long sometimes.

Can I let go of these old, physical connections to a past that involves a 486 on Windows 3.5; WP5.1 run in DOS, floppy disks and videotape-to-digital conversions? I used to joke that a BA in Media Studies (Video Concentration) meant I was qualified to hook up connections from one piece of equipment to another, but this physical education was quickly outpaced by the progress of ensuing years, and only part of the theory held true.

Knotted up in lengths of cables and noting the absurdity of this specialized cable [PIC], I think, this is ridiculous. This is a moment of clarity, a lesson in scaling back. Stop holding on to those things which no longer serve you.

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Pare down. Don’t tuck them in a bag, zipped up, smothered under fabric. Put them away, let them go.

Let the cables sleep.

music: bush – letting the cables sleep [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPelsDKEtLQ]