Tag Archives: theater review

ACT ONE REACTION: Slaughterhouse Five

 

Sometimes, one leaves a theatrical experience and the foremost thought in one’s mind is, “That’s X hours I’m never getting back.” When attending plays as a reviewer (i.e. with free/comped tickets), I always stay through to the end. However, when I’ve paid for my ticket – as in this case – I no longer feel it necessary to sit through an entire production once I’m convinced it’s not getting any better. Please bear in mind, while reading, that for all I know the production takes a massive upswing in the second act and I missed out on something truly brilliant – though this writeup in The Buffalo News makes me doubt that was the case. Here’s my reaction to the production.

From The Buffalo News: Tim Joyce and John Kennedy star in Subversive Theatre's season-opening production of "Slaughterhouse Five."

From The Buffalo News: Tim Joyce and John Kennedy star in Subversive Theatre’s season-opening production of “Slaughterhouse Five.”

ACT ONE REACTION: SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE BY THE SUBVERSIVE THEATRE COLLECTIVE

Subversize Theatre Collective
Great Arrow Building
Manny Fried Theatre
Directed by Michael Lodick
Adapted by Eric Simonson

Saturday night, I left Slaughterhouse Five, produced by the Subversive Theatre Collective, at intermission. While the presentation was competent, it wasn’t compelling enough to keep me and my parents in our uncomfortable seats — or the overheated auditorium.

If you haven’t read Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, the story of Slaughterhouse Five revolves around a man named Billy Pilgrim, who has become “unstuck” in the space-time continuum. The novel itself is disjointed, offering a broken narrative – the book incorporates parts of Vonnegut’s own time in the service and as a POW. While the script seems faithful to the story, even setting up Vonnegut’s narrator conceit, something about the production meant it never really seemed to offer much spark.

Tim Lane’s set is colorful and visually engaging, and its versatility allowed the players to move seamlessly from scene to scene. The brightest moment of the play’s first act came from Rick Lattimer, whose performance as Elliot Rosewater suddenly came to life during a conversation with Pilgrim (Shane Zimmerman) and his fiancee (Brittany Gabryel as Barbara). Suddenly animated, Rosewater describes the book he’s reading to Pilgrim, ranting about an alternate view of reality. For a few moments, there was a sense of welcome tension from the audience. Then it passed.

As the narrator, Tim Joyce kicked the play off with a one-man scene that set the stage. There were times when some mannerisms began to feel affected, veering more towards Mark Twain than Kurt Vonnegut, and smoothing those moments over would help the audience forget that they’re watching a performance. Generally speaking, there was very little about the performances that was notable.

One of many huge challenges inherent in mounting a production where each scene is only a few minutes long is that it’s difficult for the audience to remain emotionally engaged without a connection to each scene.  After nearly an hour of story, no one in my party felt a strong enough connection to the show to stay and watch the second half.

Fan of Vonnegut looking for new insights/perspective on your favorite author and one of his most famous works? You might very well enjoy this production. Casual theater-goer looking for a thought-provoking experience that also entertains? This might not be the show for you.

Boeing, Boring: Boeing Boeing at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre, Jamestown, NY

Oh, reviewing pen, it’s been a while. Mostly because I haven’t been able to sit for the length of an entire play for a while, but also because the only play I’ve seen since Cabaret in NYC was a local production of Spamalot. But tonight, I dug my reviewing pen out and headed to Jamestown, NY to see the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown’s presentation of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing.

I’m almost sure I’ve seen this play before, but I’m not sure where – London, Edinburgh, New York, Buffalo – and other than broad strokes (a playboy trying to keep three flight-attendant-fiances in his orbit) I didn’t remember much about the plot. It falls into the strange realm of what I think of as “French living-room plays.” Like Art and Carnage. Which is weird, because neither of those are farces, and they’re both by the same playwright.

Boeing Boeing is a farce, though. It’s a farce set in the 1960s, at the dawn of newer, faster plane technology. One expects the play to have a certain “snap,” so to speak. Noel Coward with more ennui. Then one looks up the play’s running time. Two and a half hours.

Um.

There’s a line in Boeing Boeing that goes, “No panic, no problem.” But this is exactly the problem. While the actresses playing the fiances – Amanda Melquist (Gloria), Carla Kayes (Gabriella) and particularly Holly L.J. Weston (Gretchen, the passionate German) – inject their scene with dimension and energy, both male leads (Vince Liuzzo as the playboy Bernard and his older brother Carl Luizzo as Robert) seem far too comfortable, too lackadaisical. Occasionally, their back-and-forth rises to a fever pitch, but for the most part it’s the women who set the pacing for each scene – which would be fine, if not for the fact that Bernard is the protagonist. There’s a hint of this early on, when Betsy Trusel’s Berthe brings character-acted comic relief as Bernard’s frustrated domestic servant. Slick and charming, Bernard only becomes “real” in contrast to his demanding cook and cooing (but surprisingly steely) fiances. Other than occasional fluster when two of the women might interact, in which cases each Liuzzo takes their character from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, the characters contribute to the show’s biggest problem: pacing.

Often times, I watch plays and wish the writer’s words had been given more room to breathe. In this production, I spent more time wishing someone would deliver CPR to the script. Weston had a lock on the urgency of her character’s lines, and Kayes hit all the right beats with her domineering and frustrated Italian, but more often than not, Luizzo, Luizz and Trusel seemed to linger over lines that would have benefited from a dash of Basil Fawlty.

Costumes and set, both credited to large teams in the program, were spot-on for this naturalistic play. In a moment that took me by complete surprise, Berthe actually lights a real cigarette on stage. (Some history: while I was reviewing in Edinburgh with The British Theatre Guide, laws were passed to ban smoking from the stage – even herbal cigarettes. Thinking back, I don’t recall a single time when I saw a real cigarette being smoked on stage But Berthe’s ciggy was definitely made of real tobacco.)

I wish the production left a more positive impression on me, but its by-the-book approach to a classic text paired with timing that never quite worked up to the pacing necessary to really give me a good chuckle. While much of the audience seemed entertained, laughing on cue, when the interval finally arrived I had to take the state of my back into account, and leave the second half of the show unwatched. I simply didn’t receive enough meaty enjoyment from act one to make the literal pain in my lower back worth staying for act two.

Note: Tickets were purchased for this performance.

 

THEATER REVIEW: “Fairytale” from The Shelter at the 45th Street Theatre

Fairy Tale is collaborative company The Shelter’s set of five short plays inspired by classic fairy tales. Their inspiration spans cultures and languages, tackling both traditional retellings and total re-imaginings. Solidly produced with exceptional production values, the play begins and ends with playful, animal-masked mechanicals, a whimsical turn that sets a magical mood.
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THEATER REVIEW: “The Pumpkin Pie Show: Lovey Dovey” by Chad McLeod Chapman at at Under St. Mark’s

A whimsical night of tales on the theme of love (most with a gruesome twist), The Pumpkin Pie Show: Lovey Dovey is made up of four short stories, broken up by tunes from the Sky Pony. Writer/performer Clay McLeod Chapman and performer Hanna Cheek give us the tales Ascending the Staircase, Daughter of C.H.U.D., Michelle and Condo Lothario. In between, Lauren Worsham gives passionate renditions of songs by Kyle Jarrow.
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THEATER REVIEW: The Body Politic at 59E59 #nyc #theater

What a fantastic little fable about American politics. In THE BODY POLITIC, writers Richard Abrons and Margarett Perry (the latter of whom also directs this production) have crafted a whip-cracker of a tale about a Republican who falls for a Democrat on the campaign trail. As their relationship – and the campaign – progresses, the young party-liners find themselves negotiating and renegotiating their plans to win the presidency for their candidates.

Abrons and Perry have crafted a world where the superficial trappings of the political machinery are present, creating a backdrop against which the action unfurls, but at the same time they’ve kept the spotlight on the characters in this play – their intrigues and double-crosses, their strategizing and bending of moral certitude – instead of getting bogged down in, you know, actual politics.

At its opening, the six characters of THE BODY POLITIC are waiting for their town cars after a debate. Alternately charming and scathing, the two youngest members of the campaign trade barbs – with young WASP Spencer Davis (Matthew Boston) getting in a few cheeky zings at his democratic counterpart, Trish Rubenstein (Eve Danzeisen). The scenes move quickly – at times the pace of the production feels more filmic than theatrical, with audiences often having only a few pages’ worth of rapid-fire dialogue to establish a setting and connect with the characters’ intentions. It’s a gambit that could make the piece feel choppy, but instead – to an audience member familiar with political drama like THE WEST WING and IN THE LOOP – it’s easy to quickly decide where each scene fits with the one before it. The result is that the pace of the piece is kept moving at a steady clip, and at no point in the production does one feel that horrible sense of time’s immovable plodding. The show might run two hours long (including an intermission), but is tightly constructed and never feels like a drag.

The chemistry between the two protagonists is sometimes lacking, but both Boston and Danzeisen are a pleasure to watch as they’re played off and against one another by their fellow campaigners, and it is the likeability of both these actors that keeps their characters sympathetic despite the tricks they play; we can admire their tenacity and commitment to their own ideals because on sensitive issues, the playwrights have found ways to legitimately express the frustrations, hopes, fears and motivations of both the religious right and the radical lefties – while at the same time reminding us that actually, both Democrats and (to a lesser degree now that the Tea Party has arrived) Republicans benefit from a polarized system.

The rest of the cast is entertaining and enjoyable – particularly Leslie Hendrix, whose turn as Political Warrior Goddess Brunhilda Logan transports this play into high satire; her blunt, direct and mannish delivery is an absolute delight. From brutal profanities to a direct delivery of threatened emasculation, Brunhilda is a fizzing, spitting Fury – and Hendrix is utterly delightful in the role.

If you’re looking for affordable (for NYC) theater at a terrific venue (59E59 is a personal favorite of mine), then you can’t go wrong with THE BODY POLITIC.