Tag Archives: theater

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.

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.

 

Congratulations to the Short Frictions Giveaway Winner!

2014-04-07 11For the last month or so, I’ve been running a giveaway for a gift code from ThinkGeek.com…and now it’s time to announce the winner!

Congratulations to Patricia Salyers!

It was cool to watch how every day, Patricia was on Twitter, tweeting the promotional tweet to get additional entries for the competition – and clearly the work paid off! I’ve contacted her privately to arrange for her to get her ThinkGeek code, and send a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who took the time to enter.

If you didn’t win, but still want something free (and who doesn’t want free stuff) then remember, I’m also looking for advance reviewers for Short Frictions, and am rewarding those who step up with both a free e-copy of the book in the format of their choice and a thank-you on the book’s acknowledgements page.

Having lots of reviews is one of those things that helps us indie writers sell books, so not only will you get free stuff if you sign up – you’ll also be doing me a solid.

Pay-To-Play, Theater Edition: Companies Who Make Playwrights Pay

Imagine you’re a doctor. You’ve put time, money and effort into your training, and have come to be regarded as a professional in your field. Now, there’s a job for a local hospital where you’d like to work. The job carries a $50 “application fee,” and once the hospital in question has decided they want you practicing under their auspices, you’re going to have to pay $5000 in order to see or treat any patients. You can expect about $100 per patient seen as a “kickback” for the chance to treat them, as a way of “honoring” your “investment” with the hospital.

Are you going to take the job? Are you even going to apply?

More importantly, as a patient, are you going to believe that the hospital involved is really interested in providing you with the best medical care available?

Now imagine the hospital is a theater company, and you’re a playwright.

The number of theater companies who think it’s okay to charge both reading and acceptance fees to playwrights seems to be on the rise. And that’s not okay. Playwrights aren’t going to cut into your body (not physically, at least) and they’re not going to save you from an acute life-or-death situation (though they might write something that sticks with you for years to come), but they’re still artists(often trained and practiced) who have put time, effort and ability into their work. And they have no business subsidizing theater companies.

The other day on Facebook, a friend pointed out an “opportunity” for writers who wanted to work with one of NYC’s downtown theater company. After paying a $15 application/reading fee, anyone who was accepted could also look forward to being charged a $175 “acceptance fee” to see their work performed.

Excuse me?

Dear budding playwrights and other writers: the name for a company that poduces or publishes you in exchange for money is “vanity publisher.”

IScreenshot_2014-04-29-10-26-44 realize that reading plays takes time, and producing them takes money, but as a company, if you’re not making enough off your ticket sales and from producer investments to profit from a play without charging the people who wrote them (who are notorious, industry-wide, for NOT GETTING PAID FOR THEIR WORK) to put them on — and you’re not okay with that — then do you really have any business running a theater festival?

Open a theater school. Run a summer camp. Set yourself up as a dramaturg-for-hire. Open your company to development-for-hire.

Just don’t pretend you’re interested in producing theater that opens opportunities or artistic space for those who can’t afford to subsidize you.

When I co-produced ANY OBJECTIONS? for Glasgay 2012, my fellow producer and I put out a global call for short plays dealing with marriage equality. We were particularly interested in getting plays from Asia, Africa and other regions that were under-represented in the world of Western theater, because those were the perspectives we felt it might be most important to show our primarily English-speaking audience. Our only barrier to entry? The plays had to be in English – we simply didn’t have the time or money required to make a translator available.

Did we charge a reading fee? No. Did we charge an “acceptance fee”? No. Did we make any money off anybody but the patrons who came to the performance? No, we did not. And did everybody involved get some kind of paid?

You bet your underwear they did.

The actors got paid, the director got paid, and every single participating writer (with the exception of one who chose to remain anonymous and who, I believe, we were unable to contact with follow-up information, despite our best efforts) got a check as payment for their participation in the event.

Paying For The Right To Work

While the language of the Playbill notice differs slightly from the language used on the company’s website, let’s note that this is posted in a major theatrical publication under the title of “Editorial/Job Opportunity,” and the last time I saw a job you had to pay to take it was because they were selling you a kit of “E-Z ASSEMBLE-AT-HOME JEWELRY, MAKE $5000/MONTH” or a list of real estate leads. Let’s also note that this is a production festival for female playwrights, a group that’s historically under-represented in theater productions worldwide – which, to my mind, makes it even more unethical to charge them for the privilege of having their work produced.

Screenshot_2014-04-29-10-30-27The company who placed the ad cited above offers a $1-per-ticket return (they call it a “kickback) after a $175 “acceptance fee” – which comes after a $15 “reading fee,” mind – so that the playwright can hope to recoup some of her investment. That means a playwright has to see three sold out shows and one half-full house before she’s broken even. Does the company give any information on their average audience size for the festival, past production attendance or marketing reach? No? What? You mean the festival’s only in it’s first year, so there’s no data on how much reach it has or what ticket prices should be? (Note: While I’ve emailed the company regarding questions about past audience size, marketing reach and more, they requested more information Tuesday and have not responded to subsequent emails.)

If we playwrights are investing, shouldn’t we be doing so in an informed manner? And shouldn’t the company we’re investing in encourage that?

With this kind of barrier to entry, the company is already excluding any playwright who doesn’t have nearly $200 in her budget from even competing. Is this approach really going to net them the most talented, most engaging entrants? Is it going to open up the possibility of performance in a meaningful way? As an audience member, do you think that this company is more interested in producing an evening of theater that excites and challenges you, or in finding a way to wring as much money as possible from an evening of performances?

I get it, making theater takes money. I also understand that not everyone has a deep-pocketed producer on board to help offset their costs. I’ve produced theater under those circumstances, too. You know what we did? Anybody who put money in got their money back first, and any profits were split evenly between all members of the company.

Know what else? Every single one of those productions was profitable.

Artists Get Taken Advantage Of All The Time – Don’t Be One Of Them

Many years ago, a co-worker told me about a friend who had started a photography festival and was now living off the entry fees. Each photographer who sent an entry was charged $150 for the privilege, and in addition to making enough to pay for a considerable cash prize, the person who had started the contest was now making a full-time living off the fees.

So excuse me if I’m a little skeptical of companies that set up on this kind of model. As a producer, either you believe in the work you’re putting on stage or you don’t. If you do, then you assume the financial risk, pay your artists (or take them on in an equal, transparent profit-share), and hope for the best.

If you don’t believe in the work, and you don’t think you’re going to make a profit, and you have a problem with that, then don’t produce the play in the first place.

That said, the only way this practice is going to stop is if writers stop responding to these calls for work. So writers, if you value your work and your time, don’t buy into the hype. Submit to the hundreds of opportunities that don’t ask for your financial investment. You’ve already put your time, training and effort into your art. Don’t feel like you have to pay someone else to make it for you.

Charging artists to produce their work in order to make yourself a buck isn’t about making quality theater. It’s about running the production equivalent of a vanity press.

Presenting that as a great opportunity for new playwrights is not okay.

 

*To note: this is not the only company charging for acceptance (although Manhattan Rep frames their Spring One Act as a production fee, not one aimed at playwrights, and doesn’t charge for entry) nor are they charging the most.

Free Reads for Christmas!

Hey all!

I’m knee-deep in writing a science fiction play for a company in the UK, so this is going to be quick, but I hope you have a wonderful holiday and wanted to give you a couple of freebies to get you through the next week or two – particularly those of you with kids home from school and in need of entertainment.

If you’ve got kids, STUCK UP A TREE will be free on Amazon through December 29th.

If you like dystopian stories (and who doesn’t?) and haven’t read my play MOUSEWINGS, the next few days give you a chance for some free reading material, too.

I don’t often ask outright, but since it’s Christmas…if you think anyone in your network (including actors, drama teachers, directors…Steven Spielberg…) might enjoy either play, please pass on this blog or those links. And if, once you’re done, you feel like leaving a review? That’d be ace.

Again, both plays are free for Kindle (and associated devices/apps) through December 29th.

Merry Christmas & happy holidays!

xx

Rachel

 

PS – At time of writing, Mousewings and Stuck Up A Tree hold positions 3 and 4 on the Bestsellers list in Amazon’s free Playwriting categoy! (See below for a pic!)

free bestseller three and four mousewings

Theater Review: BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON at ART of WNY in Buffalo

Bloody Bloody Andrew JacksonBloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
American Repertory Theater of Western New York
Written by Alex Timbers
Music & Lyrics by Michael Friedman
Directed by Jeffrey Coyle

 

 

A couple years ago, the original production of this show was taking downtown NYC by storm. While I missed it there, the production currently taking place on Linwood Avenue in downtown Buffalo was an opportunity to see a skilled, professional and hilarious regional premiere. Told with enthusiasm and precision, this is a production worth buying tickets to immediately.

Like now.

While the idea of America’s seventh president as an “Emo Rock God” might seem incongruous at first, with cast members entering the performance space in ripped tights, black netted shirts and enough eyeliner to kill an elephant (if elephants ate eyeliner and eyeliner was poisonous, that is), the rockstar nature of Jackson’s DGAF frontiersman ‘tude and the often tongue-in-cheek style of delivery bring this story screeching into the 21st century. In a skillfully-observed marriage of styles, the style of Michael Friedman’s music and lyrics compliment the rage and emotion of American politics.

The talented cast delivers on all scores – even when technical malfunctions took a headset mic out of play, Steve Copps (as the titular Jackson) didn’t miss a beat. Between asking whether audiences wanted to see his “stimulus package” and taking part in bleeding rituals (“it’s a real 19th century medical practice!”), it’s easy to see Jackson in the role of band frontman a la Panic at the Disco and other emo trendsetters of the early 2000s.

The show says a lot about how America has changed, and how it hasn’t. Jackson’s determination to rid the country of the native population and the wink-wink comparisons to modern-day populist movements are disconcerting. There’s one line in particular where he points out that he’s making the changes the American people want to see made which is disturbing in that it grasps the precise conflict between majority rule and the protection of minorities: where is the protection for disadvantaged, harassed and discriminated-against groups when leaders serve the general will of the people?

Not that Jackson’s predecessors are portrayed as having made much of a contribution in this area. The menacingly hilarious quintet of elder statesmen: Van Buren (Steven Brachmann), Monroe (Matt Kindley), John Quincy Adams (Matthew Mooney), Calhoun (Christopher Parada) and Clay (Rowlins) and the rest of the founding fathers mentioned in the book are portrayed as wig-and-lace wearing toffs, right down to the hilarious New England accents they wear. The show portrays the quintessential American dilemma of civilization vs. frontier by following Jackson as he takes Florida from the Spanish, Georgia from the Native Americans and more: to Jackson’s friends, family and neighbors, the threat from these groups is immediate and deadly. To the federal government, however, the logistical and legal issues at stake leave no room for understanding the actual plight of those on the ground. The resentment this breeds is unsettling in that audiences will immediately be able to track the political commentary to today’s world, quickly realizing that while the names of the “enemies” have changed, American tactics for dealing with those who encroach on this great land of ours (emphasis mine) have not.

This Buffalo production is rife with talent, from the specificity of Coyle’s direction to the management of a stage ensemble nearly 20-strong to the obvious control and focus of each performer. Some specific delights: Priscilla Young-Anker does much to set the tone as the Storyteller, who emerges in a motorized scooter to fawn lasciviously over Jackson in his early days and winds up taking one in the neck when her interjections become too intrusive. The angry, disaffected attitude thrown up by so many of the shows movers and shakers – particularly the dead, passionless tone taken by Jackson’s mother in her early scenes (the actress, a member of the ensemble, is sadly not noted for this role in the program, though if anyone from the company would like to provide her name I’ll add it here later) – set a tone for the mix of hilarity, resentment and angst that pursue Jackson throughout the show.

For audiences concerned about the production’s edginess, the play is so skillfully executed and so fast-paced that the bawdy humor avoids becoming awkward for, say, an audience member who brings her parents along. All three members of my party were laughing hard throughout the production; most of the time, I was laughing so hard I had to wipe tears from my eyes to be able to watch the show.

With tickets at $25 for regular audience members and $15 for students, this fast-paced, intermission-less production leaves nothing to be desired; it’s a thrilling professional production of a meaningful and politically-charged play.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs select evenings through October 12, 2013 at ART IN THE BOX, 16 Linwood Avenue, Buffalo. The Broadway cast recording is available on Spotify. Tickets for this production were purchased by the reviewer.

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Ticket to LARP – The Brick Theater, The Dance & The Dawn

Capture

I got a notice in my email about “The Dance and the Dawn” this morning, taking place at The Brick theater in Williamsburg. Playing from September 7-14th, the performance takes the shape of “live action theater-style gaming.”

You sign up for a ticket, attend the evening in question as your assigned character, and bring along your own costume. While much of the evening is spent waltzing, the show’s page over at the theater’s website says there will be a brief lesson beforehand, so non-dancers shouldn’t worry.


If anyone goes to check out this production, let me know what you think of it – scheduling means I won’t be able to go take a look myself.
From the summary, the play sounds like a free-form, stylistic piece rather than a tight narrative, which makes sense given the performance style.

Ultimately, the production’s success will depend heavily on the preparation and enthusiasm of its audiences. After completing a questionnaire and being assigned a character, a little homework is required – as the site says, “If you show up having read those materials…” you’ll have a good time. One hopes all the audience members arrive prepared for their roles, and wonders what happens in the event of someone not turning up to use their ticket.

With the ending left to the participants, and for a ticket price of $20, this sounds like it could be an intriguing evening of high-involvement theater.

 

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