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To The End of the Land Review: An Israeli Love Triangle Defined By War

A love triangle that lasts 35 years is at the heart of “To The End of the Land,” but the lives of the three main characters of this Israeli play, being presented in Hebrew with English supertitles at the Lincoln Center Festival, are less defined by love than by war.

This stage adaptation of David Grossman’s celebrated novel begins when Ora and her two eventual lovers, Avram and Ilan, are all 16 years old and meet in a hospital during the Six Day War in 1967.

In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Avram is captured and tortured, and, after he’s rescued, he wants nothing more to do with Ora nor Ilan; when he finds out Ora is pregnant with his child, he wants nothing to do with his son either. Ilan marries Ora and raises the son, Ofer, as his own.

Then, in 2002, the grown-up Ofer is now in the Israeli army, and decides to re-enlist. An anxious Ora comes up with a unique and cockamamie way to keep her son safe. She decides to leave her home and hike to Galilee (“the end of the land” of Israel), so that nobody can come to her door to deliver the official news if her son has been killed.

Estranged though not divorced from Ilan, Ora locates Avram, and takes him on the hike, where they go over their lives, their past, the waxing and waning of their relationship. They reveal secrets they’ve kept from one another.

That is more or less the essence of this two and a half hour play, boiled down from Grossman’s 2008 novel, which runs 674 pages in its English translation. Director Hanan Snir, who wrote the adaptation, chops this story into pieces, and presents the pieces in an order that makes it more dramatic, and at times less than clear. He also spices it with an anti-naturalistic theatricality, harnessing the dozen cast members to populate the various scenes and even depict the sundry landscapes using minimal props, their own bodies, and occasional musical instruments. Although the creative team makes apparent attempts to help the audience — sometimes a character speaks directly to us, narrating – the play often feels geared to people who’ve read the novel, with short scenes inserted that feel shorn of the context the novel must surely provide them.

Yet, there are enough moments in “To The End of the Land” that hit hard enough to compensate for the confusion, such as an effective combat scene and what one can call an anti-combat scene – when Ora (standout Efrat Ben Zur) lets out her frustration at leaders, both Arab and Israeli, while chopping a salad, calling out a different name with each angry chop of her knife.

 

 

To The End of the Land

Based on David Grossman’s novel

Adaptation and Direction Hanan Snir

Set Design Roni Toren

Music Ori Vidislavski

Movement Miri Lazar

Costume Design Polina Adamov

Dramaturg Noga Ashkenazi

Lighting Design Roni Cohen

Cast: Efrat Ben Zur as Ora, Dror Keren as Avram, Amnon Wolf as Ilan,  Daniel Sabbag as Ofer, David Bilenca as Akiva, Guy Messika, Rinat Matatov, Amos Boaron, Harel Murad, Nir Barak, Eldar Brantman, Vitaly Podolsky

 

 

Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including intermission

To The End of the Land runs through July 27, 2017

 

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NYIT Award Nominees 2017: Off-Off Broadway’s Finest

NYIT logoBelow is the list of nominations for the 13th annual New York Innovative Theater Awards, which celebrates the best of the city’s independent theater  — aka Off-Off Broadway. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on September 25th, 2017.

OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE

Matt Harrington, Suzy Jane Hunt, Chelsea Melone, Susan Neuffer, Jacob Perkins, Rob Karma Robinson
In the Room, Kelli Giddish with Slant Theatre Project, in association with Wheelhouse Theater Company

Michael Broadhurst, Curzon Dobell, Ken Forman, Benim Foster, Allen McCullough
Men of Tortuga, Living Room theatre

Brittany Allen, Vinie Burrows, Ugo Chukwu, Constance Cooper, Milo Cramer, Fernando Gonzalez, Jonathan Gordon, David Greenspan, Tommy Heleringer, Chris Henry, Veronica Hunsinger-Loe, Hannah Mitchell, Caitlin Morris, Craig Mungavin, Jeanna Phillips, Madeline Wis
Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time, New Saloon Theater Co. in association with Emily Kaplan & Immediate Medium

Maia Bedford, Aaron Casey, Shabazz Green, Chris Gwynn, Marcie Henderson, Greg Horton, Brandi Knox, Billy Lowrimore, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Sarita Amani Nash, Warren Nolan, Jr., Chinua B. Payne, Tony Perry, Joi Danielle Price, Vanessa Robinson, Alicia Thomas, Cartreze Tucker
Raisin, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Adam Baritot, Jefferson Behan, Amber Dewey, Samuel Floyd, David Fuller, John Jeffords, Zack Krajnyak, Samantha Kronenfeld, Lorinne Lampert, Tom McDonough, James Neufeld, Chrysten Peddie, Catherine Purcell, Mary Thorne, Tyler Whitaker
Sweeney Todd, Theater 2020

Raquel Chavez, Shannon Condon, Kate Eastman, Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy, John Hardin, Patrick Harvey, Brian Demar Jones, Joe Jung, Peter Molesworth, Catherine Mullins, Andrew L. Ricci, Sam Richardson, Nora Rickey, Kate Ross, Will Sarratt, Caroline Smith, JT Stocks, Corey Whelihan
The Tempest, Smith Street Stage

OUTSTANDING SOLO PERFORMANCE

Dandy Darkly  
Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth!, Dandy Darkly

William DeMeritt  
Origin Story, Old Sound Room

Mariah MacCarthy
Baby Mama: One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People, Caps Lock Theatre

Christine Renee Miller  
Such Nice Shoes, FrokieCo.

Andrew W. Smith  
The Gun Show (part of the Women in Theatre Festival), Project Y Theatre Company

Liz Stanton
The Woman Who Was Me, Convergences Theatre Collective

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE

Jack Horton Gilbert
Marian, Or The True Tale of Robin Hood, Flux Theatre Ensemble

Nico Grelli
The Jamb, Hard Sparks

Michael Kingsbaker
The Red Room, The Shelter

Warren Nolan Jr.
Raisin, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Jeremy Tardy
Dark Night Bright Stars, Yara Arts Group in association with La MaMa ETC

R. Scott Williams
Boys of a Certain Age, Willow Theatricals

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A LEAD ROLE

Carla Briscoe
Wine and Spirits, Red Shark Productions

Arlene Chico-Lugo
Evensong, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Ashley Griffin
Hamlet, A.N.O.N. Productions

Meghan E. Jones
The Red Room, The Shelter

Sarah K. Lippmann
Three Sisters, Obvious Volcano in association with Maggie Cino

Moira Stone
Three Sisters, Obvious Volcano in association with Maggie Cino

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE

Christopher Borg
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, Retro Productions

Zachary Clark
King Lear, The Secret Theatre

Griffin Hennelly
Koalas are Dicks, Randomly Specific

Zack Krajnyak
Sweeney Todd, Theater 2020

Jacob Perkins
In the Room, Kelli Giddish with Slant Theatre Project, in association with Wheelhouse Theater Company

Jason Pintar
The Underpants Godot, The Secret Theatre

Matthew Trumbull
Marian, Or The True Tale of Robin Hood, Flux Theatre Ensemble

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE

Ivanna Cullinan
Three Sisters, Obvious Volcano in association with Maggie Cino

Sharvari Deshpande
The Queen, Aman Soni in association with Juggernaut Theatre Co. and Theater for the New City

MarieLouise Guinier
Evensong, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Hannah Mitchell
Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time, New Saloon Theater Co. in association with Emily Kaplan & Immediate Medium

Samantha Schiffman
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Gallery Players

Kara Young
In the Event of My Death, Stable Cable Lab Co. in association with IRT Theater

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY / MOVEMENT

Hettie Barnhill
The Cabaret At The End Of The World, Hard Sparks

Tamrin Goldberg
Raisin, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Lucia Knell
For Annie, The Hearth

Rocio Mendez
Marian, Or The True Tale of Robin Hood, Flux Theatre Ensemble

Sarah Sutliff
Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, Rebel Playhouse

Jeremy Williams
The Woman Who Was Me, Convergences Theatre Collective

OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR

Dev Bondarin
Raisin, Astoria Performing Arts Center

David Drake
The Jamb, Hard Sparks

Morgan Green
Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time, New Saloon Theater Co. in association with Emily Kaplan & Immediate Medium

Ashley Griffin
Hamlet, A.N.O.N. Productions

Adam Knight
In the Room, Kelli Giddish with Slant Theatre Project, in association with Wheelhouse Theater Company

Emma Miller
For Annie, The Hearth

Jeremy Williams
The Woman Who Was Me, Convergences Theatre Collective

OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN

Russ Bockemhuel & Luther Frank
Titus, New York Deaf Theatre

Joe Cantalupo
The Red Room, The Shelter

Catherine Clark
Koalas are Dicks, Randomly Specific

Scot Gianelli
#liberated, The Living Room

Kate Jaworski
The Woman Who Was Me, Convergences Theatre Collective

Marika Kent
Now is the Time, Little Lord in association with Abrons Arts Center

OUTSTANDING COSTUME DESIGN

Joseph Blaha
The Queen, Aman Soni in association with Juggernaut Theatre Co. and Theater for the New City

Karen Boyer
Now is the Time, Little Lord in association with Abrons Arts Center

Izzy Fields
Anais Nin Goes to Hell, Manhattan Theatre Works (MTWorks) in association with Goode Productions

Jason E Frey
Hedda (Gabler), Wandering Bark Theatre Co.

Emily Oliveira
Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time,
New Saloon Theater Co. in association with Emily Kaplan & Immediate Medium

Jeannipher Pacheco
Raisin, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Emily Rose Parman
Much Ado About Nothing, Hudson Warehouse

OUTSTANDING SET DESIGN

Christopher Bowser
The Red Room, The Shelter

Jack and Rebecca Cunningham
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, Retro Productions

Meg McGuigan
Koalas are Dicks, Randomly Specific

Lawrence E. Moten III
Raisin, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Frank Oliva
#liberated, The Living Room

Reid Thompson
Empathitrax, Colt Coeur

OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN

Aidan Meyer
The Red Room, The Shelter

Matt Otto
Empathitrax, Colt Coeur

John Salutz
The Cabaret At The End Of The World, Hard Sparks

Daniel Steffey
Titus, New York Deaf Theatre

Jeanne Travis
The City that Cried Wolf, State of Play Productions Inc

Emma Wilk
Raisin, Astoria Performing Arts Center

OUTSTANDING INNOVATIVE DESIGN

Lianne Arnold
for Projection Design
Such Nice Shoes, FrokieCo.

David Bengali, John Erickson, Reid Farrington, Jorge Garcia-Spitz, David Mauro, Dan Monceaux, Leegrid Stevens
for Video Design & Animation
The Dudleys!, Loading Dock Theatre Company

Samantha Blain, Kristopher Dean, Claron Hayden, Casey Scott Leach, Carli Rhoades, Mikayla Stanley
for Puppets
Whales, Hit The Lights! Theatre Co.

Russ Bockemhuel & Luther Frank
for Video Design
Titus, New York Deaf Theatre

Karen Boyer
for Puppets
Now is the Time, Little Lord in association with Abrons Arts Center

Sara Slagle
for properties
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, Retro Productions

OUTSTANDING ORIGINAL MUSIC

Melody Bates & Rebecca Hart
The Cabaret At The End Of The World, Hard Sparks

Samantha Blain, Kristopher Dean, Claron Hayden, Casey Scott Leach, Carli Rhoades, Mikayla Stanley
Whales, Hit The Lights! Theatre Co.

Rachel Blumberg, Dandy Darkly, Bryce Edwards & Adam Tendler
Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth!, Dandy Darkly

Deepali Gupta
Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time, New Saloon Theater Co. in association with Emily Kaplan & Immediate Medium

Julian Kytasty
Dark Night Bright Stars, Yara Arts Group in association with La MaMa ETC

Daniel Steffey
Titus, New York Deaf Theatre

Clara Strauch
The Tempest, Smith Street Stage

OUTSTANDING ORIGINAL SHORT SCRIPT

Ryan King
Antares Returning a part of The Spring Fling: Rebound, F*It Club

Dan Moyer
All Is Bright a part of The Spring Fling: Rebound, F*It Club

Charlie O’Leary
Precious Body a part of Landmarks & TRANSformations, Project Y Theatre Company

Junshin Soga
One Fine Day, Junshin Soga

Christopher G. Ulloth
Bi-Cycle a part of Landmarks & TRANSformations, Project Y Theatre Company

Kathleen Warnock
How to Get Married in 5 Steps Over 17 Years a part of
Landmarks & TRANSformations, Project Y Theatre Company

OUTSTANDING ORIGINAL FULL-LENGTH SCRIPT

Melody Bates
The Cabaret At The End Of The World, Hard Sparks

William DeMeritt & Elia Monte-Brown
Origin Story, Old Sound Room

Lawrence Dial
In the Room, Kelli Giddish with Slant Theatre Project, in association with Wheelhouse Theater Company

Mariah MacCarthy
Baby Mama: One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People, Caps Lock Theatre

Morgan McGuire
The Red Room, The Shelter

Aditya Rawal
The Queen, Aman Soni in association with Juggernaut Theatre Co. and Theater for the New City

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE ART PRODUCTION

Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth!
Dandy Darkly

The Infinite Wrench
New York Neo-Futurists

Kevin!!!!
Recent Cutbacks

Landmarks & TRANSformations
Project Y Theatre Company

Now is the Time
Little Lord in association with Abrons Arts Center

Rules
The New Stage Theatre Company

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF A MUSICAL

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
The Secret Theatre

The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit
The Workshop Theater

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth
Rebel Playhouse

Ragtime
The Gallery Players

Raisin
Astoria Performing Arts Center

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
The Gallery Players

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A PLAY

Hamlet
A.N.O.N. Productions

King Lear
The Secret Theatre

And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little
Retro Productions

Much Ado About Nothing
Hudson Warehouse

The Tempest
Smith Street Stage

Three Sisters
Obvious Volcano in association with Maggie Cino

OUTSTANDING PREMIERE PRODUCTION OF A PLAY

In the Room
Kelli Giddish with Slant Theatre Project, in association with Wheelhouse Theater Company

Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time
New Saloon Theater Co. in association with Emily Kaplan & Immediate Medium

The Red Room
The Shelter

The Underpants Godot
The Secret Theatre

The Woman Who Was Me
Convergences Theatre Collective

Whales
Hit The Lights! Theatre Co.

And She Would Stand Like This Review: LGBTQ House of Euripides, Snap

“Greek tragedy meets Harlem ball scene. Fantastic,” RuPaul Tweeted succinctly after seeing “And She Would Stand Like This.” The Harlem-based Movement theater company’s adaptation of Euripides’ “The Trojan Women,” which has opened at A.R.T./NY, is inspired by “Paris is Burning,” the 1990 film documentary by Jennie Livingston that chronicled the elaborate culture of drag balls by LGBTQ+ people of color in the 1980s.

And so the show begins with the fierce members of the House of Hecuba bedecked in fabulous attire posing down a runway one by one to pulsating house music, flashing disco lights, and deafening whoops and applause from the audience.

After that prologue, the runway becomes a hospital waiting room and the dancers, characters in an updated tragedy. In Euripides’ play, the Greeks have conquered Troy, killed the men, and imprisoned the Trojan women, who await further atrocities. In playwright Harrison David Rivers’ adaptation, the Greek killers have been replaced by an unnamed disease.

In Euripides’ play, Talthybius is a herald informing the dethroned Queen Hecuba what the Greeks will do to her and her children – death or enslavement. In Rivers’ adaptation, Talthybius (Reggie D. White) is a doctor delivering unwanted diagnoses.

The Greek chorus are a group of LGBTQ+ people of color whom Hecuba (Julienne Brown), once queen of the ball, had taken under wing. They are given the names Baby, Miss Scott, and Grace. They tell stories of their childhood.

Each of the ten characters in “And She Would Stand Like This” correspond in more or less clever ways to the characters in “The Trojan Women,” some more of a stretch than others. Menelaus, King of Sparta, becomes Elena (Florencia Lozano), the hospital’s administrator – and a woman who knew Hecuba before she transitioned to a woman. In Euripides, Menalaus was the husband of Helen, the “face to launch a thousand ships.” Here, the high-heeled Elena is mother to Honesto (Michael-Anthony Souza) who has a second identity, unknown to his mother…as Helen.

In his adaptation, Rivers gives implicit respect to his characters — poor, queer New Yorkers of color – by placing them in a classic tragedy that for 2,500 years has been populated by gods and goddesses, kings and queens. Director David Mendizabal has assembled a cast that does justice to Rivers’ conceit; some of the performers are themselves trans, all are people of color. Stand-outs include the three members of the Greek chorus — Darby Davis, Tamara Williams and Cornelius Davidson — who werk it to Kia LeBeija’s vibrant choreography in the prologue and then tell Rivers’ stories with a simplicity that makes them all the more moving. The star of the show is Julienne “Mizz June” Brown, who persuasively carries the weight of Hecuba on her shoulders. It’s refreshing to see such characters, and such performers, on a New York stage.

The fusion of Ancient Greece with 1980s Harlem doesn’t always play well. It takes some adjustment to go from the high-energy prologue to the staid pace of the tragedy. And the mix of dictions can be jarring. One moment Hecuba proclaims: “I see the work of gods who pile tower-high the pride of those who were nothing, and dash present grandeur down.” Another moment, she says: “A bitch can’t catch a motherfucking break!”

There is too much of the high diction, which can sound like a bad translation, and at the same time too much shouting. The most striking moments are told quietly and plain. Baby (Cornelius Davidson) tells us he got his nickname from his mother, who would hold his head between her hands and say “Make sure you don’t lose this”; she would put her ears to his heart and say “Make sure you listen to it beat, because it’ll always tell you the truth.”; she would grab his penis in the tub and say “This ain’t no weapon. Your Daddy ain’t figured that out yet.”

And occasionally, the mix of the Ancient and modern, the Queens and queens, feels just right:

“Have you ever noticed how a word begins to lose all meaning when it is said over and over again?” all three members of the chorus say in unison.
Grace: “A word like grief.”

Baby: “Grief.”
Miss Scott: “Grief.”

All: “Grief.

Grief

Grief

What a funny sounding word.”

 

And She Would Stand Like This

A.R.T./NY Theatres

Written by Harrison David Rivers

Directed by David Mendizabal

Choreographed by Kia LaBeija

 

Set Designer: Paul Tate DePoo III

Lighting Designer: Brian Tovar

Costume Designer: Anitra Michelle

Sound Designer: Sinan Refik Zafar

DJ/Prologue Composer: Byrell the Great

Cast: Julienne “Mizz June” Brown as Hecuba, Cornelius Davidson as Baby, Cherrye J. Davis as Andromache, Darby Davis as Miss Scott, Florencia Lozano as Elena, Ashton Muñiz as Cassandra, Michael-Anthony Souza as Honesto/Helen, Dasan Turner as Astyanax, Reggie D. White as Talythybius, and Tamara Williams as Grace.

Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission

Tickets: $20-$25. “A minimum of 15 tickets per performance will be pay-what-you-can.”

“And She Would Stand Like This” is on stage through  August 6th, 2017

 

Spoon River Review: The Dead, Singin’ and Regrettin’

In “Spoon River,” we meet a town full of drunks, hypocrites, home-grown philosophers, resentful husbands, frustrated wives, an arsonist, a killer, and dozens more – all of them dead…and all of them singing and fiddling and stomping with glee.

As part of their month-long residence at Signature Center, Canada’s Soulpepper theater company has created a lively, joyful musical adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, the celebrated 1915 book of poems by more than 200 residents of the fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois – or more precisely, residents of the graveyard in the town; the poems are expanded tombstone epitaphs

Theatergoers are led through that graveyard before we are shown to our seats, past black-suited funeral directors, and an open casket with a dead woman named Bertie.

Bertie is portrayed by Hailey Gillis, and we won’t see her again for some 90 minutes, when she crawls out of a wooden casket on stage to sing a beauteous hymn to life and beauty and the kisses of vanished lips – the last of the characters, portrayed by 19 cast members, to tell her story.

Composer Mike Ross and director Albert Schultz have done a masterful job of selecting the poems, some of which are spoken, some set to an original score. Much of what Ross has composed is what used to be called hillbilly music, but that doesn’t do justice to the range of genres and the depth of talent that put them over, from Miranda Mulholland’s exquisite violin playing and operatic soprano to Alana Bridgewater’s bring-down-the-house gospel. (see the video below.)

At least one of the poems is both spoken and sung:

Didymus Hupp (Daniel Williston), the first of a quartet of drunks, says

“Like If God is all and in all, as I opine

Then God is also in quinine.

Also in whisky, and also in wine….”

Then one by one, the other drunks join him to sing the stanza, accompanied by bass and mandolin.

There are other clever groupings: A toothless Don Juan, followed by several of the women he deflowered in his prime; a series of married couples, side by side in their coffins (as if we are viewing them from above), vituperative and resentful even in death, or still loving and grateful.

There is humor lurking in the grim tales and sad regrets voiced by individual characters: The town’s telephone operator Edith Bell (Sarah Wilson), after recounting some scandals, observes that “the commandment not to judge was made impossible by the telephone.” Margaret Fuller Slack (Alana Bridgewater), wanted to be a novelist, and married a rich druggist because he promised her a life of leisure, and instead gave her six children. The lesson she has learned in the grave:

Hear me, ambitious souls,
Sex is the curse of life!

If the pile-on of graveyard observers starts to feel too rich, and the songs too repetitive, what will surely remain a fond memory after theatergoers depart (the theater!) are the rompin’, stompin’ hootenannies, when the entire cast of 19 gather,  reassuring us that the dead can have fun.

Soulpepper in Bryant Park

Spoon River

Soulpepper on stage at Signature

Adapted from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” by Mike Ross and Albert Schultz; Composed by Mike Ross; Directed by Albert Schultz

Cast: Alana Bridgewater, Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, Hailey Gillis, Stuart Hughes, John Jarvis, Richard Lam, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Jeff Lillico, Diego Matamoros, Michelle Monteith, Miranda Mulholland, Gregory Prest, Jackie Richardson, Mike Ross, Paolo Santalucia, Brendan Wall, Daniel Williston and Sarah Wilson

Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.

Tickets: $20 to $55

Spoon River is set to run through July 27, 2017

NYMF Review: Temple of the Souls. A Romeo and Juliet romance in 16th Century Puerto Rico

“Temple of the Souls,” a musical about a doomed, Romeo and Juliet romance in 16th century Puerto Rico between a Spanish conquistador’s daughter and a Taino, begins with a thrill. The cast, dressed in the naguas (loincloths), masks and straw headgear of the indigenous people of the island, dance sensuously and athletically to a tuneful melody driven by an infectious beat.
Here’s what that opening number, “Yucahu,” sounded and looked like in rehearsal, which gives just a hint of how exciting it is in performance

These are Taino Souls, they tell us in song, haunting a cave in the rain forest of the El Yunque mountains, a sacred place called the Temple of Souls. It is sacred, we’re told later, because the cave’s walls are full of paintings and carvings that tell the history of the Taino people, a history that climaxed in Spanish discovery, conquest, enslavement and genocide.
Everything about the opening number is promising; it promises an enlightening and entertaining journey through Taino history and culture.
One of those cave paintings, explains a guide leading modern-day tourists in the next scene, recounts the story of the forbidden love between Amada and Guario. “Legend has it that they are the parents to many of us … the blending of two worlds, the Mestizo race of Puerto Rico.”

Little in the nearly two hours (without intermission) that follow the opening number in “Temple of the Souls” quite matches it. The largely predictable story of Amada and Guario is dramatized without much nuance and performed mostly with the kind of exaggerated clarity normally reserved for children’s theater. (I suppose “Temple of the Souls” is appropriate for children, save perhaps for about a minute of fairly explicit lovemaking.) Many of the songs owe less to Puerto Rican culture than to the cult of American Idol, generic pop ballads that end in sustained notes demanding applause.

Still, “Temple of Souls,” one of the 20 full productions in this year’s New York Musical Festival, is worth seeing – and worth developing further – thanks not just to the opening number, but to Enrique Brown’s choreography throughout, the colorful eye-catching visuals by the design team (costume designer Lisa Renee Jordan; projection designer Jan Hartley; scenic designer Jennifer Varbalow; lighting designer Jason Fox), and several stand-out performances, especially Lorraine Velez (not to be confused with her twin sister Lauren Velez) as Amada’s mother, who has been forced to pretend to Amada that she is only her nanny, her Nana, because she is Taino.
It would be difficult to ignore the appeal of Noellia Hernandez as Amada and Andres Quintero as Guario, and hard to help the chills when, in the face of the Spaniards’ cruelty, they sing “Love is stronger than death,” or exclaim: “The mestizo history of Boriken will live on forever.”

Temple of Souls is on stage at Theatre Row through July 23, 2017, as part of the New York Musical Festival.

NYMF Review: The Fourth Messenger. Buddha as a 21st Century Woman

 

The story of the Buddha informs this intriguing and well-produced musical at the New York Musical Festival about a modern-day female spiritual leader. But it’s not until the last fifth of the show that we realize what aspect of the Buddha’s life most struck Tanya Shaffer, who wrote the earnest script, and Vienna Teng, who composed the delightfully eclectic score. It was when future Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who had been sheltered from the world by his father the king, left his home and family behind to help alleviate suffering in the world.
How would we feel if a 21st century Buddha sacrificed their connections to their loved ones for the sake of strangers? And would we feel differently if that Buddha were a woman?
Is it possible, the authors ask in a program note, for someone to be both enlightened and flawed? “And how can we integrate the Buddha’s principle that attachment causes suffering with the intuitive notion that it is those very attachments that give meaning to our lives?”
All of these are substantive and provocative questions. The challenge is how to address them in a musical.
In “The Fourth Messenger,” Raina (Samia Mounts), an intern at “Debunk Nation Magazine,” convinces her editor Sam (Alan Gillespie) to let her investigate the spiritual teacher, Mama Sid (a terrific Nancy Anderson.)
“What do you have on her?” Sam asks
“A hunch.” Raina says of Mama Sid “she’s hiding something.”
And so she is, as we learn after Raina becomes ensconced with Mama Sid and her followers.  I won’t say more except that the big revelation definitely took me by surprise, but doesn’t pass the plausibility test.
If the twist makes the plot of “The Fourth Messenger” less sturdy than its themes, the musical is very nearly redeemed by its musical numbers. Director Matt August and choreographer Natalie Malotke put the show’s talented nine-member cast to good use, and musical director Jesse Lozano makes the most of Vienna Teng’s music, a pleasing mix of heavenly hymns, folk, rock, jazz, ballads and delicious touches: When there’s a flashback to an old flame, he sings a song tinged with tango; when the singer is remembering a young child, the song sounds like a nursery rhyme.

There is enough beauty here that my hope is “The Fourth Messenger” lives on past the New York Musical Festival — after extensive rewrites.

video from a rehearsal:

The Fourth Messenger is on stage at Theatre Row through Sunday, July 23, 2017

Watch Spamilton in Bryant Park

The cast of the Hamilton spoof, Spamilton, performed at the Broadway in Bryant Park concert this week a medley including “Lin-Manuel As Hamilton,” “1776,” “What Did You Miss,” and “Rap Battle” — Hamilton tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda with Spamilton lyrics by Gerard Alessandrini, best-known until now for Forbidden Broadway.

Watch the three videos beginning with the opening number from the show, which spoofs the opening number of Hamilton:

How does a whipper snapper student of rap
and a Latin
trapped in the middle of a manhattan

Flat win
Broadway accolades
while other writers kiss
the corporate dollar
grow up to be a hip-hop op’ra scholar?

 

This blue collar
shining beacon
puerto rican
got a lot farther
by being a lot smarter
by stretching rhymes harder by being a trend-starter.

 

The second song spoofs Thomas Jefferson’s song “What’d I Miss?” (This one is close-captioned.)

So what’d you miss? What’d you miss?

The lyrics go by so fast You are in the abyss

I see you sittin’ there and looking befuddled I guess my diction is sloppy or muddled

We’re telling a complex plot

In the third video, “Rap Battle,” Nicole Vanessa Ortiz sets what must be a world speed record for her rapping.

The lyrics in the video above include “Lin-Manuel” rapping:

I am not throwin’ away my spot
I am not throwin’ away my spot
I compose like Debussy
But it comes out like BIG Juicy
And I love rapping the way he taught

I am not stoppin’ the way I rap
Till I turn showtunes upside down

 

I reviewed Spamilton when it opened at the Triad. Now it’s at the 47th Street Theater — down the block from Hamilton.

The cast members performing in Bryant Park:

Tristan J. Shuler, Chris Anthony Giles, Cameron Amandus, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, Aaron Michael Ray, and Fred Barton on the piano.

Watch Immigrant Artists Sing and Dance

Watch the video below for highlights of the concert that concluded the Immigrant Arts in America Summit. The summit was a two-day event that included panel discussions, a speech by John Leguizamo, the formation of the Immigrant Arts Coalition — and the free concert at the Robert Wagner Jr. Park, the stage framed against a backdrop of New York Harbor, between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The dancers, singers, and musicians came from around the world (The I’s alone: Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Ivory Coast.)

Groups participating:
Amerike The Golden Land band from National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene
Kimberley Locke
Kaleidoscope Russian youth folkdance group
Cast of “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” from the Irish Rep
The Soledad Ensemble
Kairos Italy Theater
Turkish American Repertory Theater
The Cumbe Center for African and Diaspora Dance (Kotchegna Dance Company)

John Leguizamo on his life, career, being a theater nerd, and the coming power of Latinos

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“We’re the kind of people that Trump wants to keep out of the U.S.,” John Leguizamo says in the video below, about his family, who immigrated to New York from Colombia (“the country, not the university”) when he was three years old.   The actor, writer, producer and Tweeter extraordinaire (as he was introduced) gave the keynote speech at the Immigration Arts Summit, held at the Museum for Jewish Heritage on Monday.

Leguizamo at podiumLeguizamo recounts his childhood in the multicultural Jackson Heights, Queens, and how he became interested in making a life in the arts, which his family didn’t support.

“When I told my father I wanted to be an actor, he said ‘why can’t you be a garbage man or a substitute teacher, something with dignity. If you’re in a union, you can’t be fired.’”

He first began performing at PS 122, the performance art space – “you knew it was performance art, because the cast outnumbered the audience.”

“In the late 70s, we weren’t trying to ‘build a brand’ or get Instagram followers. We were trying to get art (and get laid) — but mostly make art (and get laid.)”

Pacino and LeguizamoWhen he started getting movie roles, “I thought they were beneath me…My problem was I was a theater actor, and theater actors think they’re morally superior to movie actors. For theater nerds like me, it’s about being raw and truthful, not good-looking or charming, or a celebrity.”

He quoted Tennessee Williams: “The theatre is an art form. Remember that. It is a vast undertaking, much bigger than all of us who work in it. Of course we are going to fail–we are taking on a huge task, an almost impossible one.”

Although he’s appeared in some 100 movies, Leguizamo said his career is an example of what not to do – he turned down the Oscar-winning movie “Philadelphia,” for example, to play Luigi in Super Mario Bros.”

Leguizamo

Leguizamo has performed six one-man shows on stage, three of them on Broadway. (Read my reviews of Ghetto Klown — in which I also talk about the 1990 “Mambo Mouth,” his first — and Latin History for Morons, his latest, earlier this year.) He began doing them, he says, so that he wouldn’t have to compromise his art, he could improvise all he wanted (something Al Pacino stopped him from trying to do in “Carlito’s Way”), and so he wouldn’t have to just play hoodlums.

“One out of every six Americans is Latin, why aren’t we represented on TV accordingly? Why does Hollywood ignore us? … The Latinos I grew up with are funny, complicated, intellectual. I never see Hispanic characters portrayed that way.

“Of the almost 70 million Hispanics in the United States, almost 10 million are immigrants, and that my friend is the reason why Republicans want to keep us out of the country, because Hispanics overwhelmingly vote Democratic.”

Later, in a question and answer period, he was asked whether he has considered running for office. “I’ve thought about it.”

Watch his full 20-minute speech in the video below, including brief impersonations of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and (sort of) Tennesee Williams.

Ticket Giveaway: Indecent

Indecent Dance Photo

Ticket Givewaway: Win two tickets to see Indecent for free. I loved this show, a fascinating backstage tale written by Paula Vogel and wondrously staged by  Rebecca Taichman (who won a Tony for it) about a century-old Jewish drama called “The God of Vengeance.” That Yiddish play featured a scandalizing kiss between two women, which resulted in the Broadway cast being prosecuted for obscenity. Indecent explores a range of frighteningly relevant issues,  and it is at times inexpressibly heartbreaking. But it is not only enlightening and moving; it is rousing entertainment; with so much dancing and singing and toe-tapping music you’re likely to remember it as a musical.

I was delighted Indecent was given a reprieve — the producers had announced it would end June 25 , but then decided to extend through August 6th.

And I’m  even more delighted to offer a pair of tickets. To enter the contest for the tickets, just answer this question:

What is your favorite show that explores serious issues in an entertaining way?

Update:  I am asking for you to talk about how a show is serious AND also entertaining. (Some of you have only been answering how it’s serious.)

The Rules:

  1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post, because I will choose the winner at random, using Random.org, based on the order of your reply, not its content.
  2.  But you must answer the question, complete with description, or your entry will not be approved for submission.
  3. This contest ends Wednesday July 19, 2017 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing no later than noon the next day. You must respond within 12 hours or I will pick another winner.

 

The winner will get a voucher for two tickets to see Indecent between July 26 and July 29. (The voucher must be submitted by July 21st.)

 

Update: There are two winners, chosen at random on Random.org based on the order of their reply:

Erin Quill, number 12 in order of reply.

Mike Ming, number 45.

Discount codes for the rest of you, to save up to 35 percent on tickets through August 6, 2017, when Indecent ends on Broadway.
Balcony seats from $39
Mezzanine seats from $71
Select Orchestra seats at $89

3 WAYS TO BUY YOUR TICKETS:
1. ONLINE: Click Here
or Visit TelechargeOffers.com & enter code:
INLSP110
2. BY PHONE:
Call 212-947-8844 & mention code:
INLSP110
3. IN PERSON: Print this offer & bring to CORT THEATRE, 138 W. 48th St. NY, NY

 

 

 

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