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Café Play Review: At the Cornelia Street Café, Overhearing Fellow Diners and Inanimate Objects

Café Play is a site-specific work of theater that’s being held at four different times of day in the back dining room at the Cornelia Street Café, with different food choices depending on whether you attend for breakfast, lunch, tea or late-night snack (all frankly paltry, though I did like my crème brulee). Put together by the endlessly innovative theater company This Is Not A Theatre Company (who’ve previously offered a play in a swimming pool, another in a private apartment, and “pod plays” to listen to on the subway and the Staten Island ferry), the conceit of the show is that we the diners are overhearing the conversations of fellow diners, and waiters, and one unwanted intruder (“Please don’t step on me!”)

click on any photograph by Maria Baranova Suzuki to see it enlarged

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Burning Doors Review: Belarus Free Theatre and Pussy Riot Unite to Fight For Human Rights

In “Burning Doors,” Belarus Free Theatre’s latest arresting, arousing, athletic and anarchic play about state-sponsored injustice, one of the eight cast members strips naked as he tells the story of a man who had been sentenced to death by firing-squad for a political crime, but was given a last-minute reprieve. The man was distraught at the thought of having to live on, having made his peace with dying.

The ironic story, as we’re told in a caption when it’s finished, is an excerpt from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. It presents in microcosm both the hypnotic appeal and the challenge of the work by this extraordinary 12-year-old avant-garde ensemble.

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Androboros Review. America’s First Play: Political, Satirical, Scatological

Androboros: Benjamin Strate, Caiti Lattimer, Roy Koshy, Hank Lin

Nearly everything about “Androboros” makes it sound like a must-see show.

It was America’s first published play, printed in 1714, yet there is no record it has ever been publicly performed until this production by the Peculiar Works Project.

The playwright, Robert Hunter, ruled as Governor of New York, and his play is reportedly rooted in stories that are true, bizarre and occasionally scatological.

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

Saloon Theater’s mouthful of a play – “Six Translation of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time” — was a big winner in the 13th annual New York Innovative Theater Awards, which celebrates the best of the city’s independent theater  — aka Off-Off Broadway. Below is the complete list of winners.

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Neighbors Review: America vs. Mexico, via 2 Clownish Stereotypes

With its big clue of a title and its two characters named Joe and Jose, one expects “Neighbors: A Fair Trade Agreement” to be an allegory about the political relationship between Mexico and the United States. But Bernardo Cubria’s new play, running through October 7 at INTAR Theater, is also a broad comedy about the ways Americans and Mexicans perceive one another – or, more precisely, how we misperceive each other.

The play achieves this by a clever trafficking in what may seem at first like uncomfortable stereotyping. Jose (Gerardo Rodriguez) is a poor, earthy Mexican who drinks too much, and curses even more, and sings Spanish songs loudly while he lazily fiddles with a half-broken lawnmower in front of his shack on one side of a creek. On the other side of the creek, Joe (Andrew Blair) is a rich, reserved American who reads the newspaper while lounging in his pajamas on the lawn outside his mansion, occasionally listening to the Beach Boys and reciting Deepak Chopra’s Affirmations.

The stereotypes are deliberately clownish (driven home by Raul Abrego’s cartoonish set), and the playwright has fun with them. At one point, Joe objects to Jose stereotyping him. “If I get annoyed by one of your stupid jokes, you say all gringos are sensitive,” Joe says indignantly to Jose. “But maybe it’s not about ‘gringos,’ maybe it’s just me. Maybe sometimes people have their own personal opinions that have nothing to do with race or culture.”

Jose laughs. “That’s such a pinche Gringo thing to say.”

Despite the deliberate stereotyping, the depiction of Joe and Jose does not cause offense, in part because specific biographical details in the script and the two actors’ anchored performances turn them into credible characters, and in part because “Neighbors” gives us solid if amusing insight into what feels like some genuine cultural differences between the two nationalities. At one point, reacting with well-meaning generosity to Jose’s distress over his broken lawnmower and general state of impoverishment, Joe gives him a gift of $1,000. Jose goes out and spends $200 of it on a stereo. Joe is aghast, though he politely describes himself simply as “confused…It’s just not a very good long-term solution.”
“Yesterday I was crying in front of you and today I’m singing,” Jose replies. “That seems like a solution.”

While arguing over the stereo and their respective attitudes toward money (Jose: “You love money…”/Joe: “I just don’t like waste….”/Jose: “You need to go to Monies Anonymous.”), Joe discovers “energy” (presumably oil) on Jose’s property. Joe makes a deal with Jose to provide the elaborate machinery to extract.

Jose: “You and I, we’re going be good for each other.”

Joe: “Yup.”

Jose:́ “I get you drunk, you show me how to make a lot of money.”

Their comity soon evaporates. “Neighbors” becomes the political allegory we’ve expected all along, with a pointed critique of American exploitation and indifference, unsubtle references to fences and Donald Trump, and the two literally wrestling with one another, comically obvious symbols of two nations who are supposed to be allies.

It’s important to point out that playwright Cubria, who is identifying himself as Mexican (the birthplace of his parents) but grew up in Houston, also establishes some similarities between the two cultures in an astute way: Whenever Joe recites an American aphorism, Jose offers its Mexican equivalent.

“Neighbors: A Fair Trade Agreement” is on stage at INTAR Theater through October 7, 2017.

Inanimate Review: Loving Objects at The Flea

 

“Inanimate,” a new play by Nick Robideau about a young woman who falls in love with a Dairy Queen sign, is most noteworthy for being the first play to be presented in the new building that houses The Flea, the Off-Off Broadway theater founded by Sigourney Weaver and her husband Jim Simpson 20 years ago, with the motto “Raising a Joyful Hell in a Small Space.” Now under the leadership of Niegel Smith, The Flea’s small space has gotten larger: “Inanimate” is playing in The Siggy (named after Sigourney Weaver) one of the three new theaters in the new complex on 20 Thomas Street, four blocks further downtown from its old digs.

“Inanimate” reflects The Flea’s tradition of being untraditional, its eagerness to experiment and explore the outrageous – in this case to dramatize an actual psychological phenomenon that’s been labeled Object sexuality or Objectophilia, which describes people who do not just obsess about an object, but have sexual feelings for it. An article in Psychology Today cited real-life case studies such as Erika LaBrie, “who ‘married’ the Eiffel Tower in 2007 and now calls herself Erika Eiffel.”

In “Inanimate,” Erica (Lacy Allen) is in love with Dee, which is what she calls the sign at the local Dairy Queen in her hometown. She also has the hots for a can opener, which gets her fired from her job as a grocery store clerk when a customer complains. Her behavior also jeopardizes the downtown renewal project planned by her politician sister Trish (Tressa Preston), who is so concerned with Erica’s behavior that she schemes to have Dee demolished.

“It’s not sanitary,” Trish says. “Think of how many dogs have

probably pissed on that sign.”

“So what, I should fuck a guy instead?” Erica holds her own. “Dicks are the literal source of pee. “

“Inanimate” is full of humor, but, much to his credit, playwright Robideau is never mocking. He makes Erica not just sympathetic and credible, but the winner of every argument; he even gives her an ally – Kevin (Maki Borden), an old high school classmate who works at the Dairy Queen. Like Erica, Kevin has just turned 30, and he too has a secret sexual attraction that is looked down upon by the people in their small Massachusetts town – he is attracted to both women and men. Erica is reluctant to confess to Kevin: “…we barely even know each other, no offense…”

“Do six months of daily Blizzards mean nothing to you?” he replies.

When she finally reveals her secret, Kevin is initially confused. If Erica is enamored of Dee because of the way his light hits her, it “hits, like, dozens of people on a nightly basis”

“Sure. And I touch lots of objects every day. Monogamy’s kind of impossible in a relationship like this, so we don’t really get hung up on it.”

Director Courtney Ulrich corrals three “chorus members” to portray the literal objects of Erica’s affection, with special attention to Dee (Philip Feldman) in spot-on multicolored jacket and neon green hair. (Costumes are by Sarah Lawrence.)

But if some of these object personifications are inspired (I was partial to the can opener dressed in sexy black lace and leather), the director also has to take the hit for the highly uneven seven-member cast, selected from the Bats, the resident company at the Flea that is mostly made up of recent graduates. The play could probably benefit from some trimming in any case, but the acting makes the 90 minute running time feel way too long.

Even so, “Inanimate,” intentionally or not, is a pitch perfect choice to inaugurate 30 Thomas Street, since I am surely not the only one who is turned on by the new Flea.

 

 

INANIMATE

The Flea Theater

Written by Nick Robideau and directed by Flea Associate Artist Courtney Ulrich.

Cast: The Bats, the resident acting company at The Flea, including Lacy Allen, Maki Borden, Philip Feldman, Artem Kreimer, Tressa Preston, Michael Oloyede, Nancy Tatiana Quintana, with understudies Marcus Antonio Jones and Alexandra Slater. Creative team: Yu-Hsuan Chen (Scenic Design), Sarah Lawrence (Costume Design), Becky Heisler (Lighting Design), Megan Culley (Sound Design) and Claire Edmonds (Assistant Director)

Inanimate runs through September 24, Thursday–Monday at 7pm, with Sunday matinees at 3pm. (Note: no performances Aug. 31 – Sept. 6 for the Labor Day holiday weekend). Tickets start at $15 with the lowest priced tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Update: Inanimate is now running through October 16, 2017.

Last Ditch Playlist Review: Kiss and Break Up

Last Ditch Playlist pic 1b

Aaron and Wes have broken up, but Aaron can’t seem to let go, in “Last Ditch Playlist,” Brad Baron’s semi-autobiographical play about his first love and his first breakup, which is running through Sunday at TheaterLab. Baron, an actor and writer, stars as Aaron, an actor and a writer, who is writing a play about their relationship and their break-up, entitled “Last Ditch Playlist.” Aaron tells Wes what he’s doing.

“It should make for a good ten minute story,” Wes says, superior-sounding to the end.

“Glad you can condense the story of our entire relationship into just ten minutes,” Aaron replies.

If only. Brad Baron’s play is some two hours long, which feels perhaps twice as long as it should be.

Baron has said that his play asks the question: How do you put back together a broken heart? But the play provoked other questions for me as well. Is it possible for an artist to be detached enough to bring theatrical clarity to the personal confusion in the aftermath of a lost love? And how do I offer constructive criticism about an ambitious, germinating Off-Off Broadway play that straddles the line between brave candor and self-indulgence?

On paper at least, “Last Ditch Playlist” has an intriguing structure, which we’re clued into from the title. Aaron has made a playlist of the songs that Wes told him he should be listening to, which he labels a Last Ditch Playlist. Aaron calls it that because Wes sees Aaron’s efforts at learning these songs as a last ditch effort to maintain the relationship. Near the end of the play, Aaron says: “My memories of you are like a Playlist on Shuffle: Scattered. Arbitrary. Shuffled. I replay the memories of you like they’re my favorite songs.”
And so, like a mixtape, the scenes of the play are presented in some kind of emotional rather than chronological order, introduced by the projection of a lyric or title from a popular song. The songs are from The Beach Boys and the Beatles, Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Herman, Joni Mitchell circa 1971 and EMA circa 2011.
One senses there must be an intelligent correlation between songs and scenes, but this might have been easier to grasp fully if this were a novel. The arbitrary shuffling of the timeline also winds up keeping the audience less invested in Aaron and Wes as a couple
On stage, too many of the scenes feel like filler. There are arguments over films and singers; scenes with secondary characters whom we never see again; an entire subplot of sorts involving the ghost of Aaron’s best friend, who committed suicide in high school. There is even a scene in which the Big Bad Wolf tries to blow down the house of the Three Little Piggies, which is meant to be a dream by Aaron (who performs in children’s theater), incorporating arguments Wes and Aaron have had, but isn’t as clever or funny as it’s supposed to be .
For all these barriers, there are moments in “Last Ditch Playlist” that may stay with you. This is thanks in part to the appealing four-member cast. Aaron (Baron) and Wes (Ross McCorkell) spend as much time smooching as arguing. The play is particularly strong in chronicling familiar events that occur in almost any breakup — Aaron’s friend Lexi (Amy Stringer) talks about how she never liked Wes – and in capturing the swirl of indecision and confusion and pain that at one time or another has pegged all of us as Aarons.

Last-Ditch-Playlist-Production-Photo3

Last Ditch Playlist

Aaron: Brad Baron
Wes: Ross McCorkell
Zara/Lexi: Amy Stringer
Kellan/Willie: Dontonio Demarco
Choreographer: Casey Bagnall
Graphic Design: Sarah Cuneo
Lighting Design: James Johnson
Music and Sound Design: Jason Pomerantz
Video Design: Joseph Prestamo