Time of Women Review: Belarus Free Theatre Vs. Tyranny

“Time of Women,” a play in the Under the Radar festival based on the true story of three women journalists and activists imprisoned by the Belarusian dictatorship for protesting the fraudulent presidential elections of 2010, differs from most of the previous works by the Belarus Free Theatre that I’ve seen in New York. There is no extensive dance-like movement or elaborate use of theatrical metaphor, as in such works as “Trash Cuisine,” which was presented at La MaMa in 2015. But in its own way, “Time of Women” is just as powerful, or even, given the timing, even more so.

Belarus Free Theatre was founded in 2005 in Belarus, a former part of the Soviet Union that is now widely viewed as the most repressive and backward nation in Europe. Many consider the members of Belarus Free Theatre to be heroes for standing up to the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, whose regime arrested and eventually banned the troupe. Though the husband and wife founders Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada have been political refugees in England since 2011, they continue to oversee productions that have toured 42 countries – and that continue underground, in private apartments, in Belarus.

It was in Belarus in 2014 that “Time of Women” debuted, which may be why, in the 40-seat Shop Theater at the Tisch School of the Arts, the setting is a simple apartment, where the actresses depicting  Irina Khalip, Natalya Radina and Nasta Palazhanka gather for a holiday reunion. There is a Christmas tree near the couch. But the most prominent pieces of furniture in the apartment are a three-tiered bunk bed whose bottom “bed” is the floor, and an office desk. The bunk bed represents the prison where the women were confined, and their everyday activities – drying hair after a shower, baking a cake – mix uneasily with their recollection of their time imprisoned, which they relate (in Russian with English surtitles) but also relive, lying on the bed in a strained and strange light, unable to separate their past from the present, the living nightmare of the confinement with their daily waking life.

After a while, a young man passes through the apartment and sits at the desk. He is Orlov, the bureaucrat who interrogates them one by one, as he casually slurps instant noodles and tries both the carrot and stick approach – if they only sign a statement, they can be released instantly, and be back with their ailing mother or their husband, beaten up during a peaceful protest. If they don’t sign, their ovaries will rot in prison, and they will never be able to have children. At times, he sounds reasonable; at times, he yells in their faces, making ugly threats. But his paroxysm of angry shouting is nowhere as terrifying as the final, desperate scream by Nasta.

“Time of Women” feels like an accurate depiction of the surreal life under a capricious, power-hungry head of state, and Belarus Free Theatre offers a role model for creating art in the face of authoritarian opposition.

Time of Women was presented for six performances through January 15, 2017.

Written by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada
Director Nicolai Khalezin

Cast: Maryia Sazonava (Iryna), Maryna Yurevich (Natalya), Yana Rusakevich (Nasta), Kiryl Kanstantsinau (Investigator)

 

 

Latin Standards Review: Lesbian Comic Marga Gomez, Like Her Father (without the mustache)

marga_gomez-latin-standards“Latin Standards,” which is Marga Gomez’s 12th solo show — and, she tells us, her “final farewell concert” — is a hilarious memoir, part of this year’s Under The Radar festival. “I’ve been under the radar for 30 years,” she says, after introducing herself as Cuban, Puerto Rican and lesbian: “I don’t want to surprise any out-of-towners….Mike Pence could be here.”

But more than a stand-up routine of topical humor, the show is a coming-of-age tale that pays touching tribute to her father, who went by the stage name Willy Chevalier. A singer, songwriter, impresario, and comedian, Chevalier (born Willy Gomez) was a fixture in the Latin nightclub circuit in New York of the 1950s and 60’s.

His daughter punctuates her stories with projected photographs of her family. There is her father, a Cuban charmer with a pencil mustache, an immaculate dresser who wore a pocket handkerchief and smoked with a cigarette holder. Next to him is Marga’s mother (whom she never names in the show but which an Internet search reveals as Margarita Estremera)  – the kind of person who, by the evidence of the photographs, used to be called a blonde bombshell; Marga describes her as “a dancer who wanted to be an actress and grew up poor in the slums of Puerto Rico.”

The title of the show refers to the Spanish-language songs that her father composed (“En Ultimo Escalon” and “De Mi Para Ti,” for example.) Rather than sing the songs, she introduces them, explaining how they came to be, and then, while we hear them via recording, she recites their lyrics in English.

People used to remark on how much the daughter resembled her father – “Willy Chevalier without the mustache” — and Gomez drives home the similarities with her parallel tale of her breaking in as a stand-up comic at a gay Latino drag bar in San Francisco called Esta Noche.

Esta Noche is no more – its New York equivalent, Esquelita, has also shut down — and we sense a parallel here, too, in her father’s struggles to keep going after the disappearance of the Latin nightclubs in New York. There are priceless scenes of Willy painstakingly teaching his young daughter how to make coffee –“Most important Marga: The cafe has to be Cafe Bustelo…Café El Pico is mierda” – and then of Willy making sure Marga wakes him up at the ungodly hour of noon so that he can make it to an audition as the spokesman for Café El Pico.

In “Latin Standards,” Marga Gomez offers nostalgia for what once was – and also for what may soon no longer be. “This is the first time I’ve gotten out of bed since November 8,” she says, before making pointing jokes about the threats of deportation.

Gomez says she will stop doing solo shows because “I think I might possibly have peaked in 1997 when I played Jane Edmunds in Sphere” – a movie role in which she received at least a good several seconds of screen time.

Once senses, though, that Margo might secretly be as optimistic and persistent as her father Willy, especially when she tells us: “Sign my mailing list so you never miss any of my future Final Farewell Concerts.”

 

willy-chevalier-and-wife

 

Latin Standards is on stage at the Public Theater through January 15.

Mata Hari and Secondary Dominance Reviews: Prototype Festival “Operas”

I once asked Luciano Pavarotti what “opera” means, a question that made him momentarily look lost. Opera in Italian literally means “work,” he replied, but you don’t need to define it. Farmers play opera to increase milk production, he told me. “Even cows understand opera.”

What would Pavarotti, and those milk cows, make of Prototype, which calls itself “the premier festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre”? Is that the same as opera? The festival, which runs through January 15, is in its fifth year, and is presenting seven full-length works. I went to two of them

 

Mata Hari

Click on any photo by Paula Court to see it enlarged

We first see Mata Hari in a French prison condemned to death for espionage. The most surprising aspect of her situation in this work is not that her jailer is a nun, Sister Leonide, who swears and smokes. It is that the title character, portrayed by Tina Mitchell, doesn’t sing. That seems unusual for an opera, which is what the creative team labels it, more or less: Composer Matt Marks calls “Mata Hari” in a program note “my first serious opera-theatre piece,” and Paul Peers, both the librettist and the director, writes that “my goal was to push the boundaries of the operatic form” (by which he means he includes “various technologies,” i.e. video.)

A non-singing Mata Hari makes sense thematically in their 90-minute work, since this “Mata Hari” offers a decidedly feminist spin on the woman most often depicted as a femme fatale — an exotic dancer and seductress turned cunning double agent. Here, she is a victim of the men in her life (hence, denied a voice.) We see her victimization from the opening, when the male characters, all dressed in identical military uniforms, strip her of her fanciful tiara and elegant dress, and leave her in nothing but a slip. (The image is striking, as are several other moments in the piece, primarily because of designer Lucrecia Briceno’s chiaroscuro lighting.)  Then in non-chronological flashbacks and in testimony before her interrogator, we learn of her abusive first marriage to a military captain who abandons her, and takes away their children, forcing her to take up dancing (and…mistressing?) to survive; the departure by the subsequent love of her life, the injured soldier Vadim; and the double-dealing and lechery of the French and German military men who recruit her. Treated abominably in prison, she reveals at the end a final and bitter long-ago betrayal.

The non-singing Mata Hari is also part of the composer’s eclectic musical approach, combining traditional arias both forceful and tender by classically trained singers (most notably Mary Mackenzie as the nun) with contemporary melodies by the jazz singer Tomas Cruz as Vadim, with a repertoire of avant-garde sounds from punk-rock to standard modern dissonance by the four-piece band (electric guitar, violin, piano and accordion)

I wish I could say all of this struck me as refreshingly innovative, but it would be easier to feel that way if Mata Hari hadn’t already been the subject of everything from Greta Garbo’s 1931 film (“Mata Hari”) to Paulo Coelho’s 2016 novel (“The Spy”)

 

Mati Hari is on stage at HERE through January 14.

 

 

Secondary Dominance

“Secondary Dominance” is a compelling example of my long-held belief that nearly any endeavor, no matter how awful it sounds in theory, can wind up wonderful if it’s done well enough by passionate, creative and talented people.

Sarah Small calls her piece a “multimedia concert in 13 micro movements.” It is an hour long, without a discernible plot or point, without even discernible words in English, and filled with enough familiar avant-garde tropes to keep your newly arrived hipster happy for months:

Lots and lots of videos — long shot video projections of mountains and waves, close-up videos of snakes and frogs, videos of naked people singing, including a really fat woman; and videos of the live performers as they perform in front of the screen.

An older couple posing for a series of tableaux-vivant typical of how young people view old people (in one the woman knits.)

A half-naked, bald bearded man in pancake makeup.

Three ballet dancers who sit down on the stage to take off their leg warmers and put on their ballet slippers.

Three other women attired alternatively in peasant dresses, bangles and flowers in their hair, or, like, Sarah Small herself, wearing comic hero style silver sneakers.

A clue to why this all works is in the title, which is a play on the phrase, secondary dominant, a musical term. The music is what matters in this piece, and the music is gorgeous. The combination of flute, cello, percussion, the harmonizing vocals, even the electronic sounds – music that, as the production puts it, “synthesizes genres from Balkan folk to contemporary chamber, industrial, renaissance, rock, rap, and punk” – is mesmerizing enough to justify (or at least excuse) all the visuals. It becomes a sonic adventure, a journey through dreamland.  I wouldn’t call “Secondary Dominance” the 21st century’s “Fantasia,” but that’s because the century is so young.

 

Secondary Dominance is on stage at HERE through January 14, 2017

Blueprint Specials Review: World War II Soldier Musicals, Entertaining Civilians At Last

In the first public performance of the four surviving musicals commissioned by the U.S. Army during World War II to boost morale among the troops, “Blueprint Specials” could not be more deftly staged, from the creation of a pop-up theater on the hangar of an actual World War II aircraft carrier (the Intrepid, now a museum) to the casting of both bona fide Broadway stars (Will Swenson, Laura Osnes) and active duty military officers and Armed Forces veterans.

Click on any photograph by Ryan Jensen to see it enlarged.

 

The production by the Waterwell theater company for the Under The Radar Festival, weaves together the four musicals – “About Face,” “Hi, Yank!,” “P.F.C. Mary Brown” and “OK, USA” – into what feels like a variety show, straight out of vaudeville, complete with a title card placed on an easel announcing each scene/skit/musical number, and a tone that ranges from wiseass to risqué, campy to cornball, hilarious to heartfelt. The 24 musical numbers include nine by Frank Loesser, who went on to create the musicals Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed Without Really Trying. But it’s as interesting to hear the five equally tuneful melodies by somebody named Ruby Jane Douglass, and wonder: Whatever happened to her? The choreography is styled after the original by Jose Limon, by current members of the Limon Dance Company.
In true G.I. tradition, the opening skit mocks the army, showing what it took to get the Army to put on the musicals, starting with their approval by General George Washington, who is promised it will be ready in a month (“Our songwriters have already finished the theme song: ‘You Gave Me A Thrill at Bunker Hill, When I Saw the Whites of Your Eyes, Baby’”), a promise made as well to Abraham Lincoln, and then to General John Pershing during World War I.
Osnes and Swenson are the principal characters for “PFC Mary Brown,” in which Swenson (Hair) portrays the god Jupiter, and Osnes (Cinderella) is Pallas Athena, who is so bored with life as a goddess, that she travels to Earth an joins the WACs (Women’s Army Corps, as explained in the helpful glossary in the back of the program.)
Quinn Mattfeld, who was in both “Pal Joey” and the latest “The Cherry Orchard” on Broadway, gives the stand-out Broadway performance as a comic character named Sad Sack. But Emily McAleese-Jergins is especially stirring in Loesser’s “Poor Lonely MP”; her bio lists her as on active duty and a vocalist for the West Point Band. Indeed, there was something unavoidably inspiring about the finale involving the entire 34-member cast, some dressed in street clothes to indicate they are civilians, and the others dressed in the uniforms of one of the four branches of the military represented on the stage.
The show is called Blueprint Specials because, as Waterwell explains, the shows, once created, were turned into “blueprints” for soldiers themselves to put on in the field. “The Army packaged and distributed them as a complete script, with score and orchestrations, scenic and costume drawings, and instructions for how to put on the show.”
Are these Blueprint Specials replicable now beyond the few performances of the theater festival? It would not surprise me at all if this soldiers show were given a promotion to Off-Broadway. What is even more likely to come out of this production is another smart theater company performing at the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum, which is big enough to be its own floating Theater Row.

The Blueprint Specials

Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum

i.e.

uss-intrepid-at-pier-86

Pier 86, West 46th Street & 12th Avenue
Adapted and Directed by Tom Ridgely
Originally conceived by The Special Services Division, Army Service Forces, 1944-45
Book principally by Arnold M. Auerbach
Original choreography by José Limón
Music Director Sonny Paladino
Choreography by Patrick McCollum
Scenic & Costume Design by Andrea Lauer
Lighting Design by Simon Cleveland
Sound Design by Josh Millican
Properties Supervisor Eitan Negri
Choreography for “Report from the Caribbean” and “Ballet” in the style of José Limón by Colin Connor and members of the Limón Dance Company
Cast includes: Laura Osnes (Cinderella, Bonnie and Clyde) and Will Swenson (Hair) are Quinn Mattfeld (The Cherry Orchard, Pal Joey), Jenny Florkowski (Wicked), Emily McAleese-Jergins (vocalist for the West Point Band), James Edward Becton (U.S. Army Veteran) and Waterwell ensemble members Hanna Cheek (The Pumpkin Pie Show) and Kevin Townley (The Talent Show). Additional casting includes U.S. Military veterans as well as Active Duty and Reserve Service Members: Brad Bong, Adrienne Brammer, Hugh Cha, Jennean Farmer, Sandra W. Lee, Nelly Saviñon, and Robert Soto; as well as civilian artists Mark Banik, Kate Berman, Lyndsey Brown,Taylor Crousore, Ethan Hardy, Kurt Hellerich, Melissa Rose Hirsch, Rich Hollman, Dea Julien, Erica Page, Eddie Rodriguez, Kelsey Shaw, Mandy Striph, and Jennifer Joan Thompson.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Theater tickets: $25
Blueprint Specials is scheduled to run only through January 11.

The theater is in the back, behind this airplane.

The theater is in the back, behind this airplane.

The Present with Cate Blanchett: Review, Pics

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh

About halfway through The Present, an adaptation of Chekhov’s first play, Cate Blanchett, as a Russian general’s widow celebrating her 40th birthday, shoots off a shotgun, dances atop a table, and pours vodka on her head. It is an attention-grabbing moment in Blanchett’s Broadway debut performance – and one of the show’s few unmitigated pleasures…

There are those who are fans of the two-time Oscar winner who will find her performance entertaining enough to obliterate any other concerns, or who have the patience and curiosity to appreciate the production’s complex texture and thought-provoking themes of loss, regret, paralysis, desire, loneliness, fear of change — who will feel good for having experienced Quality Theater.  And then there are the rest of us, who wish it were shorter.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Lula Del Ray Review: Manual Cinema Made on Stage Before Our Eyes

In this opening show at this year’s Under the Radar festival, a Chicago-based theater company with the completely apt name of Manual Cinema allows the audience at the Public Theater to watch a silent film about a lonely, star-gazing girl in the American Southwest of the 1950’s, and simultaneously to watch the making of that film.

The busy cast and crew of Manual Cinema employ the kind of overhead projectors familiar to anyone who has attended public school for a shadow puppet show that uses  cardboard cutouts, paper patterns, and two live actresses, to tell the story of Lula Del Ray. A teenager living alone with her mother in a trailer on a vast field of satellite dishes in the middle of the desert, Lula develops two obsessions – the possibility of space travel, and a country music duo she hears on her scratchy radio, the Baden Brothers.

 

After a fight with her mother, she runs away from home to the big city to find the Baden Brothers. There, she finds a telephone book in a phone booth (clear signs this is a fairy tale of olden times), and visits the address of every “Baden” in it, with no success. Finally, she sees a sign that they are performing at a concert venue. But the concert is sold out. So she goes to the roof, and enters the theater’s duct system, crawling through the tunnel until she spies her idols in their dressing room – discovering they are no more real than…the cardboard cutouts used to depict them. Despite the disappointment, “Lula Del Ray” ends happily, Lula’s other obsession paying off in the long run.

The story is in places lovely and funny and touching, but it is not the reason “Lula Del Ray” has traveled the festival circuit for five years. I’m not sure the story of “Lula Del Ray” would work as a regular film, surely not as a regular silent film, despite the delightful accompaniment by an array of sound effects, and an original score for guitar, cello, and percussion.

The essential charm of the show rests in the marvel of ingenuity on display, the rushing around of the actors and puppeteers and… overhead projector operators, to reproduce manually, on a simple screen placed on stage, the catalogue of modern film techniques – long shots of beautiful sunsets, extreme close-ups of Lula’s expressive face, panning, fade-outs, Dutch angles, tracking shots….Somebody at Manual Cinema clearly went to film school.

Lula Del Ray 

Under the Radar at the Public Theater

Conceived by Julia Miller
Based on original text by Brendan Hill
Designed and Directed by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia Miller
Original Sound Design by Kyle Vegter with Ben Kauffman
Original Score by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman with Maren Celest, Michael Hilger, and Jacob Winchester
Puppeteers Lizi Breit, Sam Deutsch, Sarah Fornace (Lula del Ray), and Julia Miller (Lula’s Mother)
Music Performed by Maren Celest (Sounds, Vocals), Michael Hilger (Guitar, Percussion, Vocals), Kyle Vegter (Cello, Vocals), and Jacob Winchester (Guitar, Bass)
Running time: 75 minutes
Tickets: $25
Lula Del Ray runs through Saturday, January 14

Confucius: Review, Pics, Video

confucius-50

The strength of Confucius, a 90-minute dance piece featuring 60 performers from the China National Opera and Dance Drama Theater, is not found in its efforts to present Confucian philosophy and biography, nor even Chinese history and culture, none of which is especially illuminating. The show’s strength lies in its visual splendor and gymnastic choreography.

Making its American debut this week at Lincoln Center , the piece premiered in Beijing in 2013, conceived by Kong Dexin, its elegant 34-year-old director and choreographer. One could argue she was born to do this show. Ms. Kong is a direct descendant (a “77th generation descendant”) of Confucius (in Chinese known as Kong Zi, or Master Kong), the teacher and philosopher who lived 2,500 years ago.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Liu Haidong to see it enlarged.

 

God of Vengeance Review: Broadway’s First Lesbian Kiss, This Time in Yiddish

God of Vengeance

 

What’s most interesting about the century-old play “God of Vengeance” – and, let’s face it, the reason why a new production of it is opening tonight, at La MaMa – is that it inspired “Indecent,” an Off-Broadway hit by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman that is transferring to Broadway in the Spring. “Indecent,” the backstage story of Sholem Asch’s controversial play, is a sweeping tale taking place on two continents over 50 years, packed full of characters, with deft stagecraft and smartly choreographed musical numbers.

The New Yiddish Rep’s production of “God of Vengeance” itself is not sweeping. There are no musical numbers. This is not the 1922 Broadway production, which was in English and resulted in criminal prosecutions for obscenity, the focus of Vogel’s play. The play at LaMaMa is the Yiddish version that Asch wrote in 1906, “Got Fun Nekome.”

Click on any photograph by Ronald Glassman to see it enlarged.

Yekel (Shane Baker) wants only the best for his daughter Rifkele (Shayna Schmidt) – which is to say, he wants to marry her off to a Talmudic scholar. This is a challenging mission for him, since Yekel owns a brothel. The house of ill repute is actually part of his own home, downstairs from the apartment where he and his wife Sarah (Eleanor Reissa) labor to keep their daughter virginal, apart from his business. It doesn’t work. A downstairs denizen seduces Rifkele — not a whorehouse patron, but one of the prostitutes, Manke (Melissa Weisz.) It might be unfair to use the word seduce, since it’s clear before we even meet Manke that Rifkele is in love with her, and Manke seems too fresh-faced and optimistic to do anything underhanded.

There is much that is fascinating around, and underneath, this play, a glimpse at a different time, place and set of values. Much is made of the Torah that, at the suggestion of Reb Eli (David Mandelbaum), Yekel has commissioned a scribe to create, a show of piety to get him in good with the respectable Jewish community.

With an English translation projected onto the backdrop, one can sit back and enjoy the Yiddish rhythms of a play that debuted in New York right around the corner from La MaMa, at one of the Yiddish theaters that then lined Second Avenue. It’s also intriguing to learn of the varied backgrounds of the New Yiddish Rep’s cast. The trashy blonde harlot Hindel is portrayed by Caraid O’Brien, an Irish-Catholic actress born in the city of Galway. Several actors are also (former) members of the Hasid community.

All this, however, is another way of saying that the New Yiddish Rep’s production of “God of Vengeance” is full of historical, cultural, political, even anthropological interest, but has less to recommend it theatrically. The productions of a century ago were said to be a mix of melodrama and “poetic realism” with “symbolic power” (this from a 1918 essay by Abraham Cahan, editor of The Jewish Daily Forward, which served as an introduction to the printed play.) The 2016 production at La Mama offers only the melodrama. There are some lovely moments, such as, yes, when the two women kiss; and several performers who stand out: Eleanor Reissa, who is also the show’s director, credibly underplays her role as the mother, avoiding stereotype. But the 11-member cast is uneven, and the show has a healthy quota of beating of brow and of breast. And, although the running time is only 95 minutes with no intermission, the three-act play feels longer than it needs to be. They often seem to keep on talking after we’ve gotten the point.

It is probably unfair to blame this all on the New Yiddish Rep, which has done more than its share in reviving and reinventing a lost culture, producing acclaimed Yiddish-language versions of “Waiting for Godot” and “Death of a Salesman,”

Times, and audiences, have certainly changed. Yet, there is some evidence that the play can combine its context with its content so that both are engrossing to a 21st century New York audience. That evidence is “Indecent,” which begins previews at the Cort Theater on April 4th.

God of Vengeance
At La MaMa 74A East 4th
By Sholem Ash
Directed by Eleanor Reissa
Sets and costumes by Vicki Davis. Lighting by Kirk Bookman, Sound by Jesse Freedman. Original score by Billy Martin.
Cast: Shane Baker; David Mandelbaum; Caraid O’Brien, Eleanor Reissa; Rachel Botchan,Shayna Schmidt, Melissa Weisz, Luzer Twersky, Amy Coleman, Mira Kessler and Eli Rosen.
Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.
Tickets: $36
“God of Vengeance” is on stage through January 22, 2017

Bright Colors And Bold Patterns Review: Gay and Loud, Funny and Wounded

Nobody would ever confuse ‘Bright Colors and Bold Patterns,” a gay comedy written and performed solo by Drew Droege, for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Yet oddly, there were moments in this funny show that brought O’Neill’s tragedy to mind.

A loud gay man named Gerry arrives in Palm Springs, California for the wedding of two friends he doesn’t seem to like very much anymore. He’s especially resentful of the wedding invitation, which asked the wedding guests to “please refrain from wearing bright colors and bold patterns.”

His hosts (perhaps luckily for all involved) are not present at the patio where the play takes place, decked out with a bright blue umbrella and bold patterned pillows. There are just two fellow (unseen) wedding guests, Dwayne, an old friend of Gerry’s, and Dwayne’s new boyfriend, Mack, who is 23 years old, which is some two decades younger than the two other men — or as Gerry puts it when Mack is out of earshot: “We’re an entire Abigail Breslin older than him.”

Gerry drinks too much and talks too much; makes too many (witty) insults, and too many obscure pop culture references (at least I hope they’re supposed to be obscure) that Mack doesn’t get. “Mack, stick with me,” Gerry says at one point, “you’ll have a PhD in Gay by Sunday afternoon.” It’s a reliable source of humor that even Gerry’s most bizarre references are for real. There really was a weird Lifetime movie called “Invisible Child” in which Rita Wilson plays a mother who “has two children but thinks she has three. Yeah, she talks to this kid, hugs it, feeds it lunches.” (The program should include a glossary of his references, but then they’d have to expand beyond the current single page.)

Amid the rushing stream of his chatter emerge Gerry’s reasons for his dislike of his hosts: Brennan, whom Gerry sees as about as personable as an ottoman – “sure, he’s gorgeous, but so is San Diego…” – has turned his fiancé Josh, who was once Gerry’s most outrageous friend, into somebody equally bland.

“Aren’t you just a little bit scared that all of a sudden, we’re in this race to be normal, whatever that means. Is that really the goal?” He elaborates later: “Now that we can get married, I feel this weird pressure to want that. And I don’t, you know? At least not right now.”

Droege thus turns his modest, amusing solo turn into something of a bold argument for immodest (or at least unconventional) behavior in an increasingly conventional society.

“Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” is too long. It’s listed everywhere as 70 minutes, but I clocked it at 90. Perhaps as the run reaches its final week, the actor, like the character, is getting carried away.

But the turn it eventually takes is worth the wait, helped along by the direction of Michael Urie, best-known for “Ugly Betty,” who was just recently on stage in a different look at gay life, “Homos.” Day turns into night, the drugs come out, and truths and old wounds emerge. Gerry Howard is no Mary Tyrone. His truths are small, and he is aware of his self-delusions and deceptions. He is also no ghostly presence. He is fleshy, campy, catty, jokey, and, yes, bright and bold, and we’re better off for having met him.

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns
Barrow Street Theater
Written and performed by Drew Droege
Directed by Michael Urie
Set designed by Dara Wishingrad
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $35-45
“Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” is scheduled to run through December 30, 2016.

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns ickets and schedule

 

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Othello with David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig: Pics, Review

While the “Othello” at the New York Theatre Workshop can be uncomfortable and even annoying, it is impossible for me to dismiss Sam Gold’s often startlingly effective production, even when David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig’s ultimately thrilling performances are initially in danger of being upstaged by the lighting and the seats.

Craig, a British actor best known as the most blunt and muscular in the James Bond franchise of films, is a blunt and muscular Iago. David Oyewolo, a British-Nigerian actor best known for his portray of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the film Selma, is a staggeringly expressive Othello. Both actors, with long experience on the stage, are technically proficient — Oyewolo affects a slight African accent, for example, which seems a conscious choice to emphasize his outsider status. But there is a visceral connection here, with each other, and with the audience.

Full review at DC Theater Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged