The Importance of Doing Art
An average looking young guy with an average income, Jack (Tom Morf) is looking to score. One evening in a bar, he observes someone even less attractive than himself (Paul de Vries) with an obviously devoted babe (Emily Ellis) and inquires how his competition managed the attraction. It seems the guy is an artist. “They’re looking for someone daddy can disapprove of,” he’s told, “someone (ostensibly) operating on a plane this meager reality can’t provide.” Eureka.
The unbathed Jack musses his hair, tosses dirty laundry around the apartment, and excitedly fills in his best friend Sam (Nick O’Neil). When Rita (Sara Hendricks) arrives with her friend Vanisha (Susannah Dalton) to see his work, Jack launches into diversionary tactics and ambiguous artspeak. Sam is renamed “Art” by accident, identified as his collaborator and the two embark on full scale deception. Vanisha wants to find representation for Art/Sam. The girls fall in and out of bed.
Eventually actual “art” is needed, of course. Or is it? Vapid pretentions of the market are skewered. Success is a case of “the Emperor’s New Clothes.” The ending is clever. Neither writing nor acting lives up to the promise of the play’s concept, however. Broad stroked rambling and uneven performances hinder a piece that might be both smarter and funnier.
Director Jose Ignacio Vivero-Montevideo uses great imagination with staging. Early characters enter and depart through a refrigerator. Bed scenes are vertical with wonderfully fluid use of sheets. Later, episodic interaction utilizes literal picture frames. Vivero-Montevideo is less skilled with presenting emotions.
Susannah Dalton (Vanisha) and Sara Hendricks (Rita) make the women acceptably, unrepentantly shallow. Both actresses manage to offer credible portrayals without any distinguishing attributes—the nature of the roles. Tom Morf (Jack) is unfocused and too often concerned with the theater audience, playing to us rather than his fellow actors. Nick O’Neil (Sam) does little with his character but play the foil.
The Importance of Doing Art by Susannah Dalton
Directed by Jose Ignacio Vivero-Montevideo
220 East 4th Street
Photographer: Angela Cardenas
Pictured: Tom Morf, Sara Hendricks
“I killed Abraham Lincoln. Who was Abraham Lincoln? At this hour of my death you make mockery of me.” Lights up on the perfectly attired Scott Baker looking very much like Mr. Booth. With flamboyant, purposefully hammy delivery, the actor and author uses part one of his show to dramatize a piece of original rhyming iambic pentameter “since Booth was a noted Shakespearean actor” as it might’ve been presented in the 19th century. Had I not read the liner notes and discovered Baker’s intentions, I’d’ve otherwise commented on his over the top performance. Characterization is that of a believably insane man. Who can know? The writing is an accomplishment.
Parts two, three, and on offer a theoretical alternative to history’s resolution that Booth died in a fire after being cornered in a barn. Baker’s research reveals three aliases and three locations where the fugitive might’ve continued his life until, unable to face his own demons, Booth commits suicide by swallowing a combination of wine and strychnine. The strychnine combined with embalming fluids supposedly mummified the body which was later shown at sideshows before being confiscated. It’s a great story and not as unlikely as it initially seems.
Unfortunately, Baker hops around from time time, from portrayal to telling, inserting magic tricks, recitation, even a bit of music hall song and dance. Lack of linear flow makes the piece both confusing and less compelling than it might be. More specifics and less filler are sorely needed. Acting style, though sporadically riveting, is almost entirely histrionic and unfocused, even when not playing Booth. Direction by Richard Harden is unapparent. Alas.
Bang! The Curse of John Wilkes Booth
Written and Performed by Scott Baker
Directed by Richard Harden
Gene Frankel Theater
24 Bond Street
Photographer: George Koury
Pictured: Scott Baker
Myron the Magnificent purports to be the third generation of “a legendary magic dynasty.” The Lovely Vera, in headdress, bustier and torn fishnets, has “long been a fixture of the Las Vegas show scene.” Together they present what I presume to be a take-off on the kind of bad magic acts handled by such as Broadway Danny Rose (the Woody Allen film). A handkerchief disappears and is recovered, scarves tie and untie themselves, folded notes are read without opening, a knish floats. The magician is as sympathetic as an uncle doing his turn for the family at a birthday party.
Vera wants more of the spotlight and a chance to perform her hand puppetry. She threatens to decamp to Stuey the Stupendous. When Myron gives in, we watch not hand puppetry but silhouetted cut-outs moved behind a shadow screen. The story depicted is as clumsy and weak as its performance. Patter lacks humor, lightness, and warmth. Movement (yes, there are steps!) is awkward. This is not just corny, it’s unsuccessful.
Peter Dizozza on piano and Marc Steve on drums are excellent.
Starring Myron the Magnificent and The Lovely Vera
The Players Theater
115 MacDougal Street
Photographer: Nandita Raman
Pictured: Myron the Magnificent, the Lovely Vera
The painter John Banvard was a 19th century artist and showman whose years travelling on and depicting Mississippi River banks culminated in a ½ mile long, 12’ high panorama. Audiences enthusiastically paid for an event consisting of his narrating a travelogue to music as the piece slowly cranked from one spool to another creating the illusion of floating by on a boat. Banvard successfully took the painting and mechanism abroad. He later set up on Broadway in New York City and competed with P.T. Barnum both with entertainment (Barnum had a museum on Broadway) and the building of an extremely elaborate home on Long Island locals called “Banvard’s Folly.” (Barnum had built himself “Iranistan” in Bridgeport, Connecticut).
Sounds like an interesting story, doesn’t it? Disappointingly, Panoramania, the play it inspired, is a disjointed production with neither smooth through line nor point of view. Sometimes an amiable musical and at others the kind of broad, self-indulgent piece thrown together by unedited college kids, the evening doesn’t hold together. In the first act, brief scenes unnecessarily race back and forth from time to time as if being clocked, leaving sequential confusion in their wake. During the second, several are so long and loose (save us from Queen Victoria’s audience), they feel like filler and cause squirming.
In ten years or so, Playwright David Jackson might pull Panoramania from the bottom of his trunk and with its bare bones, create something viable. Chosen parts of Banvard’s life, hypothetical confrontations with Barnum, changing entertainment morés (the inception of moving pictures) and family issues are the stuff of which good theater is made.
Original Music and Lyrics by Party Folk—Noah Chase and Leah Latella—are widely hit or miss. Consistently buoyant music fares better than lyrics which often push their way into phrasing and sound generic. The rousing opening number and perhaps two others are so well written, one wonders at the disparity. Chase and Latella also play their many instruments onstage and sing. In this they are very fine.
R.J. Vaillancourt (Banvard) works hard in an erratic piece. He has many good, sincere parentheses, paints well in gesture, sings pleasantly and deserves better.
Brandon Zelman (Banvard’s right arm, William Lilliendahl) is a stand-out playing extremely diverse roles. He’s calmly dramatic, funny, or odd, always in the moment, and clearly in possession of skills outranking this production. Direction by Jacob Sexton seems to have involved only blocking, i.e. moving characters around the stage. Acting is either unspecific characterization or unrestrained ham.
Wonderfully conceived projections by Jonathan Bremner (who also executed Sound Design) are handicapped by stage lighting which wash the images out at times to oblivion. This is likely an issue of time and cost.
Isabelle Simone’s Costumes manage the era effectively on an evident budget. The single blaring exception is beards for such as Longfellow, Whittier, Dickens et al which jarringly appear to come from the close-out room of a Halloween store.
The New Ohio Theater
154 Christopher Street
Photographer: Tanner Curtis
Pictured: Sarah Hegarty, Brandon Zelman, R.J. Vaillancourt
The 16th Annual New York Fringe Festival runs through August 25. All pieces play intermittently. This year there are over 180 different pieces to sample at low cost.