Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

59E59 Theaters

A Life of Stark Contrast: Alice in Black and White


The saying goes that well-behaved women seldom make history. History however doesn’t always take note of those women who, without fanfare, go about their lives, following their passions, and quiet unintentionally changing how things are done. These women enter one world and leave another — one that has been made better by their presence. Such is the story of Elizabeth Alice Austen (played by actor and Looking for Lilith Theater Company Outreach Director Jennifer Thalami Kepler), as told by playwright Robin Rice in Alice In Black and White, now playing at 59E59 Theaters.


 Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis

Alice’s passionate love affair with the captured image began when she was a child of eleven, and as she grew bigger, so did her ambitions as a photographer. What did not appear, much to her family’s chagrin, was a passion for potential suitors. Despite being considered quite a catch and pursued by men with famous last names that inspire awe even today, Alice was impressed by neither their charms nor their fortunes. In fact, after seeing one friend after another get married, have babies and lose their vital spark, Alice decided that all she needed to be happy was her camera, some film slides and a bicycle.

Enter Gertrude Tate, played here by Laura Ellis who also plays Alice’s childhood friend Julia. Where men failed to measure up, Gertrude excelled. She and Alice spent the next several decades together trying to scrape by after Black Thursday stripped them of their wealth and they were left with little other than the Austens’ Staten Island home, which had been in the family long enough to claim George Washington as a guest.


Trina Fischer and Joseph Hatfield

Rice reveals Austen’s history one piece at a time, separating the years with another story — one writer’s search in 1951 for the negatives rumored to be buried somewhere in the Historical Society Museum basement. With dogged persistence, the writer, Oliver (Joseph Hatfield), pursues the negatives — and also, possibly with manipulative intent, the docent/would-be assistant curator (Trina Fischer).

This secondary storyline is an odd fit for the play, the sadly single lovelorn docent, Sally, a foil for the self-fulfilled and steadfast Alice. Sally has her own strengths, but she clearly wishes for another life — exactly the kind of life that Alice eschewed. Whether the writer, Oliver, sees that and takes advantage of it or is genuine in his initial flirtations is unclear. The effect he has on Sally is not.


Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis

More characters exist within the main body of the play than there is room for actors, so by necessity every performer other than Kepler takes on multiple roles. It works fine for some, like Shannon Wooley Allison, whose characters require vastly different costumes as well as strikingly different temperaments. In the case of actor Ted Lesley, who portrays both Austen’s grandfather and a suitor within the same timeframe, the transition was more muddled and complicated. The change of a cardigan to a suit jacket and cap wasn’t quite enough to mark the change on sight, and it took a few exchanges to un-muddle the situation.

Actor Megan Adair stood out as Violet, another of Alice’s friends. As predicted, Violet’s marriage has made her like a flower wilted on its stem, tired, worn and deeply unhappy. Adair captured the look of a woman desperate to maintain the appearance of tranquility while a storm secretly raged inside.


Shannon Woolley Allison

There is little in the way of stage setting for reasons that become obvious when seated in the small theater, but director Kathi E.B. Ellis and Scenic Designer Christé Lunsford found a wonderful work-around, projecting Austen’s actual photographs onto the rear wall, the “scenery” changing with every scene and allowing the actors to interact with them. It’s both a smart use of space and a remarkable way to see Austen’s photographs themselves, large as life if not bigger.

Alice in Black and White works well as commentary on the evolution of women’s rights in America, from Victorian times through the 1950s. It also makes a moving point about the women of Austen’s generation, who were brought up being told they were worth only what their wombs could produce and then found themselves equal victims of the Great Depression, unable to work either for lack of skills or an ingrained belief that it wasn’t seemly for a woman.

Austen’s life’s work came to be recognized only as her life was coming to its end, leaving her without knowledge of how valuable she was to both photography and historic preservation. It’s wonderful, then, that a group like Looking for Lilith could bring Austen’s story to a wider audience, and that they found a place to tell her story.

Photos by Holly Stone
Opening: L-R: Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis

Alice in Black and White
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Playing through August 14, 2016

Two From East To Edinburgh (Fringe)


Every year 59E59 Theaters hosts a number of plays on their way to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, giving the small productions an opportunity to breathe on their feet with an objective audience and the theater-going public an opportunity to see interesting, alternative theater. Here are two on the current roster:

Screw Your Courage (Or The Bloody Crown)
Written and Performed by Khlar Thorsen
Directed by Eileen Vorbach

Thrice to thine and thrice to mine/ And thrice again, to make up nine./ Peace! the charm’s wound up.  Shakespeare’s Macbeth– a witch

Screw Your Courage is an episodic play, each portion cleverly prefaced by witchy rhyme, part Shakespeare, part Thorsen. It tells the first person story of Claire who becomes obsessed with playing Lady Macbeth for the attention, the dress, and the party when she’s a girl “maybe even mommy will come to see me and even she will think I’m great”(mommy is angry, neglectful; mentally ill), and for the challenge as a working actress. Beneath these reasons lies the belief that she too is cursed and inhabiting the role may save her.

We see Claire in class, in hospital with mom (a bit more madness might help explain), at a quirky workshop, and disastrously trying to produce The Scottish Play herself when unable to secure the role. Finally, as an International Acting Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, she gets her wish. Kind of.

Author/actress Khlar Thorsen was, in fact, a Fellow in the program she illuminates rather well. She plays all the characters in what is, presumably, her own story. Some are cliché (an acting partner who sounds like a stupid Brando); others exhibit freshness (the domineering leader of a theater workshop.) Accents are well executed. The piece flows with Shakespearean-like speeches adding color and glue.

Thorsen has the perfect exit line as originally intoned by her director at The Globe, but alas goes beyond it nine or ten sentences. ‘A case of not seeing the forest for the trees, perhaps. An interesting and entertaining concept that could be better.

Director Eileen Vorbach manages the switch from theatrically witchy to “real” life. Visually, only the poetry is engaging.

Costume design is hugely unflattering.
Uncredited Sound and Light Design are excellent.

Photograph of Keenan Hurley by Avery Bart

The Man Who Built His House To Heaven
Written and Performed by Keenan Hurley
Directed by Patrick Swailes Caldwell and Emily Mendelsohn

Bob was born in a bad neighborhood, but has lofty aspirations. Pursuing someone ostensibly ‘above him,’ he promises a new car, home, and lifestyle. They marry. As everyone likes him, he gets on…well enough to buy a nice little house which the couple floods with kids. “We’re too many,” he tells his wife. “I’m tired of all these bunk beds. Bob (as in Bob the Builder) builds another storey on his home.

Meeting our protagonist in short shorts, a tee shirt, and laced shoes does not fit the image of a conservative, working class schlub with dreams. Only when he covers these with a shirt, pants and utility belt does the author/actor appear to be Bob. Use of a microphone when playing the protagonist while turning away to voice other characters is also, at first, disconcerting. Like the outfit, however, this evolves.

Sound is imaginatively and skillfully employed. Manipulating a couple of onstage sequencer pedals, Hurley records and plays back his own layered sounds and voice to create both percussive rhythms and a cacophony of invisible players.

Finishing the next level, Bob is still unsatisfied. The house, he says, has potential. Each child must have his/her own room. Another storey is needed. We hear frenzied direction to construction workers in tandem with his kids’ friends’ comments their parents think Bob is crazy.

The structure becomes a tower, replete with games, rides, restaurants, athletic fields…others move in. Bob keeps building. His wife and children don’t see much of him. Shades of The Twilight Zone. Eventually he breaks through to Heaven and we hear the echoing voice of God questioning the enterprise. The end features Bob’s musings on legacy.

This is a well written piece with spiffy details. Dramatic notes: A flashback to promises made his wife is unnecessary and disruptive, we have no idea it’s God, when the Lord first speaks, Keenan Hurley doesn’t come into his own until he ‘changes into Bob. Once that occurs, however, he’s quirkily appealing, holding our attention throughout.

Directors Patrick Swailes Caldwell and Emily Mendelsohn utilize only an orange ladder and a tool box to terrific advantage as various props and structural ‘sets’ as well as occasional metaphors. Performance is smoothly executed even when the sequencer is needed.

Opening Photograph Khlar Thorsen by Karen Santos Photography

59E59 Theaters presents East To Edinburgh
New York’s Annual Edinburgh Festival
Through July 31, 2016
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Click to view Venue Calendar for other plays

High Stakes in Hero’s Welcome


Alan Ayckbourn’s been in the business of writing plays for a long time. One of his newest, “Hero’s Welcome,” is now playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off-Broadway series. His other show currently running, Confusions, features the same actors, but where that is a series of sometimes-serious, sometimes-silly but always insightful plays about perspective, Hero’s Welcome is another kind of beast. Still full of wit and charm, it takes its characters to much deeper, darker places before the lights go out.

Military man Murray (Richard Stacey) returns from years abroad with not only wartime baggage, but a bright and beautiful new bride named Madrababacascabuna (Baba for short, played by a truly delightful Evelyn Hoskins). This return to his hometown is meant to be a step forward for the newlyweds, a chance to put the violence of their pasts behind them and work to build something together.

While she dives into English lessons, he has his parents’ old inn in mind as the project to make him feel home again. There is, however, a problem. Two actually, in the form of the town mayor Alice (Elizabeth Boag), his long-ago jilted fiancée, and Brad (Stephen Billington), their former mutual friend. They’ve had nearly two decades to deal with the aftermath of their relationship choices, but when Murray appears with Baba all of the old wounds are made fresh again, and all the old feuds are back on. Unfortunately, no one seems to have told Murray.

Brad is a spoiled, mean-spirited toff, a betting man, and a sore loser of the worst kind. In Baba he sees a way to hurt Murray for past ills. Stick it to the old man by sticking it to his old lady, as it were. That we don’t know what those past ills may be keeps Murray something of a mystery for the duration of the first act, though he only makes himself more villainous by strong-arming Alice’s meek, toy train enthusiast husband, Derrek (Russell Dixon), into a wager.

As for Brad’s bullied and beleaguered wife, Emma (Charlotte Harwood), it’s unclear whether she knows the full truth behind for her husband’s gruff demeanor around Murray and Alice. She does, however, take quite strongly to Baba and hopes she has found something previously elusive to her: a real friend. Her exposure to the indomitable girl and the effect it has on her creates far-reaching implications.

Hero’s Welcome contains a lot of plot, but it’s beautifully paced, allowing each conversation to flow into the next with hardly a pause. This is achieved by keeping the stage set as three different locations throughout, the closeness required of the actors mirroring the stuffy, boxed-in lives their characters live. Alice and Emma in particular find themselves backed into corners trying to distance themselves from the disappointing men in their lives.

Baba, meanwhile, displays an extraordinary ear for language and meaning, picking up very precise and complex words and becoming adept at stringing them together. Some of the funniest lines in the show are simply reveals of just how sophisticated Baba’s vocabulary has become in such a short time. In fact, she becomes the most articulate speaker of all, despite the thick accent that marks her as an outsider to the rest of the characters. The easy thing would be to suspect Murray and Baba’s relationship is of the mail-order variety — what with her being so much younger than her new husband — but as the show progresses and we see more of their interactions, it becomes clear they are the best-suited couple of them all, language barriers be damned.

Where the first act works in priming each character and making us think we know where things are going, the second very effectively knocks them all down. All except for Baba, who remains decisive and proactive despite mounting hostilities. By the end of the second act one can’t help but consider that she may in fact be the titular hero. Once again, Ayckbourn displays a deft hand at creating strong and complex female characters that you want to keep watching long after the play has finished.

Hero’s Welcome
Written and Directed by Alan Ayckbourn
Playing at 59E59 Theaters through July 3

Photos: Tony Bartholomew

Opening photo: Evelyn Hoskins, as Baba
Photo 1: (L-R) Evelyn Hoskins, as Baba, and Richard Stacey, as Murray
Photo 2: Elizabeth Boag, as Alice
Photo 3: (L-R) Stephen Billington, as Brad, and Russell Dixon, as Derrick

Radiant Vermin – Don’t Ask About the Title, Just Go!


Dispensing with the fourth wall, Jill (Scarlett Alice Johnson) and Ollie (Sean Michael Verey) tell us/enact the curious story of their dream house:

A struggling young couple reduced to living in “the crime capital of the universe,” Red Ocean Estate, Jill and Ollie are in love, about to have their first baby, and, as the British are wont to do, getting on with it despite circumstances.

One day, an unexpected letter arrives from the local council’s D.S.R.C.D.H = The Department of Social Regeneration Through the Creation of Dream Homes, offering a new house, no obvious strings attached. Ollie is convinced it’s a “pathetic telly show,” a joke. Jill insists they check it out.

Driving to the (map enclosed) location, the two discover a new, quite uninhabited development. Finding the door unlocked, they explore the house. Jill loves it. Miss Dee (Debra Baker), ostensibly an official from the Council, appears (out of the audience). Armed with a discomfiting amount of personal information on their lives, she says the couple was chosen in order to attract other, paying inhabitants to the neighborhood by renovating the house. Ollie, it seems, is handy. Jill has taste. The few seemingly harmless stipulations include maintaining discretion and making improvements.


Ollie feels it seems to good to be true… Jill is set on bettering their lives for the baby, however, so a contract is signed. They move in. Ollie tackles wiring and plumbing. That night, they hear sounds coming from the kitchen. Was the back door locked?! Ollie goes down to investigate carrying the only “weapon” he can find, a candlestick. (He describes and mimes every tense move on the way.) The floor is covered with ransacked food. A grey-bearded, probably homeless man comes at Ollie with a knife. In the ensuing scuffle, the vagrant falls, hits his head, and dies.

When, panicked, Ollie and Jill go back down to dispense with the body, it’s disappeared! Additionally, the kitchen has morphed into the Selfridge’s model Jill longed for. Herein lies the tale. We watch as the house is “revised” room by room, as the couple’s lives increasingly resemble a glossy magazine spread; as upscale neighbors move in and property values rise.

The truth, however, as it was proffered in the sixties, is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Our protagonists are in a quandary, both moral and material. They need our help. Don’t worry, there’s no actual audience participation.


Playwright Philip Ridley’s black comedy is timely, original, and skillfully produced. Even when you realize what’s going on, small surprises and manifest reactions make taking the trip a buoyant pleasure. Ridley’s ending is priceless.

Director David Mercatali straddles stylization (exaggerated, precise, sometimes incredibly rapid movement) and naturalism. The empty stage is well utilized with cogent mime. No point in analyzing. It works.

Debra Baker gives us a splendidly sinister, while outwardly proper Miss Dee, then morphs into a second character whose existence, supported by eminently sensitive, realistic portrayal, has us catching our collective breath.

Both Scarlett Alice Johnson and Sean Michael Verey are warm and animated.  Required to flip from narration to participation and back, from quick turns as other characters (especially in a party scene that will make your head spin-the only section which would benefit from slight cutting), they are adept and winning. We feel both for and with them. The casting match is perfect.

Designer William Reynold’s all white stage leaves our imaginations to run wild, concocting what’s described. Ollie’s casual clothes are fine, but Jill’s dark tights and clodhoppers distract, looking wrong throughout.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Scarlett Alice Johnson, Debra Baker, Sean Michael Verey
Other photos Scarlett Alice Johnson and Sean Michael Verey

Supporting Wall, Metal Rabbit Productions, and Soho Theatre presents
for Brits Off Broadway
Radiant Vermin by Philip Ridley
Directed by David Mercatali
59E59 Theater
59 East 59th Street
Through July 3, 2016

Ideation – Smart, Tense, and Timely


Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips), Ted (Michael Ray Wisely), and Sandeep (Jason Kapoor) have just returned victorious from client meetings in Crete that will garner the international corporation for whom they work a great deal of leverage and financial return. They’re high on success and likely jet-lagged. Immediate boss, Hannah (Carrie Paff), and an egotistical Generation Y intern named Scooter (Ben Euphrat) meet the three in a boardroom. (Scooter is quickly dispensed with despite family connections and frankly unnecessary to the piece.)

scooter2Michael Ray Wisely, Jason Kapoor, Mark Anderson Phillips, Ben Euphrat

The team was called back for top secret “Project Senna,” which they began drafting on the flight home. CEO J.D., whom we hear on Skype but never see, expects preliminary concepts in a matter of hours. The pivotal white board reads: ID to Collection to Containment to Liquidation to Disposal. (“to” signifies arrows) Three rules are also listed: No PPT- Power Point, for security. 2. Assume the worst when designing 3. No use of the “N” word. What?

Deciding to work backwards, Ted begins by addressing Disposal, the disposal of 1-2 million bodies. Ideas like cremation, mass graves and burial at sea are proffered, all in an objective, pragmatic, meticulously detailed, business-like fashion. They even make jokes. “Laugh about it, cry about it, the job’s the job,” comments one shrugging.

boardCarrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips, Michael Ray Wisely

Gradually, the group realizes the magnitude and horror of what they’ve been asked to do. “What if they ever have to use the design?” Hannah says warily. “It’s for ‘the infected,’” the answer comes back, referring apparently to the plausible results of biological warfare. “We’re preventing the extinction of mankind.”

Paranoia seeps in. Who knows what? Are there multiple teams? Will people be eradicated after doing their jobs? Is the pressure on because this is not a hypothetical situation? Chart after chart appears on the board. (These add terrifically.) “Country, profit, God, in whose name would such a plan be used?”

coupleJason Kapoor, Carrie Paff

It seems that the married Hannah and Sandeep have begun an affair. Everything one says affects the other more deeply. Their colleagues know but are discreet. (Paff and Kapoor play this beautifully without being overt.)  Briefly left alone, the couple necks passionately (and credibly.)

“Why do you believe we’re building this for the American government?…It’s the most remarkable thing about Americans, you’re so trusting. Someone needs to tell,” Sandeep says when the others return.

Hannah’s knee jerk reaction is to threaten her lover with deportation. He apologizes to the group but insists on taking a walk to clear his head…then disappears. Everyone is alarmed, none more so than Hannah.

twoCarrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips

It’s a snowball downhill from here. Conspiracy theories directed towards fellows seen and unseen ricochet from person to person. Things get heated, then violent. Writing is tight and effective. Nothing happens on the stage that feels unrealistic. Every character maintains his own persona. Brock is overwrought, yet his presumptions are not irrational. Single, he suggests he has the least to lose. Ted, a good old boy with brains, mostly trusts the company, but is provoked. Hannah is torn, vulnerable. She’s struggled to get where she is, but can she accept the assignment? Her mind keeps snapping back to Sandeep. Ted and Hannah have families. How would you react? What would you do?

fightCarrie Paff, Michael Ray Wisely, Mark Anderson Phillips

Acting is excellent across the board. Every consideration and outburst comes from somewhere. Progression of suspicion is almost logical. This is a superbly cast production of actors who work with one another like a humming machine. Focus is riveting. (If Michel Ray Wisley’s southern accent is manufactured, it’s pristine.)

Director Josh Costello gives his players just enough gesture and movement in the confined boardroom to be character expressive. Heat- both sexual and hostile, feels real. Perhaps the highest achievement here, however, is the production’s skilled timing without which we wouldn’t be bound.

Aaron Loeb has concocted a psychologically adept scenario, relevant both as metaphor and conceivable eventuality. Characters are well drawn; backgrounds add to the intriguing mix. One shudders. My only caveat is the ending which, I think, calls for more commitment.

Bill English’s antiseptic set suits the story.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips, Jason Kapoor, Ben Euphrat, Michael Ray Wisely

Ideation by Adam Loeb
Directed by Josh Costello
Produced by San Francisco Playhouse
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Through April 17, 2016

The Good Girl – A Misnomer


We once again find ourselves in the currently popular, grim, post-apocalyptic future. Anjali (Leah Gabriel) lives in a sterile, minimalist apartment, one among hundreds in a hive like edifice. She’s apparently never been outside. The building’s handyman, Ven (Giacomo Baessato), exits the bedroom with a drill, having finished repairs. He finds her baking. Both characters are dressed in today’s casual clothes, the drill is current as are the room’s appliances.

Ven is attracted, awkward. Anjali appears impervious. She insists he go back and check “sequence” again before leaving. He does and returns. From the bedroom, we hear electronic sounds, then a woman reaching orgasm and crying. “Isn’t that irregular?” Ven asks suspiciously. The female he’s been servicing is a sexbot, a robot prostitute for whom the tenant serves as madam.

GG 1

How could an android display such human feelings? It seems that when Anjali has strong emotions, the “girl” picks them up with some kind of osmosis. Tears bring more customers. The sexbot now says “don’t go,” afterwards. Men love it. As people no longer readily experience certain emotions, nor, it seems, physical human contact, thrill and novelty has business booming.

Ven can stop the aberration with one report. The tenant offers him a freebe with her bot. Instead, discovering that Anjali can cook, he blackmails her into feeding him a meal of real food every day – the implication being this no longer exists except perhaps among the upper class. It will, Ven thinks, give him a chance to “get to know” Anjali better. She grudgingly agrees.


Over the course of time, these two cross a bridge of personal contact, partially in order to imbue the sexbot with tendencies she could never ordinarily manifest. Clients increasingly request more dramatic/violent sessions. Anjali and Ven unwittingly create a Frankenstein.

It’s an interesting concept with particulars that will chill. Unfortunately, Playwright Emilie Collyer includes scenes she’s explained in her own mind, but not in narrative. There’s one in a bar bathroom with either two other characters or these two pretending or it’s a dream. Not a clue. In another, the two seem to have been drugged – leading us to falsely believe they’d been caught – wreacking havoc with real and false memories. In a third, domestic issues rise completely without context.

The ending is terrific, but there’s too much ambiguous writing between intriguing premise and imaginative resolution to make the play work.

Both actors take some time to warm up and then, through no fault of their own (Director-Adam Fitzgerald) scream their way through a good part of the proceedings. Surely this is not the only way to show anxiety, confusion, anger and fear. When they have something to get their teeth into, Gabriel and Baessato have good passages.

Photos by Lloyd Mulvey

Joyseekers Theatre presents
The Good Girl by Emilie Collyer
Directed by Adam Fitzgerald
Featuring Leah Gabriel & Giacomo Baessato
59E 59 Theaters   
59 East 59th Street
Through February 28, 2016

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