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.

Arnulfo Maldonado

Alligator – Powerful, Original, Daring!


The young cast and creative team of New Georges’s production (the debut of Hilary Bettis’s Alligator) creates some of most unnerving, operatic theater I’ve seen this year. Prepare for deception, desperation, primal instincts, wrenching love, graphic violence, astonishing psychological insight and vivid articulation. Add sex, a gun, bloodied animals and relentless surprise – accompanied by trenchant music. Brava.

Whomp! Assailed by electric bass, keyboard and drums, we motley tourists are seduced and galvanized by an evangelistic bally (pitch) Weeeeelcome, weeeeelcome, weeeeelcome ya’ll … I hope ya’ll are ready to be amazed here today. Are ya ready? I said are ya ready? Oh now folks, I can’t hear ya!…Prodded, the audience yells back affirmatively.

If the Florida Everglades had a wrong side of the tracks, we’d be there. Ty (Dakota Granados) has ripped arms, ripped jeans, and ripped boots. He wrestles alligators. ANYTHING at any moment could go wrong! There could be blood! There could be buckets of blood!…


Dakota Granados

At the other side of a circular pit of murky water, his snarling twin sister, Emerald (Lindsay Rico), looks on with contempt. She’s drunk. Always. Emerald, Ty tells us, can read alligator minds. She can also, it seems, summon the creatures. A blazingly primitive dance ensues. In the pit. The girl faces a slatted door from beyond which comes intermittent hissing. We’re riveted.

After an (unseen) show, the misfit siblings blame one another for poor business. Emerald has a mouth like a crude truck driver who swallowed a thesaurus. Having mostly raised themselves, they’re slavishly codependent, though in denial. We don’t learn strengths and burdens till much later. Palpably visceral fighting – in the wet pit – flows organically from expletives. Emerald removes her costume and wig demanding Ty go into town and steal more whiskey. She disdains food.


Dakota Granados, Lindsay Rico

Lucy (Talene Monahon), a self avowed “searcher”, appears with her duffle bag when Ty leaves. She’s seen the show and, mesmerized by Emerald, declares unconditional obeisance. (The character talks like a Ferlinghetti poem – endless colorful impressions with minimal punctuation.) All the object of her adoration wants, however, is liquor – which the stranger just happens to have. “I stole the bottle from an old man in Australia who turned his back to pee.” As long as Lucy can supply, she’ll be tolerated. In doing so with tenacious artifice, she inadvertently affects every relationship in the play.

Ty doesn’t return that night. He’s spending time with childhood best friend Danny (Julian Elijah Martinez), whose football scholarship provided escape to a life of egotistical excess on a silver platter. I won’t tell you about the men’s ungovernable bond, which ricochets with the impact of a pinball made out of a grenade.

Meanwhile, we observe simple minded Merick (Samuel H. Levine), and his “princess” Diane (Lexi Lapp), a wispy, solitary girl who volleys back elaborate fantasies of pink castles filled with babies. Merick has enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve to prove manliness to his father. “My recruiter says everythins’ just like a giant video game and I’m really good at video games.” The Corps is sure to eat this innocent alive. Corruption touches him before then, but with counter-intuitive results.


Samuel H. Levine, Lexi Lapp

The last inescapable, spellbinding connection is that of Emerald and an Alligator (Rex – Bobby Moreno) who haunts the scenario as if Captain Hook’s beast were conjured by Jung or Baudelaire. Whether the eloquent, savage presence is actual doesn’t matter a whit. He was here in the Paleocene Age and will remain after we’re all gone – Emerald’s alter ego and walking death. Jessica Scott’s fabulous puppet/costume melds creature and actor. Its controlled jaw, spilling gut, and a dangling piece of plastic can holder, I gather the reptiles can’t digest, add immeasurably.

Playwright Hilary Bettis interweaves her embattled characters with unerring, hell bent aptitude. How she knows what she knows is a mystery. The variety and credibility of even her most outrageous invention is startling. One lengthy description of pig slaughter is about as evocative as it gets. Language is gloriously rich and raw, never inappropriate to context.


Bobby Moreno (background), Talene Monahon, Lindsay Rico

It would be unfair to call out only one or two players in such a splendid ensemble.

Lindsay Rico (Emerald) blazes through the piece at 150% commitment, as if possessed.  A virtuoso performance.

Dakota Granados (Ty) morphs seamlessly from bravado to heartrending emotional casualty.

Samuel H. Levine and Lexi Lapp balance each other’s ability to personify naivete and vulnerability. Levine’s unexpected awakening is a nuanced pleasure to watch.

Julian Elijah Martinez’s Danny and Talene Monahon’s Lucy have less visible trajectories. Martinez’s accent is a bit hard to understand at the outset. The actor dramatically comes into his own in agonized conflict. Monahon seems less purposefully wiley and hard than suits her character.

Bobby Moreno’s Alligator is Shakespearean. We don’t need to see the performer’s face to be utterly affected.

The company throw themself into inhabiting Bettis’s world both literally and theatrically. I imagine most have multiple bruises and are prone to catching cold. Director Elena Araoz has done a masterful job brimming with creativity, wonder, and pith.The artist is as accomplished with character as she is with visuals and pacing.

Fight Direction is painfully real (UnkleDave’s Fight-House). Accents are not only pristine, but all of a type. (Dialect Coach-Blake Segal) Ari Fulton’s Costumes make one want to bathe.Samantha Shoffner’s Props and Blood Effects are cringe-worthy. Scenic Design by Arnulfo Maldonado manages to be both minimal and redolent. Use of a steep stairway far from the pit (providing view) and doors behind which the Alligator (and band) lives are very effective. Amith Chandrashaker’s Lighting haunts.

Don’t miss this extraordinary production.

Photos by Heather Phelps
Opening: Bobby Moreno, Lindsay Rico

New Georges presents
Alligator by Hilary Bettis
Directed by Elena Araoz
Original Music by Daniel Ocanto, Graham Ulicny, Sean Smith
ART NY Theaters  502 West 53rd Street
Through December 18, 2016

Men On Boats: Historical Fiction with Vitality and Insidious Humor


Inspired by the government sanctioned Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869 which charted the Green and Colorado Rivers into Grand Canyon, Jaclyn Backhaus’s enormously imaginative, humor-peppered melodrama puts us among a group of men who endured hardship, hunger, loss, and life threatening challenges to produce the first cartography and descriptions of the area.

The Company

Of the ten who began, only Powell and five others reached journey’s end. One, having had enough, left earlier at an Indian Agency of his own volition and three were lost (assumed to be killed by Indians) when they abandoned camp sure they’d never make it. One of three 21’x 4’ oak-made boats was splintered. The fourth was smaller and made of pine. Named for Powell’s wife, it was equipped with a strap he could clutch with his left hand to maintain balance while standing on deck. We know what occurred from the naturalist’s published work.

The piece is cast entirely with women who lower their voices, walk, and stand eschewing feminine traits. None of this, I’m happy to report, feels exaggerated or false. To a person, the actors play it straight.

Kristen Sieh, Kelly McAndrew, Donnetta Lavinia Grays

Members of the group include, as they did originally, John Wesley Powell (Kelly McAndrew), an experienced rafter and subsequent professor who lost an arm in the Civil War; his brother Walter, here nicknamed Old Shady for childhood reasons, who sings the occasional spontaneous, barely tolerated ditty (Elizabeth Kenny) ; John C. Sumner (Donnetta Lavinia Grays) a rough-hewn professional guide; Oramel G. Howland (Hannah Cabbell) and brother Seneca Howland (Danaya Esperanza)- the former a printer and hunter, the latter a mountain man; hunter/trapper William H. Dunn (Kristen Sieh): “I don’t do omens, I do forethought”;  mountain man William R. Hawkins (Jocelyn Hioh) who acted as $1.50 a day cook; 19 year-old Andy Hall (Danielle Davenport) allowed along for rowing skills; George Y. Bradley (Layla Ksoshnoudi) who was present in exchange for an army discharge; and Frank Goodman (Birgit Huppuch), a British gentleman adventurer. None had whitewater experience.


Brigit Huppoch, Danielle Davenport, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Jocelyn Bioh

We learn about right-to-name rules and rituals (the playwright shows this as a credible thrill, also managing to insert a sentence in which the explorers summarily dismiss any previous Indian naming), observe resourceful acquisition of edibles (Goodman’s experience catching “fishies” is charming while Hawkins’s quick-witted kill of a snake actually startles), watch portage, cliff skimming, the loss of a boat and supplies, and rising tensions. Affinities become allegiances when things get tougher and men risk their lives for one another. One particularly harrowing deliverance is accomplished with a pair of pants! It’s a broad, well drawn picture studded with practical details and relationship nuance. Just wait for the wry Indians!

Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Kelly McAndew, and Kristen Sieh and the cast of MEN ON BOATS, Photo by Elke Young(1)

Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Kelly McAndew, Kristen Sieh

Men On Boats feels immersive. (No, the audience doesn’t actually participate.) Time spent navigating treacherous water is immensely vivid. “

Pull…Pull, almost there…One more time! and…Line Pull Pull…Almost to the- Clear! We’re out!…Clear…There!…Watch the Wall!…OH SHIT!” they all shout in trenchant unison, moving in tight units, swaying, turning, dipping, and tumbling as currents and rapids threaten survival.  Temporarily free of underlying danger, one shouts “Oooooo, I love it when there’s no rocks!” as if on a benign roller coaster.

Hand-held, two-sided boat bows simulate vessels. Aisles are selectively employed to great effect as are the hidden doorways of Arnulfo Maldonado’s evocative, three-sided photographic Set. And I’ve never ever seen rope put to such mercurial and creative stage use.

Danielle Davenport, Hannah Cabell, Layla Khoshnoudi, Jocelyn Bioh, Elizabeth Kenny

Company stand-outs:

Donnetta Lavinia Grays has crafted a fully formed, physical and emotional character with her laconic, deadpan, can-do Sumner.

Birgit Huppuch’s Goodman, replete with British accent, seems irritatingly chipper until we learn who and why he’s there, whereupon everything fits.

As embodied by Elizabeth Kenny, Old Shady is a bit slow, sweet, and doggedly loyal. Her songs feel as if she’s coming up with them for the first time.

Kristen Sieh is a natural whose thinking we see as clearly as Dunn’s brooding. Masculinity is aptly manifest.

Expedition leader Powell is admirably served by a focused Kelly McAndrew. The actor’s believable interpretation is calm, serious, watchful, authoritative, and fair. Even when in jeopardy, measured response stays in character.

I can’t imagine how Director Will Davis conceived what we saw out of what he read. This is a glass mountain climb with roaringly successful results.

Jane Shaw’s Sound Design, which features innumerable water attitudes seeming to envelop us, is highlighted by wonderfully corny Hollywood music accompanying pivotal moments.

Solomon Weisbard’s Lighting Design helps create innumerable mood shifts and curiously adds to geography.

I admit to not understanding Asta Bennie Hostetter’s Costume choices, many of which are better suited to saloon gambler dandies.

Photos by Elke Young
Opening: The Company

Playwrights Horizons & Clubbed Thumb present
Men On Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus
Directed by Will Davis
Playwrights Horizons’ Peter J. Sharp Theater
416 West 42nd Street
Through August 14, 2016