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.

Brits Off Broadway

We Can Be Happy Underground


The London Underground can be devilishly tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing. For a start, the map you’d use to navigate the city bears very little resemblance to what exists in reality. It isn’t unheard of for a passenger to hop on a line and transfer three times over the course of 40 minutes to end up only blocks from where they started. So it takes experience to learn the ins and outs. Kind of like modern dating, as playwright Isla van Tricht seems to suggest in her new play, Underground, now playing at 59E59 Theaters.

Claire and James cross paths constantly. They take the same tube to the same stops every day of the week, but they just don’t realize it until a popular swipe-based dating app points it out. She’s pleased by his minimal and mature profile photos. He thinks she has a nice smile. Why not give it a try?

The two aren’t perfectly paired by any stretch, but they aren’t a complete mismatch either and so they might as well give it a try. That’s how you do these things now. The night of their first maybe-a-date starts off well. They keep up a conversation that is by odds open enough to suggest a possible future, but also full of awkward moments to understand if they said goodnight and lost each other in the crowd again. He’s a bit dark and…flannelish, relating to characters from The Breakfast Club rather than more recent or age-appropriate cultural figures. She’s saucy and breezy in a way that speaks to the confidence of youth rather than caprice or irresponsibility. She actually knows what she wants—she’s even written a list—though it’s clear from their conversation that she’s still pliable. And he does try to ply.

Michael Jinks

There are a lot of cute and funny moments throughout the piece, but there’s a chance that several could be missed depending on which side of the stage you sit to face. Most of the action takes place in a subway car during an unexpected stop in the middle of the night. As Claire (Bebe Sanders) and James (Michael Jinks) discuss what twists and turns have brought them out and what it was about the other that encouraged meeting up, they run into some awkward conversation. It is not, however, as awkward as the existential voice that flows from the PA system that they can both hear, though only one at a time.

While there were stronger productions in the Brits Off Broadway series this year, Underground makes a solid showing for itself. It doesn’t have polish, but it feels like it comes from an honest place—even down to the fact that Claire can get pressured into a few hesitant romantic moves and James’ awkward verbal diarrhea about how awkward he can be. They do amuse each other, but not so much that it’s a sure thing. However, in a very distancing and increasingly (somewhat paradoxically) large but lonely social web, the potential for close human contact can be a persuasive influence. Throw in the appearance of a pair of doppelgängers and a broken-down Northern Line train, and that mysterious voice you have a recipe for a lasting encounter.

Tricht’s script has a few quirks, possibly a couple of philosophical concepts more than necessary, but it’s a lot of fun. If it feels a bit like a student project, at least it’s a really good one. Director Kate Tiernan has to make a lot with very little and pulls it off in a very pleasant manner, though it’s hard to say what is meant by the audience relationship categorization that doesn’t actually go anywhere. (But hey, who doesn’t like a sticker?)

In the end, we don’t know if they’ll make it or not, but James and Claire are actually kind of endearing and you may find yourself rooting for them. Underground makes a good argument for getting connected, but also putting down our phones. As they talk you may want to think about the last time you had such a full exchange of ideas for so long without interruption. An hour Underground is a good start.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Top: Michael Jinks and Bebe Sanders

Produced by Shrapnel Theatre & Hartshorn – Hook Foundation for Brits Off Broadway
59E59 Theaters
Through July 2, 2017

Invincible – A Master Class in Vulnerability 


“I don’t care about being happy anymore. I just want to be at peace.”

Tolstoy wrote that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Timeless, that. In the newest play by the very talented playwright Torben Betts, Invincible, two couples—Oliver and Emily, Dawn and Alan—meet not-very-cute as new neighbors in a small North England town.

Emily and Oliver are posh, solidly upper middle class expats from London who have spent their adult lives immersed in art, culture, and severely left-wing politics. She is consumed with the idea of the plight of the working class, even if she doesn’t know anyone like that. Dawn and Alan are actually among working class, former teenage sweethearts who, after twenty years, share a too settled, too bland, too predictable life together.  Too bland for Dawn, at least, who dreams of something more but has never really  left the small town, or even the street, where she was born.

Emily Bowker and Alistair Whitley

In a hilarious first act, it seems the two families couldn’t be more different. It’s often the culture clash that makes things so funny, watching as quirks and foibles lead to revelations and . As events unfold we find that they have for more in common than they would like.

There are many great moments in Invincible, but in particular Betts does a wonderful job of connecting his layered, complex, damaged characters on multiple levels in unexpected ways. Each character is an individual and every performance is pitch perfect.

Emily (Emily Bowker) is happy to play the part of the enlightened truth seeker and champion of the underdog even though everything about her speaks to the privilege that she claims to despise. In truth, she doesn’t understand the first thing about the plight of the poor. She admires the idea of the proletariat lifestyle but not the proles. She fancies herself a intellect and is wound so tight it feels like she could snap at any minute. Bowker’s performance is excellent; she’s absolutely insufferable.

By contrast, Dawn (played by the always wonderful Elizabeth Boag in her third year and fourth performance in the Brits Off-Broadway series) is incredibly likable, though she doesn’t have the social skills one develops in a big city. When she explodes into the room with a burst of operatic bombast, she’s a breath of fresh air in a tight, red (charmingly inappropriately revealing) dress. She’s dying to make a good impression, but soon realizes it may not be worth the effort.

Where Emily works hard to be a “good” person with debatable success, Dawn is a naturally good person, but without the social or scholarly privileges afforded Emily. They are both deeply dissatisfied with their lots in life.

Graeme Brookes and Elizabeth Boag

As for the cowed Oliver (Alistair Whitley) and the boisterous and fashion-challenged Alan (Graeme Brookes), they just want their wives to be happy. They don’t know how to make that happen, but they both really, really want it to. Oliver tries as hard to please Emily as Emily tries to be righteous and indignant on behalf of the working class. He endeavors find the point of understanding they have lost over the years. He recognizes their disconnect and craves a return to easier times.

Alan doesn’t realize how disconnected he and Dawn have become, but as soon as it’s pointed out he understands that it will take a lot of emotional work on his part. He cherishes and feels thankful for his wife, not necessarily seeing her for who she is but rather what she looks like and how well she looks after their kids.

When it comes to the class structure and privilege, all can agree on one thing: If you’re poor, you’re screwed. Emily and Oliver know it in theory, but their station makes them able to stay distant and logical about it. Uninvolved unless they feel like getting involved. Dawn and Alan have no choice. They live it every day, and when they suffer it doesn’t take a lot of university courses and sociology keywords to know why. We also know why, and it’s heartbreaking.

Photos by Manuel Harlan
Top photo: Emily Bowker, Graeme Brookes, Elizabeth Boag, and Alistair Whitley

Invincible is a rare treat, a lovely, funny, smart and poignant piece of theater.
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Through July 2, 2017

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

Miracles Big and Small Make City Stories Sing


“…faith steps in when all facts fail…love leaping unafraid into the empty spaces between us and the unknown—“

The titular metropolis of James Phillips’ City Stories: Tales of Love and Magic in London, now playing as part of 59E59’s regular Brits Off-Broadway series, is a minor but important character in a collection of deceptively simple narratives. Her narrow old streets and tireless river wind their way through the accounts of events both massive in scale and momentous in their profound intimacy. It is the loom on which Phillips has spun some lovely, captivating yarns.


Phoebe Sparrow, Matthew Flynn in Pearl

Each short tale begins in a small moment, the carrying out of one’s daily routine or a single act of noticing, and unfolds to become expansive—in emotion if not in scale. There is simplicity and elegance in their telling, mysteriousness bordering on confessional delivery that reels one in seductively, enchantingly, like a lover. And if there is one core notion on which City Stories balances, it’s love. Love that, for better or for worse, when harnessed in all its potential, can open eyes and change lives.


Rosabella Gregory

There are six tales in all, four presented at each performance. (See the 59E59 website for a schedule.) The night I attended the selection was Occupy, Lullaby, Narcissi and Pearl. Singer/songwriter Rosabella Gregory took her place at the baby grand piano in the corner and played before, after, and during each of the Stories. Her voice is high and clear—reminiscent of Kate Bush without all those reverberating production effects. It’s a sharp and highly evocative voice that can soothe or sting, and it does both over the course of the two-hour production.


Daphne Alexander, Tom Gordon in Lullaby

The setting is something different for 59E59. The theater has been transformed into a cabaret-style lounge, with tiny cocktail tables, each topped with a single soft candle. The set is simplicity itself, consisting of two tall bar stools—and even those sometimes seem extraneous. The actors take their places, the words begin to flow, and suddenly it isn’t just a small, dark space but a river of memories as expansive as imagination if you allow yourself to be swept away.

Stories 3

Louisa Clein in The Great Secret

There are seven actors carrying the weight of six pieces. Though the sheer volume of words could have made it feel like heavy lifting for some, the performances never felt anything but graceful. Considering the caliber of actors, that isn’t a surprise. What was a nice surprise was how much the show depends on women. Of the four stories, only one, Occupy, came completely from a man’s perspective, and even then a woman was the driving force behind the action, her actions becoming the reason for the narrator’s personal development.

The other wonderful thing is how sure and unapologetic these women are. Even when they suggest a wrong decision had been made, that they could have taken another path when given a choice, that they could have lived to make others—and maybe even themselves—happier or more comfortable, they stand by their choices.


Daphne Alexander, Sarah Quintrell in Lullaby

With no fourth wall to speak of, each performance felt as much a conversation as a performance, with rhetorical questions, jokes and the occasional sly wink sent directly to the audience. They look you in the eye and feel unashamed. That sustained eye contact made it easy to let go and slip into the world behind the words to see it through the characters’ eyes. And being full of magic and tranquil gardens and soaring architecture and secret notebooks, a wonderful world it is.

Photos by  James Phillips

Top photo: L-R: Tom Gordon, Rosabella Gregory, Sarah Quintrell in Narcissi.

City Stories: Tales of Love and Magic in London
Written and directed by James Phillips
Original music by Rosabella Gregory
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Through May 29

Butterfly – A Dreamscape


As I’m not precisely sure of the tale I’ve just witnessed, I can only share impressions. Note: The only, very tenuous similarities to Madame Butterfly here are love, loss and Japan.

Butterfly is a gentle maker of kites. On stage, these are bamboo, small, often silk, and given ribbon tails. A suitor, who buys many, leaves a gift wrapped book each time he exits. When he eventually reaches for her, she jumps away and tries to return his gift.


Naomi Livingstone; Naomi Livingstone and Chris Alexander

One day, testing her wares, the lady meets a lepidopterist – someone who studies butterflies. Both are infatuated with flight and, one would think freedom. Butterfly learns to wield the man’s net much as she does her airborne craft. Flying creatures are depicted by fluttering hands. It’s balletic. They grow close. He moves in. The first time her lover kills, pins and frames a creature, she’s taken aback, but unexpectedly accepts what he does. Shelves at the back of her shop fill with jars containing butterflies.

Her determined pursuer returns with another book, which she refuses. Butterfly’s untrusting lover walks in on this and becomes violently jealous. Subsequently he appears to catch the first man raping her (very effective), presumes she’s acquiescent, mistreats and abandons her.


Naomi Livingstone, Ramesh Meyyappan, Chris Alexander

Interpretation of the rest of the piece is up for grabs. Some or all of it may be fantasy, dream/nightmare. The men separately return and exit. Butterfly may or may not have a baby. As both male actors manipulate a toddler puppet we never know if they’re supposed to be there as characters as well. All that’s clear is Butterfly’s pain.

Much of the entirely silent-but-for-music piece is eloquently directed by its Creator Ramesh Meyyappan, but its ending is uncomfortably vague.

All three actors do a splendid job with Naomi Livingstone’s Butterfly a nuanced standout. Until things become obscure, we’re with them every step.

David Paul Jones’s Music is consistently appealing and evocative. Choreographer Darren Brownie creates a graceful, fluid narrative.

While one understands that Gavin Glover’s toddler puppet may very well be an imagined child, i.e. intended to be not quite fully realized, it’s so angry looking/lacking in any sweetness, tenderness is elusive.

Set Designer Neil Warmington manifests atmosphere as well as scenery. That screens (covered by kite skeletons) and shelving are held by the same bamboo with which Butterfly makes her kites is a lovely touch. Dozens upon dozens of jars with butterflies suddenly shock towards the end of the piece when Warmington effects a change.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Ramesh Meyyappan and Naomi Livingstone

Brits Off Broadway presents
Created, Directed and Performed by Ramesh Meyyappan
Featuring Naomi Livingstone and Chris Alexander
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Through May 14, 2016

Toast – Burnt But Eaten


The Rosedale Street Bakehouse has seen far better times. Lower class, country Englishmen without choices work ungodly hours barely protected by a union whose rulebook is kept on hand. The break room in which we’re about to spend two very long hours is minimally furnished with metal tables, chairs, and a sink (water runs brown), a bulletin board and a dial-up pay phone. Through the filthy glass wall, we can see lights tracking machinery. James Turner’s Set Design is appropriately bleak, worn, and covered in flour.


Steve Nicolson

Employees have few pleasures and no aspirations outside camaraderie. Good- natured foreman Blakey (Steve Nicolson) plays rock and roll guitar (execrably) in his off time. Dezzie (Kieran Knowles) just moved into a house where hot water comes out of a faucet! Cecil (Simon Greenall) is preoccupied with sex, particularly that which he’s not getting. (Beckett, he says, is shagging that girl in custards who has no teeth, which can be of benefit.) Long haired Peter (Matt Sutton) likes to play cards. The rather slow Nellie aka Walter (Matthew Kelly) has given 45 years of his life to the facility. Smoking is his only self indulgence. Colin (Will Barton), their union representative is an officious cipher.  Accents, be warned, are, though undoubtedly accurate, extremely strong and often incomprehensible.


Simon Greenall, John Wark, Matt Sutton, Kieran Knowles

Aware the place will shortly be shuttered, Blakey and Colin have unknowingly applied for the same job at another bakehouse. No one else appears to have higher ambitions. Due to failure elsewhere, 3000 loaves are expected of the men, requiring an extended schedule – and it’s Sunday.

Into this tight-knit group, the boss has sent a fill-in, “adult student” Lance (John Wark), whose middle class clothes, educated vocabulary, and manner are out of place. Checking the substitute’s hands for dermatitis, Blakey notices scars on his wrists from attempted suicide. The newbe at first has difficulty even talking, but surprised at finding himself efficient, takes to his job with enthusiasm and slowly, if peripherally, joins his fellows. Later, you’ll have to decide whether Lance is delusional or an angel of death.


Matthew Kelly, John Wark

The men come in and out on cigarette and meal breaks: fish paste or cheese sandwiches. There’s ribbing, banter, and card games. Eventually, something goes radically amiss.

Playwright Richard Bean offers an unmistakably authentic scenario, but so little happens, it’s an effort to remain consistently interested. (The second act is better.) You’d never know the same man wrote One Man, Two Guvnors.


Matthew Kelly

Every character is three dimensional, with Simon Greenall’s Cecil and John Wark’s Lance manifesting notable distinctions. Of the group, Matthew Kelly (Nellie) is the stand out in a role made challenging by its lack of overt expression. Kelly holds our attention in lengthy silences between monosyllabic responses. The character thinks simplistically and moves heavily.  At a moment towards the end, he comes unexpectedly and palpably to life.

Eleanor Bean’s Direction helps color her characters. Staging is effective. Holly Rose Henshaw’s Costumes set tone, class, and place perfectly. Her conception of Lance fits like a puzzle piece. Sound Design by Max Pappenheim is so real, it’s rather unnerving. We hear the hum of big machinery from the get-go, echoing voices of those who attempt to solve a problem on the floor, and malfunctions that rock the room.

Photos by Oliver King

Opening: Steve Nicolson, Simon Greenall, Will Barton, Matthew Kelly, Matt Sutton

Brits Off Broadway and
Snapdragon Productions present
Toast by Richard Bean
Directed by Eleanor Rhode
59E 59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Through May 22, 2016