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.
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.
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
Underground Produced by Shrapnel Theatre & Hartshorn – Hook Foundation for Brits Off Broadway 59E59 Theaters Through July 2, 2017
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama
Henry Naylor has written two works that are not only complex, but compelling. Among the myriad subjects contained in both Echoes and Angel are many of the current issues we read about daily in the news: the Middle East, Islam, ISIS, radicalism, and jihadism. There is also strong focus given to the equality, or more accurately lack of equality, between women and men in the Middle East and the subsequent restriction and violence imposed on women.
Echoes is the story of two women living in Ipswich, England 175 years apart. Both leave their homes at the age of seventeen to marry and to fulfill their chosen missions in life. Tillie (Rachel Smyth) lives in the Victorian era. She is a Christian, and wants to produce children for the Empire. Samira (Serena Manteghi), a present day Islamist school girl, wants to build a Caliphate–a Muslim political-religious community as originally created following the death of the prophet Muhammad. The outcomes of their missions are remarkably similar and it is the events leading up to these outcomes which comprise the story of Echoes.
Anita Lvova in Angels
Angel is based on what were likely, to some extent, real events. According to legend, the Kurdish freedom fighter known as The Angel of Kobane shot and killed at least 100 ISIS fighters in Syria. Rehana’s (Avita Lvova) strength, determination, and fearlessness are testimony to the inherent power of all women.
The performances of the three actresses are superlative. The depth of research which clearly went into the creation of each role is remarkable. The honesty of each portrayal of present and past events, including the other characters involved, is without fault.
Rachel Smyth and Serena Manteghi
The role of Tillie as portrayed by Rachel Smyth is a challenging one. The character demands a restraint and quiet demeanor that make it difficult to counteract the more overt power of Samira. The actress remains true to her role.
Michael Cabot’s direction of Angel and Emma Butler’s direction of Echoes miss neither a beat nor a nuance. Reality is maintained without ever lapsing into melodrama or shock for the sake of shock.
Both works are filled with pathos, violence, and moments of humor and, perhaps most important, reality. They demand the complete focus and involvement of the viewer and, though sometimes disturbing, they should not be missed.
Angles & Echoes Produced by Redbeard Theatre in association with Gilded Balloon Productions 59 East 59th Theaters 59 East 59 between Park and Madison Running through May 7 with performances Tuesday through Friday at 7:15 p.m., Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. and Sunday at 3:15 p.m..
When the movie Terms of Endearment came out in theaters in 1983, it was by all measures an incredibly successful film. Based on the book by Larry McMurtry and with ascreenplay by James L. Brooks, it featured a who’s who of award-winning actors, including Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, and Jack Nicholson. Now the story comes to a new home, 59E59 Theaters, for its first U.S. stage production.
Adapted for the stagve by Dan Gordon, Terms of Endearment tells the story of sweet Texas rose Emma, her critical and tough-as-nails mother, Aurora, and the men who lift them up and let them down.
The stage cast is full of familiar faces, headed up by the striking Molly Ringwald, the John Hughes muse who personified 80s teen culture in films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Here she puts on a hilariously snobbish New England accent and steely persona to become a woman who is at turns domineering, flirtatious, and sympathetic in the grief for all she has lost.
At first she seems completely unlikeable, almost to the point of being abusive in her criticism toward Emma, but at the story goes on and the years pass, she comes into focus as a woman who loves deeply but is also bridled by her expectations. The problem with being so critical about frivolous things is that when real criticism is deserved it doesn’t land with the impact it requires. It’s a complex role and Ringwald does it proud. But she doesn’t do it alone.
Jeb Brown plays the astronaut, Garrett, and he makes an instant impression on both the audience and Aurora. He’s an utter cad, always chasing after younger women and the next good time, but he’s also undeniably charming. His footloose and fancy-free philosophy couldn’t be more at odds with Aurora’s staid dignity. For every joke he cracks, no matter how flirtatious or fact-based, she has a reason to be doubtful. Yet when the two get together, doubt turns to delight. Between Brown’s charisma, Ringwald’s gravitas and their chemistry together, this is a production not to be missed.
Hannah Dunne, a familiar face to Mozart in the Jungle viewers, takes on the role of Aurora’s beleaguered daughter, Emma. Where Aurora wears silk, Emma opts for flannel. She hitches her post to Flap—a nickname Aurora cannot abide—a dismissive boy who becomes a dishonorable man, but that doesn’t stop them from having three kids together, kids that Emma cares for nearly singlehandedly while Flap is off gallivanting inappropriately with his university students.
The problem with Dunne’s Emma being so unflappable and willing to go without is that the performance requires a kind of subtlety that doesn’t quite come out—at least not farther back in the audience. She seems uniformly sweet, uniformly forgiving, even when she and her children have been done wrong. As for Flap, played by Denver Milord, there is little to recommend him. In the beginning, he comes off as a bit sexist and certainly inconsiderate, but things just get more unforgivable as time goes on.
Jeb Brown and John C. Vennema
Director Michael Parva, who has worked with playwright Dan Gordon before, and set designer David L. Arsenault, have worked together to craft a graceful, flowing, nearly seamless production. However, for those who have never seen the 1983 film, the mother–daughter relationship is the entire story. You can sense Emma’s discontent with Flap, but not really get the full idea of just how much of a snake he really is. You can hear that Emma’s son Tommy’s anger at his mother is deep and hot, but not feel how terribly it stings.
Unfortunately, due to space and time constraints, there are some really powerful moments in the film that simply don’t happen in this version. It’s a disappointment, but not enough to keep from recommending this production, which can still make inspire laughs and move people to tears—as it did most of the audience judging by the sound of sniffles that filled the room. Jessica DiGiovanni as Patsy and the Nurse and John C. Vennema as Doctor Maise round out the cast, both of them lending depth and humor to their smaller but important parts. Vennema in particular plays things to full humorous effect.
Photos by Carol Rosegg Top photo: Molly Ringwald and Hannah Dunne
Terms of Endearment Directed by Michael Parva Adapted by Dan Gordon 59E59 Theaters Through December 11, 201
How is it that the 1963 musical, 110 in the Shade, can still seem so relevant today? The title can’t help but make us think about current concerns with global warming and drought. But it’s the musical’s social messages that are timeless and sure to resonate with audiences both young and old.
Based on the 1954 play, The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash, the musical’s bona fides are impressive. Nash wrote the book while the talented team behind The Fantasticks was responsible for the lyrics (Tom Jones) and music (Harvey Schmidt). There have been very few stagings since that time, including a 1992 New York City Opera Revival, a 1999 concert production in London, and the 2007 Broadway revival. So the new production now playing at Ford’s Theatre is not to be missed.
If you are unfamiliar with 110 in the Shade, you’re not alone. In a press release, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, said that she had no knowledge of the show when she was approached by Ford’s Theatre Director Paul R. Tetreault to be the production’s choreographer and director. She quickly fell in love with the story, which features a formidable woman at the center, and the music, which ranges from “sweeping Americana sound,” to “heartfelt melodies.” But it was the musical’s themes that really excited her. “The show makes two points about dreams: we can’t live entirely in them, but we can’t live a hopeful life without them,” she said. “110 in the Shade is a hopeful story, and we need that now.”
Dodge signed on and her deft hand is visible throughout this terrific production. The choreography is exuberant, whether we are watching the entire cast dance a hoe-down, or a love-struck couple (Jimmy played by Gregory Maheu and Snookie, played by Bridget Riley), execute a Texas-style pas de deux. There’s never a lag in the action, something critical in a musical that clocks in at more than two and a half hours.
The setting is a small rain-starved Texas town in the 1950s. Everything on stage, including the water tower, seems brown and dusty. While townspeople enter to fill pitchers and buckets with their daily water rations, the sheriff, File (Kevin McAllister), belts out the obvious: “Gonna Be Another Hot Day.” McAllister’s stage presence and booming baritone/bass voice sets the tone. McAllister, who brought us to tears when he sang “Father, How Long?” in Ford’s Theatre’s production of Freedom’s Song, continues to excite us with his performances.
McAllister’s File manages a strong presence to the people he’s sworn to protect. Yet maintaining that facade takes its toll. He calls himself a widower, even though the whole town knows his wife ran off with another man. Rancher H.C. Curry (Christopher Bloch) hopes that File will marry his daughter, Lizzie (Tracy Lynn Olivera), who has arrived home after she failed to find a husband while staying with friends in neighboring Sweetwater. H.C. and his two sons, Jimmy (Maheu) and Noah (Stephen Gregory Smith), invite File to the annual picnic so that Lizzie can impress him with her fancy dress and tasty picnic basket. Lizzie is reluctant to attend, but gives in singing “Love Don’t Turn Away.” File, however, is a no show.
Seen through a contemporary lens, Lizzie’s treatment by her family, if not outright abuse, is certainly psychologically damaging. She’s constantly put down, particularly by Noah, for being “plain,” and unable to attract a man. In a humorous exchange, Jimmy, who is taunted for being dumb, tries to give Lizzie pointers for flirting with a man, using some of Snookie’s come-ons as examples. Lizzie’s self esteem may be suffering, but she sticks to her game plan to attract the right kind of husband. “I want him to stand up straight, and I want to be able to stand up straight to him,” she says.
Lizzie’s world is jolted when a stranger named Starbuck arrives in his carnival-like trailer promising to bring rain – for a price. While townspeople quickly fall under Starbuck’s spell – including H.C. who forks over $100 to bring about the rain – Lizzie quickly sizes up the new arrival as a con man. Lizzie, however, has met her match. Starbuck confronts Lizzie with her fears about not being pretty or even feeling like a woman and his observations hit home. As Starbuck, Ben Crawford is so athletic and acrobatic (at one point he slithers on the floor), we wonder if he’s spent time with Cirque de Soleil. Besides having some of the best dance moves this side of Magic Mike, he can act, his scenes with Olivera crackling with sexual tension.
I could listen to Tracy Lynn Olivera sing the phone book (or what passes for the phone book these days). Fortunately, she’s given fabulous material to work with here and she gives it her all. While she can certainly belt out a song (“Raunchy”), it’s the love ballads in the second act that stop our hearts. When she comes to the realization that yes, she is beautiful, seeing that beauty reflected in Starbuck’s eyes, that flood of emotion comes through in song.
In the end, Lizzie is left to choose between File and Starbuck. Will she stay with the stable File or agree to travel around the country with Starbuck? No matter which man Lizzie chooses, she’s now a changed woman and will go into this marriage believing in herself without being held hostage by other people’s opinions.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
110 in the Shade Ford’s Theatre 511 Tenth Street, NW Through May 14, 2016