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.
John McKinney’s play is ½ Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, ¼ Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam and ¼ that of the playwright. Still, it zips along with contemporary spin offering ample whimsy, romance, a dash of darkness, and some clever literary dialogue. It’s not without entertainment value, has an attractive cast, and is likely very marketable.
Dana Watkins and Elizabeth Inghram
Aspiring writer Jeremy (Dana Watkins) lost his beloved wife Kate (Elizabeth Inghram) in a car crash three years ago…or at least her corporeal form. She regularly visits him (first in dreams, later waking) engaging in playful banter and apparently sex. A depressed hermit since her passing, he’s unable to work on his psychological/ fantasy novella and has no inclination to do much of anything else. As long as she’s “there…”
Impelled by good hearted, thoroughly dissipate brother Eddie (Christian Ryan) to get back out in the world, Jeremy joins an acting class. Assigned partner Chrissy (Charlotte Stoiber) is gung-ho about their doing a scene from Anton Chekhov’s Seagull, an author Jeremy abhors. Like many young actresses, she’s always wanted to play the ingénue Nina. Jeremy would be Boris Trigorin, a much older, famous writer with whom Nina becomes entangled. Enter the dandified spectre of Chekhov (Rik Walter) to advise and provoke. (Humphry Bogart – and later Sigmund Freud in the Woody Allen.)
Christian Ryan and Dana Watkins
Later, Kate will parallel Chekhov’s jealous Irina Arkadina, longtime lover of Trigorin. (In Blithe Spirit, dead wife Elvira is pitted against live love interest/wife Ruth.) Jeremy is confused and torn. Things come to a head too dramatically with too little incitement somewhat out of sync with the rest of the play.
Dana Watkins and Rik Walter
Dana Williams’s Jeremy often looks as innocently embarrassed as a Frank Capra character, especially where sexual innuendo is concerned. The playwright seems to have one foot in each of two eras. Williams is, however, all of a piece and sweetly appealing.
As Eddie, Christian Ryan plays indolent hedonist with low key gusto. He’s slick, wryly self aware, and palpably high with every word and move. Able performance, fun to watch.
Director Leslie Kincaid Burby employs the length and breadth of her stage with great naturalism. Playfulness and seduction are completely credible. Crissy’s squealing could be toned down – she’s a bit too adolescent. Her Seagull preparation, however, is priceless. Kate is lovely at the start, but grows increasingly irritating and obviously false as the play progresses. Charm would have made what occurs easier to swallow. Chekhov’s accent may be Hollywood Russian, but it works in context. The actor’s bearing and phrasing are grand.
Christina Giannini’s Costumes for Kate are uniformly awful. A succession of white dresses is old fashioned and unflattering, supposedly erotic apparel looks like a Rockette, her really cheap-looking Russian ensemble appears to feature a bath rug as cape and aluminum foil hat… Contemporary clothes are fine as is Chekhov’s suit.
Scott Aronow’s Scenic Design offers a winning, impressionistic dreamscape reminiscent of Chagall and apartment walls (with alas, little personality) that smoothly revolve between here and the afterlife.
Photos by Arin Sang-urai
Opening: Elizabeth Inghram, Dana Watkins, Charlotte Stoiber
The Chekhov Dreamsby John McKinney
Directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby
The Beckett Theater
410 West 42nd Street
Through February 17, 2018
This unlikely musical commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the legendary actor Edwin Booth’s return to the stage (New York’s Wintergarden Theater) and the 400th Anniversary of William Shakespeare on whose work the performer and his family founded their reputations.
The British/American Booths consisted of father, Junius Brutus Booth who abandoned his wife in England and came to America with Mary Ann Holmes, fathering three bastard sons: Junius Brutus Booth Jr. (of lesser reputation), John Wilkes Booth who had a fairly successful career before assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, and Edwin Booth, the foremost American Shakespearean actor of his day and founder New York’s Player’s Club. Like the Barrymores, the Booths were a prominent theatrical family with serious alcohol problems.
Dana Watkins and Paul DeBoy
After an opening song reminiscent of Sweeney Todd we meet Edwin Booth (Dana Watkins) on the night he returns to the stage (in Hamlet) after the assassination of President Lincoln by his brother John. “Is that why you chose Hamlet, because our country lost a father?” asks his earnest, young bodyguard Rob (Ben Mayne). Were it not for needing to support his mother (Deanne Lorette) and daughter, the actor would not be risking his life. A surging crowd outside might easily contain someone vengeful.
Dana Watkins and Patricia Noonan
Edwin is sober for the first time in years. He’s lived through the demise of his alcoholic father Junius (Paul DeBoy) and tender wife Mollie (Patricia Noonan), both of whose untimely deaths have been blamed on his neglect, implied guilt about exploiting sibling Junius Jr. (Adam Bashian), and the infamy of being related to a murderer. Having finally stopped drinking , he fearfully hopes against hope for a kind of redemption in tonight’s performance. Assuming he survives it.
The protagonist floats fairly smoothly from present to past, from narrative to (a few too many) bits of Shakespeare plays, surrounded by ghosts of his relatives. We observe fraught family relationships and professional history. John, the most volatile brother, is portrayed as his father’s favorite. When Edwin takes his turn accompanying Junius on tour (to regulate drunken behavior as best as possible), his father keeps calling him Johnny. Crucial connection is nonetheless established. One might conjecture Edwin’s drinking started with the death of his role model.
Todd Lawson and Dana Watkins
The choice not to make John Wilkes Booth the nucleus of the piece is inspired. Illuminating and entertaining, Edwin delivers a real feeling for life tethered to the theater as well as a family portrait. (One assumes certain implied relationships are conjecture.) It also has a whizz-bang ending. But, beginning with its length, there are issues.
Second, and easy to correct, there’s currently no information in the program about each character. My companions and I were all lost as one after another person came onto the scene. Was “Johnny” John Wilkes Booth or another actor In Hamlet? Which player was the third brother? Who was Mollie? Were Mary and Junius not married? Who was dead? Though all this becomes clear, it’s confusing at first. An audience shouldn’t have to work so hard. (The surprise ending can be hidden.)
Adam Bashian, Dana Watkins, Todd Lawson
Paul DeBoy is an excellent Junius. The actor has style and brio, plays drunk with finesse, confidence and exhaustion with prowess, and listens skillfully. DeBoy moves with the kind of on-and-off stage prideful awareness we imagine Booth pere to possess. His timing is impeccable.
Both Deanne Lorette (Mary Ann-mother) and Patricia Noonan (Edwin’s wife, Mollie) have fine voices with Noonan’s lovely contralto standing out for clarity and enunciation. Both actresses imbue their characters with warmth and naturalness. Noonan also slips in and out of Shakespeare with aptitude and emerges particularly empathetic.
Todd Lawson’s multidimensional characterization credibly depicts John Wilkes Booth as hot tempered, frustrated, and out for glory. The piece implies his pro-Confederate politics had more to do with the latter than with confirmed beliefs. Lawson appealingly flares and moves as if owning the stage.
Ben Mayne and Dana Watkins
As Rob, Ben Mayne manages to bring sincerity to a small part, especially during scenes in Edwin’s dressing room. Adam Bashian does a yeoman like job as Junius Jr.
Dana Watkins is alas, though very attractive, the weak link here. Watkins’s low notes are lost. He mumbles too often, is rather stiff, and never seems, like the other Booths, to commandeer a room. Nor do we believe either romantic love or agony of repentance.
The strongest creative contribution comes from Librettist (and Lyricist) Eric Swanson. There are insightful, character specific conversations about aspects of a life treading the boards, ego, jealousy, intimacy, and motivation. Swanson’s tone is literate, and mercifully lacking in contemporary vernacular. He clearly understands ‘the life.’ Several lyrics, including one about the contents of Junius’s prized make-up case, deftly relate to Shakespearean roles. Songs like “Oh What a Life!” and “Tom Fool” paint vivid theatrical pictures. Ballads are somewhat less distinctive as are derivative opening and closing company numbers. Several songs, though fine unto themselves, unnecessarily repeat information and emotion imparted earlier.
Marianna Rosett’s Music suits the period, evokes mood, and carries each lyric but sometimes lacks individuality. Using what seems to be the same tango for two very different numbers is a questionable decision.
Director Christopher Scott gracefully engineers flow on and off the stage-upon-the-stage, and episodically through past and present. Brief choreography is welcome as is an unexpected sword fight (Fight Director-Ron Piretti). Chad McCarver’s minimal Set is used optimally, in fact, with some elegance. Most Booths command the stage with presence and sweep. (You might have John take his hand out of his pocket during dramatic scenes). Women are immensely sympathetic.
Early on, in the snippet of a scene from Lear, male actors play Lear’s daughters while the women present play men. One assumes this is because there are only two women. Nonetheless, it’s disconcerting.
David Zyla’s Costume Design is artful and appropriate. Variation in men’s attire is particularly adroit.
Sound Design is unfortunately an issue here. There are no mikes and only some of these thespians consistently project. Sections of dialogue and song are periodically lost.
By Unknown – The Life and Times of Joseph Haworth – The Booth brothers
A production of Julius Caesar mounted before the tragedy, starring all three of the Booth brothers, funded the statue of William Shakespeare that still stands in Central Park just south of the Promenade.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel Opening: Paul DeBoy, Patricia Noonan, Adam Bashian, Ben Mayne, Deanne Lorette, Todd Lawson
Great Circle Productions presents Edwin-The Story of Edwin Booth Music-Marianna Rosett Book & Lyrics- Eric Swanson Directed by Christopher Scott Piano/Conductor- Evan Alparone Bass-Dara Bloom; Violin/Violas- Ljova Zhurbin Theatre at St. Clements 423 West 46th Street Through September 18, 2016
In its 10th year at 59E59 Theaters, the Summer Shorts Festival continues to showcase a wide variety of new, often experimental work.
The Dark Clothes of Night by Richard Alfredo Directed by Victor Slezak
This obscure title does nothing to represent a play whose meatier part is written with nimble, black humor. Burke (Dana Watkins) is a Sam Spade-like private dick. Deadpan delivery is riddled with double entendre. When newly widowed socialite Delilah Twain (Sinem Meltem Dogan- who plays all the women) asks Burke to find her younger sister, Delia, who “started sneaking into USO Clubs and went khaki wacky,” he succumbs to her well-packaged charms. “This dame was trouble but she needed me.” He falls for the broad.
Dana Watkins, James Rees, Sinem Meltem Dogan
Suddenly we’re in a college lecture on Femme Fatales and “the devouring vagina dentata” (Latin for toothed vagina), replete with slides of fine art. Burke has shed his trench coat and fedora to become tweedy Professor Marlowe aka Rob (Dana Watkins), the kind of selfish, obtuse, 40s/50s film character whose subject –film? sociology? lets everything and everyone fall to the wayside. Cue wife Sylvie who’s given up on him and the appearance of buddy, sweet put-upon Barry (James Rees who plays all the other male characters.)
Zip! It’s back to film noir. Detective Callahan has discovered the corpse of a naked woman with neither head nor fingers (i.e. I.D.) Tucked into her “snatch” was Burke’s business card. (Imagine the joke here.) Seems this dame was too well kept to be a hooker. The dick hasn’t seen his doll in days. Worried, he goes to Delilah’s home only to be met by the equally seductive Delia- her twin.
Dana Watkins, Sinem Meltem Dogan
The two stories proceed on parallel trajectories with Burke trying to unravel a series of murders lead by My Sin perfume and Rob’s life falling apart due to women’s issues. Though the professor’s plight is credible – except for a marriage counselor who might be from Duck Soup (the Marx Brothers film) – it’s given short shrift. Without better balance, the point loses impact. Though framing is familiar, playwright Richard Alfredo pens Burke’s tale with flair and shows every sign he could flesh out Rob’s. The piece is entertaining though its ending feels obscure and/or unfinished.
Dana Watkins shifts skillfully back and forth from doomed P.I. to hapless professor. The actor manifests Burke’s dry, monotone expression with finesse and embodies Rob rather like a Danny Kaye character without the physical quirks.
The mercurial James Rees ably personifies a range of roles from everyman Barry to Delilah and Delia’s orchid obsessed father, Fletcher Westlake. (The treatise on an ominous two-headed orchid is top notch writing.)
Sinem Meltem Dogan could go further with her femme fatales.
Direction by Alexander Dinelaris is adroit.
Projection Design by Daniel Muller works wonderfully to set evocative scenes for this piece.
Black Flag by Idris Goodwin Directed by Logan Vaughn
Before Sydney (Francesca Carpanini), a white girl, and Deja (Suzette Azariah Gunn), a black girl, became freshmen roommates, they had Facebooked, warming to one another with anticipation. Sydney came from an upper middle class home in Georgia, Deja has “worked her ass off” to get there from Detroit. The girls unpack with friendly banter until Sydney pulls out a Confederate Flag which she hangs over her bed. The gift from her “mama” is, she says densely, a memento of Southern pride. Appalled, Deja decides not to make a fuss for fear of becoming an angry caricature in her new environment.
In the course of this interesting new take on insidious bigotry, we watch what happens as time passes. The inclusion of Deja’s date, Harry (Ruy Iskandar), an Asian American, allows playwright Idris Goodwin to indirectly expose more of Sydney’s ingrained attitudes. Made aware, she has a decision to make.
Like the preceding effort, this piece lacks balance. A bit more from Sydney might both enrich and help clarify. What is written is well written, however.
Of the three players, Suzette Azariah Gunn stands out for focus, gravity, and be-here-now presence. She knows her character.
Director Logan Vaughn handles temper and drunkenness as well as natural dialogue.
Queen by Alexander Dinelaris Inspired by ‘The Woman Who Came at Six O’Clock’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Directed by Victor Slezak
Saverio Tuzzolo, Casandera M.J. Lollar
Working class Joe (Saverio Tuzzolo) runs (owns?) a small, neighborhood restaurant for which he also cooks. Every day around the same time, Queen (Casandera M.J. Lollar) comes in exhausted from a night of hooking and the sweet, deferential man makes her a meal on the house. Besotted, he’ll take any scrap of warmth or attention she deigns to bestow, expecting nothing more.
Today Queen looks particularly washed out, snapping at and teasing him like a mean cat. Last night she lost it and got herself into a serious jam. Just how much does Joe love her, she demands. How far would this otherwise scrupulously honest, tender- hearted man go to protect the object of his dreams?
The character of Joe is written better than that of Queen. Playwright Alexander Dinelaris is smart to paint him as a romantic without rose colored glasses. He’s also sufficiently adept to unexpectedly make us dislike the heroine despite her desperation. (Or perhaps that’s the way she’s played.)
Saverio Tuzzolo is splendid; sympathetic without being less than manly, realistic yet courtly. We see affection, hurt, hope, resignation and indecision. Close your eyes and hear Danny Aiello.
Casandera M.J. Lollar creates a genuine floozie. The performance is alas without needed nuance. Where are flickers of hope, anger, and fear?
The play also briefly features Chris McFarland as a cop named Mike.
Director Victor Slezak might take more time with his leading lady, especially as Tuzzolo is so good. The show is well paced and visually effective.
Photos by Carol Rosegg Opening: Dana Watkins
Throughline Artists presents Summer Shorts? Festival of New American Short Plays Series B: The Dark Clothes of Night by Richard Alfredo; Directed by Alexander Dinelaris Black Flag by Idris Goodwin ; Directed by Logan Vaughn Queen by Alexander Dinelaris;Directed by Victor Slezak 59E59 Theatres 59 East 59th Street Through September 3, 2016