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.
A Medieval troop of deadpan, fourth rate Biblical Players is trying to outrun the plague. Not a bad premise for satire. In fact, author Jordan Harrison manages not only to give us a classic backstage scenario but to address morality, mortality, freedom of thought, God, and women’s issues. Pathos is stylized but questions resonate. Except for a contemporary parenthesis which bifurcates the tale, the script is wry, entertaining, and smarter than it looks at first glance.
The content of said naturalistic parenthesis, acted by Michael Cyril Creighton standing in for Harrison and Quincy Tyler Bernstine as herself should unquestionably have been included in the body of the piece. Not only does the jarring segment harm cohesion, but based on the playwright’s obvious cleverness, it seems lazy. This is not to say you won’t enjoy the show, just that this could be more successfully crafted.
Michael Cyril Creighton
“Noah’s Ark” – replete with the Seven Deadly Sins in terrific comedia dell’arte masks – is being prepared for an Italian festival sponsored by a local Duke. Should the players find favor, they hope to be invited inside city walls to wait out the epidemic.
Larking (Thomas Jay Ryan), the company’s bombastic leader, plays God. Yoeman-like Brom (Kyle Beltran) plays Noah, his wife, notably without a first name, is acted by Hollis (Quincy Tyler Bernstine). Rona (Jennifer Kim) plays Mrs. Shem and later, both Mr. and Mrs. Shem. (Doubling and even tripling up is inventively handled.) Hollis’s brother Henry who dies of plague is later replaced by a traveling Physic/Doctor with a secret (Greg Keller). The only company member not on stage until they’re desperate for an extra body, is set and prop maker Gregory (Michael Cyril Creighton) who provides narrative comments.
Jennifer Kim, Quincy Tyler Bernstine
There are obvious and clandestine relationships, hierarchical arguments, deaths, births and colloquial discussions of ontology. Does the religious play make any difference; does art? When Hollis decides Mrs. Noah might not be so acquiescent, everything tips.
The real time company delivers humor without marking jokes, which is to say admirably as if characters are unaware. Of the cast, Greg Keller is sympathetic and credible and Quincy Tyler Bernstine is a pithy pleasure to watch both as herself and Hollis. Michael Cyril Creighton, a newfound treasure, has impeccable, understated timing worth clocking in any theatrical endeavor.
Greg Keller, Thomas Jay Ryan, Quincy Tyler Bernstine
Director Oliver Butler keeps tone just right whether in 2018 or the 14th Century. Restricted movement and singsong recitation during “Noah” aptly differentiates itself from natural banter afterwards. Several characters could have manifest more distinctive attributes, however.
Jessica Pabst’s homespun Costumes are just right before and after the troop upgrades. Raphael Mishner’s Masks and Puppet Design are splendid. (Wait till you see Noah’s dove.)
Scenic Design by David Zinn is charming, painterly, imaginative. The well appointed, wheeled wagon morphs into a stage with ingenuity and period suggestion, looking fully like an illustration from one’s favorite children’s book. Evocation of animals two by two is marvelous. Nor does Zinn muddy up presentation by giving us a painted scrim.
In 1989, animator and former marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg wrote an unpublished educational comic book titled The Intertidal Zone. Ten years later, his original concept became a Nickelodeon television series that has ballooned into the highest rated show on the roster of MTV Networks generating thirteen billion dollars – you read correctly – in merchandising revenue. The so-called children’s story has a wry/sarcastic/sometimes idiotic edge attracting at least as many adults to dedicated viewing.
For the uninitiated: SpongeBob (Ethan Slater, who, in his Broadway debut, has to currently be the hardest working musical actor treading the boards) is the naively cheerful offspring of a sea sponge and a kitchen sponge-don’t ask. Our hero lives with his pet snail Gary (who meows) in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea. The young invertebrate works as fry cook at Krusty Krab Restaurant where he dreams of becoming a manager. Neighbors are dim, best friend Patrick Star (Danny Skinner-imagine John Candy with ducktail hair) and co-worker Squidward Q. Tentacles (Gavin Lee) a bad tempered, pessimistic octopus who lives in an Easter Island Moai.
Danny Skinner and Ethan Slater
Other regular characters include SB’s boss, miserly Eugene Krabs (Brian Ray Norris) and his teenage daughter, Pearl (Jai’Len Christine Li Josey whose R & B vocals shake the rafters), the Texas born squirrel Sandy Cheeks (Lilli Cooper) a scientist who lives in an oak tree covered by an airtight glass dome outside of which she wears an astronaut’s suit (no idea how she got there), Sheldon Plankton (Wesley Taylor and a puppet), a small, green pickle-looking character with a Napoleon complex who owns fast food competitor Chum Bucket and, with his robot wife, Karen (Stephanie Hsu), schemes to steal the recipe for Krabby Patties… Intrigued?
It’s easy to conjecture that Set/Costume Designer David Zinn (with ebullient Lighting Design by Kevin Adams) has never had a better time with a commission. From the moment one enters the transformed Palace Theatre, attention is beguiled. Shimmering, Mylar strip curtains cover everything vertical except the stage. An amusing video of underwater life (Peter Nigrini) plays across the pineapple-patterned curtain. As you’re serenaded by Hawaiian-shirted musicians beside an inflated palm tree, look carefully around. Coral is made out of wonderful assemblages of pool noodles and oversized party cups, there are sharks.
Huge blue bubbles arch over and drip down from the proscenium. Colorful Rube Goldberg-like mechanisms run almost floor to ceiling on either side of the stage. Watching these ingenious set pieces kick into precise action is sheer delight.
“Let us observe how the sun rises on a new day…” begins a French accented Narrator – a tribute to Jacques Cousteau? (Tom Kenny).
The plot of this iteration (there have been two films) revolves around a volcano threatening to destroy Bikini Bottom. “Ladies and Gentlefish,” cries the Mayor (Gaelen Gilliland), “We need somebody to save us!” Suggestions range from sacrificing to the volcano to Patrick’s “Let’s all close our eyes and maybe it won’t happen.”A clock starts ticking.
Wesley Taylor and The Company
Plankton seizes the moment to convince panicked citizens they must have an escape pod built and flee, establishing a new community (called Chumville) elsewhere. He intends to collectively hypnotize his fellow townsmen into Chum Bucket customers while becoming a hero. A Shellathon will be produced to raise money.
There’s a gathering that looks like undersea Barnum, a skateboarding punk rock band, a hip hop number, and one where sea anemones in pink sequins and feathers become unisex showgirls behind Squidward’s big, dedicated-to-mama, bring-the-house-down performance – a highlight.) Can Plankton’s dastardly plan be stopped?! It’s up to SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy to find a way!
Those dedicated to Bikini Bottom and its inhabitants may be reassured that depicting the beloved characters without unwieldy costumes actually works. Along with the uber-creative Zinn, Hair Designer Charles G. Laponte and Make-Up Designer Joe DuludeI II help actors display just enough in tandem with characterization to bring the cartoon world to life. Ultimate credit goes to Director Tina Landau whose eye and ear for detail adds credibility and whose imaginative staging captivates. Wait until you see the volcano!
Lilli Cooper and Ethan Slater
Though SpongeBob is neither yellow not square, the terrific, multitalented Ethan Slater gives him just the right Pollyanna attitude and youthful inflection. Lithe, limber movement worthy of an acrobat puts the unwitting sponge in positions one might more easily draw. Danny Skinner’s Patrick exhibits dopey, sincere expression and comic delivery that reflect the obtuse starfish like a mirror.
Gavin Lee ably manages Squidward’s four legs (a construction of genius) which bend like his own, striking poses and skillfully tap dancing. The actor’s Eyeore-like tone embodies his octopus perfectly, while hands curl backwards like the animation. Brian Ray Norris’s oversized boxing glove-like claws and perpetually bent arms ride tandem with Mr. Krab’s gravelly bluster. I found Lilli Cooper’s Sandy a bit too grounded and Wesley Taylor’s Plankton oily, but unfamiliar. Sound effects made by and for the group also put us in their world. The cast, to a person, sings well.
Gavin Lee and The Company
Kyle Jarrow’s book employs signature expressions, expanding and embroidering while maintaining unique personalities. The show represents prejudice, friendship, community, confidence, and courage as much as immersing itself in fun.
Christopher Gattelli creates a wide range of high spirited choreography replete with fish-like gesture.
The musical’s problem, ignored by ninety percent of this exuberant audience, is its music and lyrics (arranged/orchestrated by Tom Kitt) which are almost uniformly generic/cliché. One would assume among the wide range of pop and rock contributors, someone would have availed him/herself of the wealth of fantastical specifics. Lack of context might be explained by drawing on material written before the show. It didn’t work for Sting in an otherwise worthy vehicle and was part of the reason for the failure of Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway.
If you’re not already familiar with the show and its characters, watch a few episodes or lose a great deal. There’s LOTS to look at and enjoy, but wouldn’t you think…
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Ethan Slater-left Lilli Cooper, right Danny Skinner and Brian Ray Norris
SpongeBob SquarePants -The Broadway Musical Based on the series by Stephen Hillenburg Book by Kyle Jarrow Co-concieved and Directed by Tina Landau The Palace Theatre 1564 Broadway at 47th Street
Fifteen years ago, stifled and condescended to, Nora Helmer walked out on husband Torvald and her three children in search of self respect and self knowledge. She entered a world that would have been hostile to her. The heroine that marches back through a forbiddingly enormous portal is wealthy, independent, creative, self confident and sexually liberated. Though actors wear appropriate period costumes (well designed by David Zinn) and legal constraints are accurate, language is contemporary. Go with it; it works.
Nora (Laurie Metcalf) now writes women’s books – under a pseudonym. Her cry for freedom is so convincing that numbers of readers have left their husbands. One abandoned, bitter spouse, a powerful judge, tracks down the author and discovers that she’s still married. (Nora was sure Torvald had, as agreed, divorced her.) Conducting business as a single woman is illegal, misrepresenting herself in print will mean ruin, her behavior if married, has been blatantly immoral. The official threatens exposure unless she publicly apologizes assuring the loss of everything she’s built.
Jayne Houdyshell and Laurie Metcalf
Apparently a one-step request for men, divorce saddles women with an endless burden of reasonable proof. Nora has returned to secure a decree to which she’s sure there can be no objection. If she’s forced to bring suit, both party’s reputations will irreparably suffer. Still, Torvald flatly refuses.
Revolving around the character in lesser and greater orbits are housekeeper Anne Marie (Jayne Houdyshell), a sympathetic confidant in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House who’s stayed on to raise the children and take care of Torvald; grown-up, admirably well adjusted daughter Emmy (Condola Rashad), appealed to as a last resort in hopes of convincing her father to cooperate, and Torvald himself (Chris Cooper) who, still wounded, finds Nora unfathomable.
Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf
Playwright Lucas Hnath has utilized the Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House as a starting point/inspiration and spun it into an entertaining tale with social context in two contrasting eras. Nora finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place. Disagreement with Emily about the nature of a woman’s role in marriage puts each choice in context. Characters have no filters. What they think and feel comes out of their mouths with directness that belies the period, but makes whopping good theater. Everyone is multidimensional. Allegiances are complicated. Unpredictable changes become seismic before our eyes. The ending is a shock.
Jayne Houdyshell’s Anne Marie is a whole human being. The character organically shifts from welcoming to protective. She’s watchful, sympathetic, innately funny with opinion and observance, and bone tired. In the hands of a lesser actress, the role could have been played for laughs or subjugated judgment. This artist has understanding and finesse.
Laurie Metcalf and Condola Rashad
As Emmy, Condola Rashad represents a girl raised in the atmosphere Nora has fled, yet securely flowering. Her femininity – she’s quite graceful, soft voice, and exhaled thoughts tumbling together in a rush – effectively differ from that of her mother. Rashad brings youthful brightness and optimism to an otherwise dour stage.
Torvald is a challenge to illuminate, as repressed, he expresses himself less. (Body language is eloquent.) Chris Cooper allows us to see the agonized husband host a wrestling match between unresolved feelings and lifelong thinking. Anger, stress, puzzlement, and longing color controlled, patrician behavior.
Laurie Metcalf’s Nora is extremely masculine in the way she moves and sits. Wild, emphatically punctuating gestures indicate physicality inappropriate to the 1900s, but fitting to this libertarian. Metcalf spits fire. Determination, then resolve are both palpable. The actress is especially fine when speaking out at the stage apron without breaking a fourth wall.
Laurie Metcalf and Chris Cooper
I hated what Sam Gold did with The Glass Menagerie and was hesitant to check out this next effort, but am decidedly glad I did. The director utilizes every bit of his empty stage without causing characters to appear unnatural as they circle or unspool. With only four chairs, where each is dragged and the level at which a character sits (including the floor) becomes telling. A hand on a knee and one reaching across the floor both resonate without advertising. We clock visible differences between thinking and instinct. (At one exquisite point, Nora crawls to Torvald.)
Keeping with Gold’s less is more vision, Miriam Buether’s Scenery has been kept to a few chairs and large, title lights naming each character’s turn. It’s gimmicky, but the play more than makes up for it.
Photos by Brigitte Lacombe Opening: Laurie Metcalf; Jayne Houdyshell
A Doll’s House-Part 2 by Lucas Hnath Directed by Sam Gold Golden Theatre 252 West 54th Street Through July 23, 2017
The Select is not everyone’s cup of tea (or, more accurately, shot of whisky). The Elevator Repair Company, the group responsible for Gatz, an afternoon and evening marathon reading of The Great Gatsby, has followed up with a production of Ernest Hemingway’s masterwork that, after touring cities in the U.S, and Europe, opened in 2011 at the New York Theater Workshop. Now playing through April 2 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, The Select focuses on American and British expatriates living in France and Spain in the aftermath of World War I.
Susie Sokol as Pedro Romero
In program notes, Director John Collins said that condensing Hemingway’s 260-page novel proved to be challenging. The play clocks in at around two and a half hours, and while there’s plenty of action – several lively dance sequences and a thrilling bull fight, ingeniously staged with a rolling table equipped with horns – the play is heavy on dialogue. But this is Hemingway, after all, and audience members who stay the course are rewarded with a theatrical event that is unique and inspiring. Those who have never read Hemingway, or have long forgotten his emphasis on simple prose, may find themselves on Amazon. His characters truly have stood the test of time and, brought to life on stage, prove to be as intriguing and complex as they are on the page.
The play’s narrator is Jake Barnes (a strong performance by Mike Iveson), who was injured in the war and is now impotent. He’s in love with Brett Ashley (Stephanie Hayes), who loves him, but, also loving sex, knows their relationship will never be consummated. Jake, however, is not the only one in love with Brett. In fact, virtually every many who comes into contact with her cannot resist her sexual appeal. And that’s a problem for this close knit group of friends, leading to arguments, breakdowns, and fist fights. All of this passion is fueled with copious amounts of alcohol. David Zinn’s set, meant to resemble a cafe in Paris or Spain, is dominated with bottles lining the shelves above the bar, and glasses filled with colorful liquids set up like marching soldiers on two long wooden tables. The actors are rarely without a glass or bottle in their hands. Sound designer Matt Tierney provides the special effects of liquor being poured and Champagne corks being popped.
Kate Scelsa as Frances, John Collins as Robert Cohn and Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes
Jake wears many hats – host, confidante, mediator, spectator, and good friend. When the play opens, he’s attempting to console Frances (Kate Scelsa), who is engaged to Jake’s Princeton classmate, Robert Cohn (played by Collins), but can’t get him to the altar. A Jew, Cohn never felt accepted at Princeton or among the group he’s with in Europe. His marriage to Frances doesn’t come off and his dalliance with Brett also proves to be a disaster. Brett is soon engaged to Mike (Paul Boocock), but then, intrigued with the spectacle of bullfighting, takes off with the 19 year-old matador, Pedro Romero (Susie Sokol). Finding herself alone and broke in San Sebastían, Brett sends a telegram to Jake, and he, of course, comes to rescue her.
Stephanie Hayes as Brett Ashley and Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes
Hayes’ performance as a femme fatale is brilliant. There’s no slinking around or bending over to flash cleavage. Her sexual appeal is more subtle, helped along by her appealing British accent. While a male magnet, the one thing she can’t attract is happiness. Jake and Brett are made for one another, but will never be happy together, a tragedy for both of them.
Hemingway meant The Sun Also Rises as a comment on the post World War I generation that many saw as being the “Lost Generation,” a term coined by Gertrude Stein. Hemingway scholars feel that the author was more optimistic, seeing these young people as possibly scarred, but still hopeful. Certainly that description might apply to many post-war generations.
Photos by Scott Suchman
The Select (The Sun Also Rises) Elevator Repair Services Lansburgh Theatre Shakespeare Theatre Comopany 450 7th Street NW 202-547-1122 Through April 2, 2017
Jaleo located next door to the Lansburgh Theatre is offering a pre-theatre tasting menu in honor of The Select (The Sun Also Rises). The menu features three courses that bring alive the spirit and flavors of Spain at only $30 per person. Ask for “The Select” menu upon arrival or when making your reservation. Available Sunday–Thursday 5-6:30 p.m.
Another reframed Shakespeare play, another 13 (I counted) helicopters disturbing performance (these can’t be rerouted?!), another frighteningly lifelike battle utilizing explosions and assault rifles?!
Troilus & Cressida appears to have been selected and certainly was staged to shock. A lengthy combat scene is viscerally difficult to sit through. At a time when war, increased local violence, lack of gun control and terrorism are ubiquitous in the news, it strikes me that subjecting us to something so theatrically realistic and compelling, achieves the complete opposite. Is this something to which we want to become inured?!
Troilus- Andrew Burnap, Pandarus- John Glover, Cressida- Ismenia Mendes
This is also a piece rife with testosterone-filled exposition; long episodes of men comparing muscles (a euphemism), swearing, and daring. A particularly odd choice. Having said that, acting and staging are skillful and energetic.
The latter part of the Trojan War: After playing footsie awhile, with the matchmaking help of her uncle Pandarus (John Glover), spunky Cressida (Ismenia Mendas) and earnest, boyish Troilus (Andrew Burnap) admit to and consummate their love. Shortly thereafter, she’s the object of prisoner exchange ending up in a Greek camp hotly pursued by Diomedes (Zach Appleman) to whom she turns, either attracted or in survival mode.
Because of a promise to his lady?! the great Greek soldier Achilles (seamless last minute replacement Louis Cancelmi) refuses to fight, choosing instead to remain in his tent with his lover Patroclus (Tom Pecinka), listening to heavy metal music. Powers-that-be trick him into one-on-one combat with Troilus’s brother Hector (Bill Heck) by first sending in the played-as-stupid-and-obtuse Ajax (Alex Breaux) who loses without shedding blood.
It’s not clear what the fight will accomplish, but at the Greek camp, Trojans and their hosts remain in peaceful truce. Troilus is led to spy on Cressida by trouble-making Ulysses (Corey Stoll), a civilian advisor who times it so that the Trojan will observe his girl with Diomedes. She’s accused of perfidy by her boyfriend and storms off.
In this version, Achilles then challenges Hector for a national rematch out of pride, though synopses found online indicate he does so to revenge Patroclus’ death which is attributed to Hector. Wounded, he also loses. Grisly war resumes. At the end of the piece, like Caesar at the Forum, Hector is surrounded by Achilles men and ignominiously knifed to death. Troilus mourns him kneeling in a pool of his brother’s blood. We never find out what happens to Cressida.
Ulysses-Corey Stoll and Ajax- Alex Beaux
Andrew Burnap and Ismenia Mendas, the show’s peripheral lovers, are natural actors with appealing chemistry, especially when in denial. Manly Bill Heck (a perfect movie Superhero) imbues Hector with dignity as well as confidence. Alex Breaux’s dumb Ajax is played with absolute credibility. Ulysses (Corey Stoll) is appropriately slimy. Stuck in caricatures, David Harbour (Achilles) and Tom Pecinka (Patroclus) ably carry out the director’s vision. Any play with the splendid John Glover is, to me, worth attending. Here the actor is warm, elegant, and occasionally playful as Pandarus – completely at home with Shakespeare.
Director Daniel Sullivan uses the mostly empty stage evocatively. His solders, with few exceptions, are cliché coarse and/or officious displaying no individuality. (Much of this may be the writing.) I don’t understand the compulsion to insert the currently requisite man in ridiculous drag and several flamboyant gay soldiers. As depicted, war is skin curdling.
Troilus-Andrew Burnap and Hector-Bill Heck
The play is performed in modern dress (David Zinn) which barely registers a blip (so acclimated are theater-going audiences) until soldiers take the stage in recognizable fighting gear.
Mark Menard’s Sound Design is aptly unnerving.
Sound like fun? The curious should be prepared.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Diomedes- Zach Appelman and Aeneas- Sanjit De Silva (center) and the Company