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.

Dylan Thomas

Two From United Solo – One Splendid, One Not


Alive On The Inside                                                                                               

Written and Performed by Richard Eagan

Eight year-old Richard Eagan tore out of the subway, running as only an eight year-old can towards hurdy-gurdy music, colored lights, the smell of salt, “popcorn, axel grease, and sweet something.” His straw-boatered grandfather, Montague Sidney Chamberlain Renshaw, aka the Colonel, had declared, “It is high time for me and for you to make a tour of General Coney’s Island.”

Things were different then. Coney Island was holding, white-knuckled, to its nationwide reputation as an affordable beach resort with rides, games, and entertainment. Steeplechase Park stood as 12 fenced-in acres of amusements, a giant mechanical garden accented by statuary. The Colonel seemed to know everyone by name. He bought Richard a ‘combination ticket’ which could be punched all around “until your ticket’s empty and you can’t see straight” and regaled him with stories. The boy took in everything around him like a sponge, longing with all his heart to be a part of it.


Then life happened. The family moved, he attended several schools, became an actor, began therapy, and took up fine carpentry, “a favorite occupation for white boys in the 1970s.” When they sold Steeplechase Park and demolished most of the rides, Richard wasn’t paying attention. Not even when The Colonel died did he emerge from a morass of self involvement. Still, the place called to him.

With some urgency, he returned. “All that was left was a gaping hole and an aching heart in the greatest place in the world.” Resolving to do what he could, Richard founded The Coney Island Hysterical Society whose first effort was painting a large mural of the place’s former glory. From a 20’ scaffold, listening to the music of 70 something year-old Freddie Moran’s wind-up victrola in the house below The Cyclone (roller-coaster), he watched the members of Coney Island’s Polar Bear Club (founded 1903) plunge into icy, winter waters, past and present unwittingly side by side.

This is the story of Richard Egan’s love affair with Coney Island; of cigar chomping, uber-luxury-car driving, Ronnie D. who sized up the young man’s dreams and successively seduced him into running a ‘plate pitch’ (toss a quarter onto a plate) – when a kid won an expensive teddy bear, Ronnie D. would buy it back at a profit and return the prize to his tent; The Florida Shark Show- with short, dumpy, sweat-suited Miss Atlantis and three sleepy, baby sharks- “Ah, but wait til ya see the show;” and what was left of the Funhouse-after Richard dealt with rubbish, rust, and shot hydraulics. (This does not end well.)


Dramatis personae also includes Leo who recommends the acquisition of a number of High Strikers (the strength game wherein one attempts to ring a high bell with a heavy mallet) and explains how a high ticket booth helps one rip off the rubes and local fixture Jake Fine whose Basketball Toss becomes a practical second to stock recommendations.

Richard Eagan shares colorful character emulations with pitch-perfect accents, the art of the bally (outside come-on), and old timers’ tricks of the trade. Details are so specific and rich, you feel like you were there. Beautifully written and performed, Alive on the Inside is part Ray Bradbury and part Dylan Thomas (A Child’s Christmas in Wales.) It aches for another time, only briefly referring to the short-sighted wheeler dealers who eschewed refurbishing for commercializing. The piece is vivid, amusing and extremely touching. This is storytelling. One can only hope it has a future.

Though well chosen, Chris Tsakis’ sound effects were too loud, too long and too abrupt.


Harlem Blooms in Spring – Impressions of Langston Hughes               

Written and Performed by Jersten Seraile
Directed by Zishan Ugurlu

I would venture to guess that no one enjoys being yelled at for over half an hour of a 50 minute show, especially in an intimate theater. The earnest actor/author and his director might easily have embodied frustration, anger, passion without sustained volume.

Langston Hughes’s House Un-American Activities Committee subpoena- ostensibly because of social activism and a trip to Russia, attempts to give this piece form. It’s a good choice, but ricocheting back and forth from childhood (the latter, a well written and acted segment) and discussions of the musical inspiration of his poetry to a perpetually ringing phone is disjointed. The intrusive noise makes its point after twice breaking up monologue, yet continues. Additionally, atmospheric background music is repeatedly too loud all but burying speech.

It’s clear Jersten Seraile is invested here, but the show could use a clearer narrative line and intensity without shouting.

All Photos courtesy of the productions

Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street

In its 7th season, United Solo is the world’s largest solo theater festival. Performers from 18 countries, 23 states, and six continents will present their unique works between September 15 and November 20, 2016.

Tickets: Telecharge (or 212-239-6200) and at the Theatre Row Box Office (410 West 42nd Street, NYC).

For the full calendar of performances, please click to visit the United Solo website

Norbert Leo Butz: Girls, Girls, Girls – Wowza!


“…you’re all here because I have to talk…I’m having an issue with women…” Immediately up front and personal, Norbert Leo Butz has no problem dispensing with the fourth wall. His rambunctious demeanor and casual attire (apparently H&M) seem to make him one of ‘us,’ albeit with the kinetic energy of a pinball machine and a wellspring of heady talent. Familiar only with the artist’s formidable body of work on Broadway, I was unprepared for the musical tsunami that ensued.

Butz has three daughters, three sisters, a wife and ex-wife, mothers-in-law, 17 nieces – in fact, immeasurable estrogen in his life. “Even the dog is a woman.” They all kept telling him he didn’t get it. When a savvy friend suggested he look at archetypes, “common denominators based on preliterate myths,” Butz started to research Greek goddesses. Girls, Girls, Girls, apparently a revival, reframes iconic myths in millennial vernacular, each paired with an unexpected musical number. What may sound academic is, in fact, a mesmerizing storm of storytelling and song.

…Her name is Yoshimi/She’s a black belt in karate/Working for the city/She has to discipline her body…(“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part I”-The Flaming Lips) represents Athena, Goddess of War. Yes, that eclectic. Butz, in constant, kinetic movement, bounces, jerks up his knee, and practically uproots the microphone stand, one seemingly spastic arm gesturing.

Queen Hera, goddess of marriage and family comes next. Expecting her husband to be productive, kind and faithful, she instead got Zeus “who couldn’t keep his lightening bolt in his pants.” The tale is reflected by Loretta Lynn’s “Mrs. Leroy Brown” about a man who said he wanted babies but instead philanders…Hey Leroy Brown, how do you like my big old pink limo/I just drawed all your money outta the bank today/Honey, you don’t have no mo’…his vengeful spouse declares. It’s a hard-charging, rockabilly hoedown. Butz stamps, screams, growls, and shoves it to the errant Zeus.

Aphrodite, goddess of love and sex had a weakness for military men. “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” (Kenny Rogers) contains the fervent plea of a wounded veteran. A thumbs-in-the-pocket two-step, the song is poignant. Butz tends to tighten his jaw when performing painful emotions. A verse with only drum accompaniment feels ravaged. He’s invested.

Sinead O’Connor’s “In This Heart” signifies the wail of Demeter for daughter Persephone pulled into the Underworld. With MD/Pianist Michel Moritz Jr. in vocal harmony, Butz imbues the story with dramatic heft between wrenching verses. Melody is sweet, but torn from the gut. “Tecumseh Valley” (Townes Van Zandt) follows with Butz’s soulful, acoustic guitar and slow, emphatic drums swelling to a “rage against the dying of the light.” (Dylan Thomas)

We hear The Furies ‘depicted’ by Shawn Colvin …She didn’t believe in transcendence/And it’s time for a few small repairs, she said/Sunny came home with a vengeance …as Butz’s throat opens and closes, ratcheting bright and dark. (“Sunny Comes Home.”) and the Muses embodied by aching regret with a David Grey lyric from “Kathleen” including the only instance you’re likely to hear …Toora Loora Toora Loo-Rye Aye…in a rock arrangement so gangbuster bruising it appears as if the artist might spontaneously combust.

“Stacey’s Mom” (Fountain of Wayne) personifies “a quintessential myth.” Butz takes off into the audience to get someone up and dancing. (This one’s a hoot.) Richard Thompson’s “Galway to Graceland” (the Crone) arrives measured, halting, straight from the hip, backed by a guitar solo one can only call resonant sympathy. Butz’s face crumples.

Comparing an aspect of himself to each of these women, the performer comes to the conclusion womanhood is not easy. “Wig in a Box” (Stephen Trask), a trailer park blues…suddenly I’m Miss Beehive 1963…delivered with bite, spit and gumption segues into cacophony, perhaps manifestation of internal turmoil.

I don’t think I’ve ever called out all so many numbers in a show, but each of these contributes to this skillfully structured and written evening. A couple are weapons-grade LOUD, replete with harsh, flashing lights and vocal detonation that to me, slightly diminishes effect, but as a whole, the smart, enthralling piece grabs and holds from the get-go.

Norbert Leo Butz has a stylistic range of which one was hardly aware. He can inhabit sorrow from a convincing emotional core, charm with wit, or let loose manifesting elemental wildness that feels palpably unconditional.

The band is textural, tight and vigorous.

This show was evidently recorded by Broadway Records. I imagine it’s dynamic on CD, but if you can, get yourself to the venue – fully prepared to have your socks knocked off.

Photos by Maryann Lopinto

Norbert Leo Butz: Girls, Girls, Girls
MD/Arrangements/Piano- Michael J. Moritz Jr.
James Leahey-Guitar, Billy LaGuardia-Guitar, Adam DeAscentis-Bass, Khaled Tabbara-Drums
254 West 54th Street
August 8 and 10 at 7 p.m.