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.
Discovered in a treasure-filled parking lot in Leicester, England (next to a pile of bones that didn’t look that important), an ancient manuscript proves to be the long lost first play written by none other than seventeen-year-old William Shakespeare from Stratford. We are totally not completely making this up. From the program.
This rambunctious comedy, part actual Bard, part extremely clever faux Bard (mostly in couplets and rhymes) and entirely rambunctious, posits that the nascent author’s first effort was a mash-up of everything to come. Three multifaceted, quick-change performers play dozens of carefully enunciated, highly exaggerated roles. “It’s a double Quarto, or a Quarto-Pounder!” exclaims a monk hefting the manuscript.
“An ancient grudge pits Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) against Ariel (The Tempest)…” Bald Puck has a tiny pair of wings and diminutive horns. Ariel first appears in a wig, ersatz mermaid tail and t-shirt printed with a shell bra. Not THAT Ariel! She jettisons the tail, but makes a good case that all Disney stories derive from Shakespeare.
Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, Austin Tichenor
The two spirits put spells on characters from familiar plays as if competing on Xbox. Poof! Dromio and Antipholus (Comedy of Errors) are transported to Italy. Poof! Puck manifests Hamlet, “You tend to be a not-to-be Hamlet. I need you to be a to-be Hamlet…” who gets paired with Ariel’s conjured Lady Macbeth. Except for opulent red curls, disoriented Falstaff looks like Charles Laughton as Henry VIII. Puck sprinkles nectar in the eyes of Juliet. Wait for it. “Dromio, Dromio, where for art thou, Dromio?” she importunes. Other floral ambrosia makes Bottom (Midsummer), now Eyore, a victim of undying love.
Richard III “Look at him cooing like a dove, with a hump only a mother could love…” pays court to Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing) and is swatted for his efforts. “Thou lovest me!” A ukulele vaudeville serenade follows. No dice. “Maybe Richard wants a he not a she.” Affections fluidly switch genders. Into the three witches’ brew (Macbeth) go “things that are never used in part… Democrat brain, Republican heart…” Fake-muscle-bound Oberon (Midsummer) wanders in accusing Puck. “Why should gentle Puck cross his Oberon?” the fairy asks. “To get to the other side.”
We meet King Lear and his daughters, Prospero and Caliban (The Tempest), “Malvoliago” a compendium who strongly resembles Severus Snape (Harry Potter), Cleopatra “I am Egypt’s queen. In my salad days when I was green, I loved Caesar…” Kate (The Taming of the Shrew), several Henrys, another dozen plus players and the Bard himself.
Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spencer, Reed Martin
The show is fast, its cast uninhibited. There’s NO fourth wall. We’re addressed and winked at; a few of you will participate. All three thespians turn on a dime in accordance with audience reaction. Some of the play is stupid, some of it silly, some of it FUNNY. In order to be a good abstract artist, one has to first understand the figurative. These guys “get” Shakespeare. They wreack havoc with sure hands. Young kids, I think might be lost, but older ones, studying the icon, would likely have a grand time watching him well skewered.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company since 1981 has created 10 stage shows, 2 television specials, several tv pilots, and numerous radio pieces worldwide. There’s a kids pop-up book and one for Attention-Impaired adults
Photos Courtesy of the Company Opening left to right: Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, Austin Tichenor
The Reduced Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) Reed Martin-Co-Author, Co-Director, Performer Austin Tichenor- Co-Author, Co-Director, Performer Teddy Spencer- Performer Through March 11, 2018 The New Victory Theater 209 West 42nd Street
“There’s something I have to tell you… You know how people have different sides to their personality… Sometimes, a, uh… a person will have to actually lead a different life… (pause, sighs)…That was me at 18 doing my impression of Michael Keaton doing his impression of Bruce Wayne in the movie Batman, and I’ve been doing that, in some form or another, for approximately 27 years.”
To author/actor Jason O’Connell, Batman was the ne plus ultra of champions, the unheralded philosopher of our times, his unwitting guru, a father replacement. Unlike super heroes, the character has no powers. Batman, he proffers, could be anybody, albeit with millions of dollars. First an outsider because of his obsession, O’Connell later found attractive women ?! who appreciated the caped crusader, naming each of his girlfriends for a character in successive films.
O’Connell is a good storyteller and an adroit writer. He looks us right in the eyes generating connection and sympathy. With this first one man show, the artist deftly intertwines tales about his career, accounts of relationships, and life lessons with specific views on the Batman franchise. To varying degrees of success, he conjures Michael Keaton (really well), George Clooney, Christian Bale, Jack Nicholson (mostly facial), Danny DeVito (physically), Arnold Schwarzenegger (ably)…as life coaches. (Only one unintelligible character is unidentifiable and might easily be expunged.) Casting, script attitudes, and directors are wryly critiqued.
It helps to have some familiarity with the films and actors, but this is not an analysis. With candor, sweetly self denigrating humor, and cultural perception, O’Connell is telling us the story of one boy’s growth and coping mechanisms in contemporary times and pop context.
Integration of Shakespeare (obsession with another man in tights) through theatrical training draws clever parallels. An utterly charming anecdote features O’Connell’s observing a boy’s ballet class with such appreciation of unexpected beauty, he begins to recite What a piece of work is man…. Talk of a beloved grandfather is also affecting.
My single caveat is O’Connell’s schizophrenic, multi-impersonation denouement, one character loudly arguing with the other in an unnecessary cacophony of people occupying his head. It’s nigh impossible to get that many distinct portrayals right with rapidity, an onslaught, and unnecessary to the show. The quiet ending will work fine omitting this.
Director Tony Speciale has done a seamless job. Gestures work. Pacing is pitch perfect.
Alas, no one’s been given credit for sound which adds immeasurably.
A unique and entertaining evening.
Dork: a person who behaves awkwardly around other people and usually has unstylish clothes, hair…Merriam Webster Dictionary
Photos by Ben Strothmann
Abingdon Theatre Company presents The Dork Knight Written and Performed by Jerry O’Connell Directed by Tony Speciale Through January 29, 2017 Dorothy Strelsin Theatre 312 West 36th Street
“America is the worst place for the Jews. Except for all the other places.” Shylock in District Merchants
What a year it has been for Shakespeare fans. Theaters celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death have staged his works in many forms. The Folger Theatre (home of the Folger Shakespeare Library) last gifted us with the very humorous William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), and now presents a contemporary version of The Merchant of Venice.
The title – District Merchants – is the first tip off that we’re not in Venice in the 1500s. Playwright Aaron Posner said that after reading a passage of Shylock’s about slavery, “it made me wonder how this story would function in post-Civil War America.” District Merchants is set in the 1870s in Washington, D.C., but the issues dealt with – immigration, racism, anti-Semitism, income inequality, and the marginalization of women – are incredibly relevant, particularly in light of our current presidential campaign. We see a society in transition. Virtually ever character in the play is on the outside looking in, eager to become part of the new order, but struggling to fit in. As one character says: “People like me don’t have the code. We’re not in the game, so we lose every time.”
Craig Wallace and Matthew Boston
The scenery signals the beginning of reconstruction, with massive columns and iron girders filling the stage and the sounds of building echoing throughout the theater. Shylock (Matthew Boston) is still a Jew, but rather than a Venetian moneylender, he’s now an immigrant who lost his wife and some of his children to disease during the long journey to America. He dotes on his surviving daughter, Jessica (Dani Stoller), but his anxiety to keep her safe threatens to stifle her emerging womanhood.
Shylock’s counterpart is Antoine (Craig Wallace), a black who proudly tells others that he was born a free man, a legacy of his father who fought and died a hero in the War of 1812. Although Antoine dresses like a prosperous businessman, he doesn’t have the resources of Shylock and borrows three thousand pounds to help his protege, Benjamin Bassani (Seth Rue), woo the wealthy Portia (Maren Bush). When Antoine fails to pay the money back on time, Shylock demands his pound of flesh. The dramatic court scene will determine the outcome.
Dani Stoller and William Vaughan
Shakespeare’s Merchant is still jarring to modern audiences; it’s portrayal of Shylock and its themes seen as anti-Semitic. Posner doesn’t water down these xenophobic comments, rather the audience gets a dose of what it’s like to withstand a constant barrage of slights and insults. During each performance, Boston points to someone sitting in the audience, asks the person’s name, then proceeds to use that name in a sneering, disrespectful way. (At the performance I attended, the person singled out was named David who admitted the barbs felt “nasty.”)
Shylock notes that during the reconstruction period in America, there were 1,500 Jews living in Washington, D.C. A parallel is drawn between the discrimination experienced not only by the blacks, but also by Jews like Shylock. The confrontations between Shylock and Antoine come off as a game of one-upmanship – who has suffered and continues to suffer the most.
(Left to right) Seth Rue, Dani Stoller, William Vaughan, and Maren Bush
The contrast between the haves and the have-nots plays out in the love affairs of the two young and seemingly mismatched couples. Lorenzo (William Vaughan), an uneducated and unpolished country boy, is attracted to the beautiful and intelligent, Jessica, who agrees to steal all her father’s cash and gold and flee with her beau to, of all places, Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Maren Bush and Celeste Jones
Meanwhile, Portia, who has conflicted feelings about blacks, is falling in love with Benjamin, whom she believes is white. Portia’s servant, Nessa (an excellent Celeste Jones), is loyal to her mistress but critical of her opinions. “She was born with blinders on and every day people tell her she has perfect vision,” Nessa says. When Benjamin finally tells Portia he’s black, Bush makes the most of the moment – her facial expressions changing from joyous to sadness several times before she delivers her final decision.
Despite the heavy themes, District Merchants has humorous moments, thanks not only to Vaughn’s antics as Lorenzo but also to Akeem Davis who plays Shylock’s mistreated servant, Lancelot. Director Michael John Garcés keeps this talented cast moving at a lively pace. There’s rarely a moment when we aren’t entertained or challenged by what we are witnessing on stage.
Part Master Class, part jamboree and about as much fun as you can legally have at an evening of musical theater, this high test extravaganza shares, one gathers, but a smidgen of material jettisoned from what we now enjoy at the St. James Theater. Authors Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick wrote 54 songs for Something Rotten!
What was eventually chosen is arguably not only swell but best serves the piece. Cleverness of songs currently relegated to the brothers’ trunk, is, however, formidable. Though some are “site” specific, others could successfully be performed by cabaret and concert singers. Many of us in the sold-out crowd at Feinstein’s/54Below tonight, as well as those exiting the Broadway production, would be surefire customers for a CD of alternates, replete with Karey’s entertaining, explanatory, anecdotal repartee.
For those of you unfamiliar with the rollicking show (see my review), it concerns brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom “struggling in the shadows of that well known rock star Lin-Manuel Miranda – I mean Shakespeare.” (Karey) Welcome to the Renaissance/With poets, painters, and bon vivants…the original cast company sings. “I remember hearing that song and thinking it doesn’t sound much like Sondheim, but so many have told us they can’t get it out of their heads.” Right on, Karey. Part of the audience mouth the lyrics, many clap in time.
For tonight’s presentation, the gracious and very funny Karey, also on piano, acts as raconteur, while Wayne plays piano and guitar. Both writers, by the way, can sing. Also on piano is Musical Director Mat Eisenstein who manages an entirely new, complex production for this jam-packed, two-off performance.
At the beginning, “we went trolling through Shakespeare and wrote songs but didn’t have a plot.” By 2010, wondering whether the concept was viable, Karey and Wayne approached Kevin McCollum (producer of Rent). When he responded positively, the Kirkpatricks brought in John O’Farrell as third collaborator, “an incredibly funny writer who also knew a lot about Shakespeare, which meant less reading for us!”
“Words You Never Heard,” which calls out some of the many Shakespeare introduced into the English language, was one of those songs initially pitched. Broadway’s current Bard, Christian Borle, who won both Drama Desk and Tony Awards for his inspired performance, takes the stage with character swagger. After all, “he put the I am in iambic pentameter.” When he doesn’t have a word, the Bard makes it up. Some of those originated are: pander, pageantry, obsequious, stealthily, bedazzled…Borle delivers a full-out, cocky turn, punctuated by provocative fanny wag. There’s not a flicker of unfamiliarity with new material.
Next, Karey tells us about the origin of the now blockbuster production number “A Musical.” The unheard-of genre is foretold to Nick Bottom by Nostradamus (Brad Oscar) so that the underdog can compete with Shakespeare. We hear an initial rendition, then the more up-tempo version requested by Director Casey Nicholaw.
Nostradamus (Spoken):It appears to be a play where the dialogue stops/And the plot is conveyed through song. Nick (Spoken): Through song? Nostradamus: Yes. Nick: Wait, so an actor is saying his lines and out of nowhere he just starts singing? Nostradamus: Yes. Nick: Well that is the (Singing) Stupidest thing that I have ever heard/You’re doing a play, got something to say/So you sing it?… The dizzying number is a mash-up of familiar musical tunes with lyrics tailored to the moment. At the St. James, it has all the glitz and glamour one could wish for. Our grinning audience bounces in their seats.
John Cariani (Nigel Bottom) offers the deep-sixed “Nigel’s Lament,” dear to the authors’ hearts because it’s about a writer who thinks he’s no good: It all comes down to this, I suck, I suck/I hold my quill, but it still runs amuck…The company provides a choral arrangement including sucky, sucky, suck, man, you suck (in grave-faced harmony). Cariani’s (Nigel’s) eyebrows are knit to a point in utter humiliation.
A rejected celebration of romantic poetry that features Nigel (Cariani) and love interest, Portia (Kate Reinders), arrives as a 1970s Elton-Johnish number: love, love, love, love, magical, mythical love…the pair sing with tangy period flavor and infectious pseudo-gravitas. The two voices are terrific together, expressions priceless.
David Hibbard (Standby for Brian D’Arcy James’s Nick Bottom and three other roles) performs “On the Top” (which became “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top”)…’om not gonna stop/until the Bottoms are on the top…An excellent vocalist, he also, as Nick, palpably vibrates with frustrated ambition.
Company member Marisha Wallace, with Cariani and Hibbard, sings a discarded “Right Hand Man,” as Nick’s wife Bea. Originally written as if ditsy support filled with obtuse insults, the number evolved into a demand for recognition of equal strength/ability. Wallace has a clarion voice we’re sure to hear in future outings and conveys the feckless woman exactly as the Kirkpatricks first envisioned her. The men are deadpan funny.
Heidi Blickenstaff (Bea) joins Cariani, Reinders and Hibbard for the very pretty “Lovely Love” in which we see all four actors occupy their roles. Blickenstaff closes her eyes and sighs into it, Cariani looks like a hopeful puppy, Reinders clasps hands at her breast overcome with pleasure, Hibbard expands with the possibility.
Karey and Wayne play the argumentative Nick and Nigel in an abandoned “The Trouble With You” whose consummate wordsmithing, like volleys of verse across a net, is an admired hoot. Nor, on the Broadway stage, did we see Nick and Nigel in the stocks among other prisoners, tap dancing (from the waist down) to “Desperate Times,” a metaphoric and currently politically apt complaint by those undeserved of such punishment.
We close with “Omlette” (the musical) and visions of dancing eggs. The Kirkpatricks wrote ten iterations of this! Sections from several range from rock n’ roll to the Andrews Sisters for inspiration. Alas, poor yolk, I know thee well…You make wine from sour grapes/ You got a flat pancake, hey, call it a crepe/When life gives you eggs, make an omelette…Om-om-om/Om-om-om/Om-om-om/Omelette…Who needs sugarplums?!
A chorus of company members throw themselves into this evening with gleeful abandon (as well as professionalism), enjoying it almost as much as the audience, dropping not a single new stitch. These include: Matt Allen, Elizabeth Early, Linda Griffin, Courtney Ivantosch, Aaron Kaburick, Tari Kelly, Beth Nicely, Aleks Pevec, Angie Schworer
The subversively instructive shenanigans were joyous and brimming with talent.
“If music be the food of love, play on…Enough! No more. ‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before…” begins Len Cariou, speaking above the appealing strains of Mark Janas’s piano accompaniment. (Twelfth Night) Beat. The actor turns from interior oration to his audience:
“Love I Hear,” makes you sigh a lot,/Also, love, I hear, makes you weak…he sings. (Stephen Sondheim- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). This, in a nutshell is the clever concept for Broadway & The Bard, a succession of Shakespearean soliloquies and well chosen Broadway show songs furthering spoken sentiments.
Cariou, a Canadian, honed Shakespeare chops at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He made his New York dramatic debut in 1969 as Henry V. Six months later, the actor’s New York musical theater debut followed with Applause (Lee Adams/ Charles Strouse.) The performer later originated memorable Broadway leads in A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Stephen Sondheim.) In fact, his most eminent years were spent moving back and forth between these two very different art forms.
A highpoint of this evening is simply listening to Cariou put each of the Bard’s contributions in context. He’s a natural and enthusiastic storyteller.
“Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’” Cariou exclaims as Henry V. What is it that we’re living for?/Applause, Applause./Nothing I know/brings on the glow/like sweet applause…he sings with a twinkle in his eye. Oddly, and this crops up in several numbers, every few lines sound as if they come from a rendition with different intention. Also, while a wink is apt, mugging is unnecessary. The lyric makes its point.
“How can you say to me I am a king?” he demands as Richard II. “If I Ruled the World ev’ry day would be the first day of spring/Every heart would have a new song to sing…(Leslie Bricusse/Cyril Ornadel- Pickwick). The song arrives low key and sincere. Unfortunately, and here again, there’s a pattern, engaging performance is marred by a denouement of volume wherein Cariou pushes his vocal to places it won’t comfortably go.
The “I will not love!” speech from Love’s Labour’s Lost is tenderly illuminated by “Her Face” (Michael Stewart/Bob Merrill- Carnival) while its coda, “Down With Love” (E.Y Harburg/Harold Arlen-Hooray For What?) is too fast, straining delivery. Petruchio’s pronouncements from The Taming of the Shrew are enhanced by “How To Handle a Woman” (Lerner & Loewe-Camelot), but playing both an old man and the questioner, looking up and down, takes away from nuanced reflection.
There are well acted speeches like the savored “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players…” (As You Like It) and those that appear all surface such as “…and what’s he then that says I play the villain” (Othello). “How Long Has This Been Going On?” (George & Ira Gershwin-Funny Face) is charming while one of the only poorly chosen numbers, a song from Stephen Sondheim’s TheFrogs, would even be difficult for someone with wider range/younger lungs. The production seesaws.
Lately, I’ve seen a great many veteran performers on stage. Those who are successful adjust to altered capabilities presenting shows that spotlight current top form. Mr. Cariou might consider this.
Mark Janas’s Musical Direction also needs to take Cariou’s limitations into account. His Arrangements and Accompaniment, are, otherwise splendid. That which plays beneath soliloquies feels just right. Song attitudes suit each context. Playing is deft.
Barry Kleinbort’s excellent contribution to the shape of this piece is almost visible. As Director, he sets his player in positions around the minimally set stage with obvious forethought. If only a more consistent performance could be achieved.
Josh Iocavelli’s Set Design is pitch perfect. We see backstage coils of rope, unused lights, a bust of the bard and a shelf with hats, crowns, the framed image of a thespian, a skull, a chest plate…Just enough.
Photos by Carol Rosegg Broadway and The Bard
Performed by Len Cariou
Conceived by Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort, Mark Janus
Music Direction/Piano- Mark Janus
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through March 6, 2016